A HISTORY OF SILVERHILL SCHOOL
by Carl E. Johnson
Written February 26, 2000 for the Annual Founders' Day Dinner.
While reading over the information available I was reminded again and again that the most important part of the history of Silverhill School is the people. From the time when the first school was established prior to 1900 until today, the people have unselfishly given of their time, efforts and talents. As I read about the activities and projects of this school, the personal involvement was clearly evident. The facts of this history serve as a reminder of the wonderful heritage we have. It is a large part of what has made not only the Silverhill area, but all of Baldwin County unique and “A GOOD PLACE TO LIVE”.
Silverhill School began in 1898, when Ester Anderson, a cousin to the Oscar Johnson’s from Chicago, was asked to conduct a school during the summer for the colony children in a very new barn with a class of some eight or ten pupils.
The Svea Land Company Office was completed by June 1898 and was used as a Real Estate Office to sell property to the Swedish Colonists. It was also used as a Church and School before the settlers were able to build the community's churches and school house. - Click to Enlarge.
In 1890, the Svea (Swedish) Land Company was formed in Chicago, Illinois, for the purpose of colonizing land in the south. Some familiar names in this group were Carlson, Johnson, Linden, Nelson, Swanson and even a fellow named Charles Smith. Following several years of research, it was finally decided that the colony would be located in Baldwin County, Alabama.
Silverhill train depot located in what is now Robertsdale on Chicago street, across from Campbell's Hardware. - Click to Enlarge.
In June of 1896, the group completed the acquisition of a tract of land from what is now Robertsdale on the east to Fish River on the west and began making preparations to colonize the new land to be called The Svea or Swedish Colony. Remember that there was no Robertsdale. Robertsdale later grew up around the Silverhill train depot. A couple of years before the colony was founded in 1896, a turpentine still was operated east of what is now Silverhill by a man named Lowell. This still was located on the hill where the park is. Mr. Lowell always bought and sold for cash and all transactions were made in silver. “Payday” meant that everyone went “up the hill” to get their “silver”. Hence the Swedish town, originally to have been called “Svea” was instead named “Silverhill”.
The second structure built in Silverhill was the “Land Company” office (now the Library). As more families moved to the area, a school building was necessary. So the “Land Company” building was partitioned to provide the first school room. Sarah Carlson moved to Silverhill with her parents and consented to teach a one room school. In 1902, Miss Millie Anderson became the first “State” paid teacher having about 25 pupils.
Because of the fast growth of the Silverhill community, the 1903-1904 school year was the last time the large group of Swedish children could fit into the Svea Land Company Office. The school term of 1904-1905, while a schoolhouse was under construction, was held in the Baptist Church. - Click to Enlarge.
The classroom soon became too small, so the people decided to build a new building. It was a two-story two-room building and it still stands on the corner across from our campus and the Lutheran Church (now the home of Mr. & Mrs. Phil Owen).
The two story - two room schoolhouse was completed by October 1905 and was built with donated labor. The Svea Land Company gave the money that was necessary for lumber and materials which totaled $552.00. It was used as the school for 23 years, 1905 through 1928. - Click to Enlarge.
There was still only one teacher, a Professor Owens. He walked to school as did the children. Each day as he crossed the creek by the turpentine still he stopped at a secret place to cut a new switch. It seemed that with the use the switch received, it would not last more than one day. In those days, neither teachers nor parents spared the rod. Lunches were carried in buckets, water was also carried by bucket, and everyone drank from the same dipper.
With the increase in pupils, it became necessary to divide the grades, teaching 5th thru 8th in the morning and primary thru 4th in the afternoon. In 1907, Silverhill became a two teacher school. Two young ladies from Bay Minette, who were cousins, Miss Mary Feminere (Mrs. Killebrew) and Miss Pearl Campbell (Mrs. Noonan) became teachers. They lived at Hotel Norden. Bet you didn’t know that at one time Silverhill had two hotels. It was in 1907, that these two teachers were instrumental in organizing one of the first “School Improvement Associations” in Baldwin County. This organization is now known as the Parent Teacher Association. Although the school was community built, the teachers were paid by the state.
Between 1909 and 1914, Czechoslovakian settlers migrated to Silverhill. They built the first public hall in the area. Located southwest of Silverhill, it was a meeting place for Czech people. It also served as a school building for farm children in the area. When consolidation of schools began in Baldwin County, this one-room school was consolidated with Silverhill School. This also created a need for a school bus so Dave Forsman converted an old truck into a bus and transported pupils to Silverhill School and from there to Robertsdale for high school.
Bohemian Hall in 1921. Czechoslovakian settlers built it in 1920 to be used as the school house (1920 - 1928) and the community hall on the weekends. - Click to Enlarge.
In 1985, the “Little Hall” building was moved to the west side of the Silverhill campus and was used for classes. When the new gymnasium was constructed in 1988, the school board moved the “Little Hall” building to the park adjoining the ball fields where it is currently used for community activities.
The state and county built a new school building in 1928. The brick building had six classrooms, an auditorium, kitchen and office. The teachers in the school were principal, Mrs. Louise Lundberg, Miss Genie Ora Tharp Carlson, Miss Eileen Pepper. Mrs. Lundberg coached the first basketball teams at Silverhill.
In 1945, while Mrs. Windgard was principal and Mrs. Albert Phillips was P.T.A. president, the P.T.A. began sponsoring the Annual Founders Day Dinner. As you can see this event has become very successful. It soon became the most important school and community event of the year.
Friday, November 11, 1955, was the first time students were given Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day as a holiday. It became a memorable day for the people of Silverhill for another reason. This is part of the history I can remember vividly as I was in the eighth grade at the time. A fire started in the southeast wing of the school. Despite the efforts of the local fire
departments, the entire school burned to the ground. It was a sad experience and I can still remember the sick feeling that night when the brick walls were pushed down. Mr. Gerald Robinson was the principal.
The students who thought they would have an extended holiday and be out of school for a while were to be disappointed as the true spirit of the people was to shine as the best was made of a bad situation. Through the effort of the county school officials and the local people the problem was addressed. I remember Mr. McGowan, Dr. McVay and Mr. Smith from this time. My father, Emery Johnson, was chairman of the Silverhill School trustees, and they met in our home. I know that during this time Mr. McGowan, Dr. McVay, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Smith and the local trustees drank a lot of coffee and ate plenty of Swedish pastries, but they accomplished a miracle. On Monday morning, school was back in session without a day being missed. First, second and third grade classes were held in the Mission Covenant Church, fourth, fifth and sixth grades met in the Baptist Church and seventh and eighth grades attended classes in the Town Hall.
In one of the newspaper articles about the fire, Mr. McGowan referred to a countywide survey of needed physical facilities which had been completed prior to the fire. It said 161 classrooms were sorely needed in the county and also listed the need for a cafeteria in Silverhill.
In the summer of 1956 a new school was built. It has six classrooms, two restrooms, an office and a boiler room, but no cafeteria or auditorium. A temporary cafeteria in a building about three blocks away was used for almost two years. In 1958, the community banded together, under the leadership of the P.T.A. and the town, and raised most of the money
required to construct a cafeteria building, which is now the school office. Funds were raised through fish and chicken dinners, festivals and bazaars. The county contributed what it could and furnished the equipment. The new cafeteria was constructed twenty five years later in 1981.
Since that time additional rooms and other facilities have been added. Classrooms for kindergarten and a middle school wing were constructed in 1986. The gymnasium was an outstanding addition to the school and community in 1988. The most recent addition was the fourth and fifth grade classrooms and library wing in 1998.
A new chapter in the history of Silverhill School began in August 1994 when the middle school (6th, 7th and 8th grades) was consolidated with the middle schools from Elsanor, Loxley, Robertsdale, Rosinton and a portion of Summerdale to form the new Central Baldwin Middle School which is located north of Robertsdale. This change challenged the continuation of the Founders Day celebration but only for a few moments as the determination which is a part of the Silverhill tradition came through again.
A debt of gratitude is owed to the many people who have been a part of Silverhill School for more than one hundred years. Those who have toiled as principals, teachers, parents and concerned citizens have given us something to go along with the wonderful memories. They give us a proud heritage.
Was it worth all the work, sweat, tears and effort? Sure it was and it still is. If you doubt it, stop by our school and look into the faces of the children. You will have the answer.