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Courtney historic school bell gifted to two rivers

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At Courtney, in the year 1913, when the two-story brick school was completed, and classes opened that fall, the town was a bustling, hustling town. The railroad was easy access; cotton was still king in the Brazos River bottom; there were mercantile stores, blacksmith shops, a gristmill, a sawmill, the saloon, along with churches and a post office. The main highway to Navasota was the King’s Trail, now named County Road 326.

Today, 117 years later, that two-story brick schoolhouse is one of perhaps only a couple historic structures remaining in the town of Courtney. It stands, forlornly, badly in need of preservation.

Over the last year I have been exchanging e-mails with a gentleman located in New York whose grandfather was the first teacher/ principal at that newly built 1913 Courtney school.

That teacher was James Yardley, a spring 1913 graduate from Sam Houston Normal Institute at Huntsville. Yardley was from the community of Harvey now a part of Bryan’s Boonville area.

There was a young lady who also graduated from the Institute that same spring of 1913. She also taught at the Courtney school. Her name was Sadie Elliott. She was also from Bryan. The following fall of 1914, both were again teaching at Courtney.

That fall they were joined by a third teacher. Her name was Gussie Ruth Oliphant. She was a 1914 graduate of Sam Houston Normal Institute. There will be some readers of this Sandbar column who will recognize the name Gussie Ruth Oliphant. She was born and reared at nearby Shiro and married young Earl Leslie Harris who lived at the north edge of Courtney.

Young teachers, Yardley and Elliott, may or may not have been an ‘item’ earlier, but by the spring of 1915 as the 1914-1915 school year closed, the two were married late that May in Bryan. Yardley and his bride then ended their teaching careers as he had taken a job with Texaco at Port Arthur.

In exchanging e-mails with Gussie Oliphant Harris’s granddaughter, it is believed Gussie continued teaching at Courtney.

Yardley’s grandson has been in possession of his grandfather’s school bell he used at Courtney. The family has dearly held onto it for many years. This grandson, who has wanted to know as much as possible about the Courtney school area, has ‘gifted’ the school bell as a historical Courtney artifact to be held by the Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. It has arrived and will soon be on display at the Best Museum.

Yardley’s grandson and Two Rivers Heritage Foundation hope the gift of the school bell will instill a movement to restore the two-story brick school building that proudly still stands well over a century since 1913. My understanding is owned by an association known as the Courtney-Lynn Grove Community Association with title to the property invested in the Association. A recent agreement with an Amish group has terminated. There is no indication that there is any momentum in preserving the Courtney historic school structure. Currently it desperately needs a new roof.

Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. For more information on the Two Rivers Heritage Foundation or to become a member, go to www.tworiversheritagefoundation.org.

(Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation) Visit www.tworiversheritage foundation.org for more information and membership