September of 1919 I became principal of Joseph Bradley Elementary School, formerly known as the Merrimack School. This school was in a new building named after Joseph J. Bradley, Sr., who was head of the Merrimack Mills. The building was owned by the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, now called the Huntsville Manufacturing Company. However, the school was operated by the Madison County Board of Education. The city limits at that time extended one mile each direction from the courthouse.
Children in four so-called Mill Schools (Merrimack, West Huntsville, Dallas, and Lincoln Villages) were not allowed to attend junior and senior high schools in the city without non-resident fees which people of these villages could not afford. So, when a child finished the fifth or sixth grade he went to work in a cotton mill long hours because Child-Labor laws were almost non-existent at that time.
A paradoxical situation. Four elementary schools in industrial communities, just outside the city limits, with no future educational opportunities for their children.
First I had to sell the students, next the parents, and finally get the approval of the owners of the Mill to begin adding a grade each year. Joe Bradley became a junior and later a senior high school. I allowed students from nearby West Huntsville area to attend these grades without charge. About 1921 the Dallas Manufacturing Company followed suit and erected the Rison School. Shortly afterward, the Lincoln and West Huntsville Mills did the same, resulting in four high schools just outside the city limits of Huntsville, but still counted in U.S. Census as rural high schools.
During the four years I served as principal of Joe Bradley we organized athletic teams. The Merrimack Company provided and equipped a building for industrial arts and home economics. The company provided land for growing vegetables and flowers. The work being done by students who could take home what they grew. Boy Scouts and Girl Scout Troops were organized. Extra teachers were added to the faculty paid by the company. Another first was organization of Madison County American Legion Post. Mr. E.R. DuBose, who was on my faculty, was appointed to succeed me following my resignation, although I stayed during the summer to direct a summer program. Mr. DuBose can take up the story from here. Joe Bradley became one of the finest high schools in the nation.
Just as the Joe Bradley building was built by the Merrimack Manufacturing Company and later donated to the county board of education, the Rison building was built in 1921 by the Dallas Manufacturing Company and later sold to the county board of education for (I believe) the nominal sum of $10,000 – a gift.
It was several years before Lincoln had a senior high. So, we allowed their senior high students to attend Rison without charge. At a later date, I believe the Lincoln Mills also donated their building. Then came West Huntsville High School.
Among the many “firsts” at Rison were:
1. The first school safety patrol. I joined the Kiwanis Club in 1932 and recommended this project for all of Huntsville and suburban schools. The club has continued this sponsorship with the cooperation of the Police Department.
2. The first public school in the area to have a course in Bible Study. The course was taught by the ministers of the three local churches: Church of Christ, Baptist, and Methodist.
3. The first public school (in the state, so far as I know) to have a course in Speech and Drama, even before it was listed in the approved courses by the State department of Education.
4. A pioneer in arranging classes for Rison boys in service during World War II through correspondence courses and the cooperation of J.O. (“Pick”) Johnson, their commander at the encampment. These boys were allowed to return to Huntsville, in uniform, to receive their diplomas.
5. Occasionally, when a sick student was out for a long period, classes were conducted by phone, visitation, and correspondence.
A relatively small high school at Rison, yet, we managed to include foreign languages, arts, physical education, home economics, industrial arts, and other courses.
Realizing the need for a new consolidated suburban high school, the four “mill village” principals met, agreeing that the new school would be located at a point nearest the center of student population. This happened to be in the West Huntsville district where Homer Crim was principal. The other three principals involved were Elmor Brown of Lincoln, E.F. DuBose of Huntsville Park, and myself. With the support of superintendent Edward Anderson and his assistant, W.E. Popejoy, the Butler High School was born. At this juncture, Homer Crim, Wayland Cooley, and Ed Seals can take up the story.
With the advent of the boom growth it became inevitable for the four mill districts to become incorporated into the city limits. At Rison, our PTA mulled the pros and cons, and, on my advice, voted to come in, hereby becoming the first to receive a fire station and other conveniences. I believe that the other three villages were incorporated by the state legislature.
We made the move from Rison to Lee at the beginning of a second semester. Since I was in my last decade of teaching, I agreed to organize Lee until a successor could be selected. While at Lee, I still retained supervision at Rison Elementary. I took $1,500.00 in money and hundreds of dollars worth of library books (from funds raised at Rison) to the new Lee High School. My first assistant principal was Earl Daniel (new with the state department of education). Next came Mr. Clarence Jones (now principal at Colonial Hills), and finally, Fulton Hamilton. We started out with junior high grades at Lee, and in time began adding a grade a year. Fulton Hamilton can take up the story.
My final years as a pioneer were happily spent in organizing the Whitesburg Junior High School where I also assisted in getting the new Mountain Gap School in operation. I am especially proud of being the first to suggest to our fine people in southeast Huntsville that we should get busy on getting a new senior high. They appointed a committee immediately. Grissom High School resulted.
Then came Johnson High School where the new entrance drive was named “Cecil Fain Drive” by the city board of education and the city council.
I don’t want to overlook my fine relationship with Huntsville High School where many of my junior high graduates from Rison and Whitesburg attended.
Fifty-one years of service to education in Madison County and Huntsville – perhaps the longest period credited to any other educator. The last ten years as educational consultant in the business college field, still serving our youth as a resource counselor. Total of 62 years!! My wife, Louise, taught 39 years in Madison County and Huntsville. A grand total of 101 years!
For me they have been filled with over-flowing happiness, multiplied thousands of friends, superintendents, boards of education, trustees, parents, teachers, and students. I must not forget the thousands of friends who supported me even though they had no children in schools.
Still enthusiastic; spoke to over 60,000 high school students last school year in North Alabama and South Tennessee as a resource counselor. Worked 18 hours one day recently.
About 62 years ago a lad in his teens began his educational career. To the wonderful people of Madison County and Huntsville - a salute. To the 100th birthday celebration of the Huntsville Centennial a “thank-you” for including me.
I could write books about my experiences. So, use whatever part of the “epistle” that may help a little. Finally, my office door at Alverson-Draughon College is always open to have you come by to see me.
Cecil V. Fain
Return to the History Page.
Return to the Principals Page.
Return to the Memories of Cecil Fain Page.
Return to the Rison-Dallas Association Home Page.