A cornerstone of local education

Published 1:00 pm Saturday, February 3, 2018

LANETT — In 2018, the Lanett City School System is celebrating 120 years of providing free public education for children residing inside the city limits.

The system got its official start on Jan. 27, 1898. On that date, the first school board meeting was held in a building known to townspeople as the Lanett Hall.

At that time, the name “Lanett” had been in existence for a little more than four years. The LAN was from mill founder LaFayette Lanier and the ETT from Wellington Sears executive Theodore Bennett.

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Construction started on what became the Lanett Mill in 1892. A four-story textile mill went into production in 1894 and a second four-floor unit was added in 1900.

At that first school board meeting in 1898, Mr. Lanier was elected chairman and Mill Superintendent Ed Lang was named secretary. Lang was often called Capt. Lang for his military service in Britain’s Boer War. He was born in Oldham, England. In the late 1800s, Capt. Lang, his father, Tom Lang, and brother, William Lang, immigrated to the U.S. to manage mills for the newly-founded West Point Manufacturing Company. Tom Lang managed the one in the community that would be named for him (Langdale) and William ran the mill in River View. Ed came over in the 1890s to manage the new Lanett Mill.

The first board members were J.F. Dorman, W.H. Morris, J.M. Trammel and W.W. Wallis,

The Lanett Hall doubled as a school office, where the board meetings took place, and the community school. It was located on the spot occupied by the Charter Communications office today.

One of the first rules adopted by the school board was that the Lanett Hall would not be used for “political meetings or meetings of secret orders.”

In the preceding years, some local political meetings and meetings of secret orders had resulted in incidents of violence directed toward blacks and Jews.

In the summer of 1898, the board hired W.T. Hollingsworth as the principal and Lulu Croft as his assistant. Hollingsworth was paid $55 a month and Croft $30 a month.  Two years later, in 1900, Alonzo Davis was the school principal and the teachers were Imogene Griggs, Ella Sands and Lena Hardy.

In the first decade of the 20th century, the Lanett mill village was growing at a very fast rate, and it was becoming painfully obvious that the old Lanett Hall was far too limited in space to house the burgeoning school population.

In 1906, the directors of Lanett Cotton Mills were looking to build a two-story brick building with an auditorium and a library. LaFayette Lanier had plans drawn up for it. It could accommodate up to 1,000 students and shouldn’t exceed $15,000 in cost.

The actual figure turned out to be around $50,000, but the new town had a first-class building with 20 classrooms.

The building was finished in 1909, and Lanett students had something that was far superior than what they’d previously known. It was a grand school house for its day, but it would last less than 15 years.

On Jan. 3, 1923, the school caught fire and burned to the ground. The nearby West Point Fire Department responded to the blaze but couldn’t get any water from the city’s rudimentary system. They instead had to run lines to the river but by the time they did that it was way too late to save anything.

Remarkably, no lives were lost that day, although some students were injured in the wild stampede to safety.

It was a staggering loss to the town, but Lanett quickly recovered. While the education of students continued in churches, lodge halls and even back at the old Lanett Hall (then a YMCA building), plans were made to build a bigger, better school.

In 1923, a contract was made between the West Point Manufacturing Company and the West Point Iron Works (later the West Point Foundry and now West Point Industries) to build a new school building for around $175,000. It was designed by Robert & Co., a famed Atlanta architectural firm, in the shape of an airplane, an idea advanced for its time.

The building would be located on the same site of the school that had burned. The W.O. Lance Elementary playground is there today. That old brick and mortar airplane served the community well of the next four decades.

A new elementary school would be built in 1954; the Garden Greene Apartments are on that site today, and a new high school constructed in 1964. The Class of ’65 was the first to graduate from the building that still serves as Lanett High.

With the coming of school integration in the early 1970s, the former Lanier High School served as a junior high for a number of years. A new elementary school was constructed in the mid-1970s. It was known as Central Elementary for a number of years and now honors a former LHS principal and city superintendent with the name W.O. Lance Elementary School.

When the new elementary school opened in the 1970s, the old brick airplane that held so many memories for those who went to school there, was marked for demolition. It’s been gone since 1980. The building’s cornerstone was spared and is now on display as part of a brick monument dedicated by the Lanett Progress Club in 1982.

When the old building was coming down, a workman found a scrap of paper that had been written by an eighth-grade student named Coburn Hooton. He wanted to express his loyalty to the school and penned a poem based on each letter of the name Lanett High:

L is for Loyalty for school and land.

A is for Advancement for which we will stand.

N is for Neatness, our guiding star.

E is for the Education we’ve attained so far.

T is for the Time we’ve spent well.

T is for the Truth we will always tell.

H is for Happy, which we’ll always be.

I is for Ideals which we’ll always see.

G is for the Good which helps all the land, and

H is for the Honor which will always stand.