By Nowell Briscoe ( nowellbriscoe@bellsouth.net )

(Thank you Nowell for allowing us to use this wonderful article)

(Published  in the Walton Tribune-Monroe, GA)

(Republished with permission of the Walton Tribune - To see their website, please click HERE)

   Click HERE to see photos of what remains of the brick posts

        Several weeks ago I stood between the brick posts which served as the entrance to the old Monroe High School Building on Bold Springs Avenue.  Those posts were the gift to the school from the class of 1928 and were topped with big lanterns which welcomed generations of students each weekday morning as they made their way to and from class.

        The first Monroe High School was built on this site in 1927 and was ravaged by fire on December 12, 1936.  In 1938 the building which generations of students knew and loved was built and remained a high school until 1958 when the students moved to a new facility on Bryant Road, known as Monroe Area High School.

        Those posts, the now defunct Launius Memorial Library and what is left of Denton Hall are all that remain of the iconic building that served Monroe so well until the fire in late1976 which totally destroyed the old building save for the majestic front façade which continued to stand proudly along with the big office safe after the fire gutted the rest of the structure.  The morning after the fire, Monroe resident Charles Briscoe snapped a picture of the remains when the fire had been extinguished.  There were only still whispers and faint tendrils of smoke making their way to the sky when Charles stopped on his way to school to capture the damage the building had sustained the night before. The early morning light  gave the façade with its limestone columns and arch announcing “Monroe High School” an eerie look as if saying “I may be down but not out.”  When Charles returned home from class that afternoon, nothing was left but rubble and debris.  The city declared the façade a safety hazard. Bulldozers were brought in to topple the last remaining memory of a building loved and treasured by hundreds of the town’s citizens.

        Standing between those brick columns, I closed my eyes to the current building, long used as the Monroe Elementary School, as my mind took me back to the old school.  As if by magic I found myself walking up those limestone steps, opening the double glass front doors with that all too familiar squeak which announced your arrival.  Walking into the hallway you were immediately struck with the scent of oil, wax and a hint of dust, from the sweeping compound old “Mose”, the beloved custodian, used for years as he pushed the old broom up and down those halls.  That smell will always be in my mind.  To the left of the doors was the old Coke machine next to the door marked “Teacher’s Lounge”, where teachers sought refuge and solitude from the stress, antics and mayhem many students were fond of inflicting on those whose job it was to infuse education into our somewhat reluctant brains.  Across from the teacher’s lounge was the wood and glass trophy case which held year’s worth of awards, plaques and trophies from basketball and football games along with other honors awarded to the school.

        Walking across the hall from the front door, you came to the office of the superintendant and the general office where the secretary was always gracious in helping you purchase pencils, paper or to pay for some needed trip or excursion.  The office also housed the ancient mimeograph machine which the secretary used to print our exams along with guarding the stencils the teachers entrusted to the secretary’s care.  I wonder how many students vied on numerous occasions to come up with ways of getting into that safe to garner copies of those tests prior to exam time so their grades could be bumped up a notch or two.  I know for a fact that safe was as solid and secure as Fort Knox, impossible to get into but always worth a shot!

        The old wooden lockers which lined the walls were open to everyone’s scrutiny and many times students would come to their locker to find that the contents of the enclosure, books, notebooks and other items stored there, lay scattered on the floor thanks to an invisible prankster.  In cold weather coats were sometimes moved from one locker to another so it was always a chore to locate the right coat when it was time to brave the elements.

        The classrooms, both upstairs and down, had the genuine old slate “blackboards” that had to be washed by some unlucky student after school caught for misbehaving and this was his punishment.  Or, another errant student had the nasty chore of “dusting the erasers”, which always brought a fit of sneezing and tears as the chalk dust permeated both clothes and skin.  Those wonderful old rooms seemed to reek with years of accumulated knowledge as the teacher’s desks and the wooden storage cabinets seemed to hold all sorts of educational secrets, much of which we didn’t really want to know about.

        The auditorium was the venue for many activities: assembly gatherings, piano recitals, graduation exercises, practices for glee club, the scene of Nell Mashburn’s recitals and plays, and of course the annual play put on by the senior class.  On various occasions different classes were marched into the auditorium to sit through a boring film the teachers felt we needed to see in order to help us learn a particular subject. The curtains that adorned the stage as well as those covering the arched windows were made from purple velvet to coincide with the school colors, purple and white. One of the most entertaining gatherings in the auditorium came in December, close to the Christmas holidays, when Mr. Carson or Robert Ash would summon faithful and dependable Mose  from the depths of the basement to coerce him into a dance or song so he could receive his “Christmas Bounty”, usually a large barrel full of canned foods and other goodies along with a large sheet of construction paper with the greetings “Merry Christmas Mose” on one side with one, five and sometimes ten dollar bills taped to the other side.  Mose knew from past experiences he had to really put on a show to earn his Christmas trappings!

        In late November, 1976, a fire broke out in the basement, totally destroying the landmark school. It was if an arrow had been plunged into the collective heart of Monroe.  Folks came from near and far to see the desecration the flames wrought on the venerable old building, and when the smoke cleared folks knew a building of that stature would not be seen again. The loss of the building was felt so keenly, the news made headlines in both the Walton Tribune and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

        Many newcomers to Monroe never had the opportunity to see the iconic building.  For those of us who still remember and appreciate, all we need do is stand between those brick columns and let the memories wash over us like a tide, taking us back to when the school stood tall, strong and proud.  As the old Alma Mater goes, “O Monroe High, the best school in our land”.  Oh, how very true.