School Days Then & Now
When the calendar pages turn to September, the change is met differently by Acworth adults than by the city’s school-aged children. Typically, a return to the structure of the classroom is anticipated eagerly by parents, but, frequently, children look to September with dread as they see the freedom of their summer days vanish.
Fall has not always meant the return to school, with one term from September to May. Early Acworth school terms were quite different. Schools held two terms annually — the first from January to March, and the second term from July to September, in accordance with the needs of the farming calendar. Most school-aged children were needed on the farm for planting and harvesting.
The town of Acworth has had a school for its children on the same site since the 1850s. Today’s McCall Primary sits on the same land donated by Smith Lemon, one of Acworth‘s early pioneers, at the corner of Academy Street and Dixie Avenue.
Whether called the Acworth School or the Smith-Lemon Institute, the school was recognized as top-notch, and Acworth was one of the smallest towns in Georgia with an accredited school. Other grammar schools fed into Acworth School, including Mars Hill, Allatoona, Hickory Grove and Eli Whitney. Acworth ran its own school system until 1935, when it consolidated with Cobb County Schools.
By the 1930s, Acworth had a new school building on the same site, thanks to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal New Deal agency under President Franklin Roosevelt. Both the Smith-Lemon Institute and the original Acworth Methodist Church buildings were razed for the new construction. Acworth School was a college preparatory school, with grades one through 11; a 12th grade was added in 1954.
Until 1967, black Acworthians were schooled separately from their white counterparts. A two-story brick Masonic lodge on School Street served as an early grammar school. In the 1920s, it was supplanted by a Rosenwald School. Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish philanthropist and Sears, Roebuck and Co. president, donated millions of dollars in seed money for the creation of black schools in the South, with communities matching one-half of the costs. Slated for demolition in 1948, Acworth’s African American community rebuilt the Rosenwald where it sits today, on Cherokee Street, recycling boards, nails and even the roof shingles. Today, the school has been incorporated into the Acworth Parks, Recreation and Community Resource Department.
The Rosenwald School was replaced on the same site by Roberts School in the 1950s. Acworth did not have a black high school. Early scholars had to find their own way to Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School. Later, students were bused to Lemon Street High School in Marietta.
The school-aged children in the Mill Village had no formal educational facilities until Helen and Esther Sill purchased the Acworth Cotton Mill in the 1920s. The sisters modified the mill’s product, invested capital, employed 200 people, and provided a whole village for their workers, including homes, a company store, a church and the Eli Whitney School. The school was a two-room brick structure with large banks of windows. It served the mill village children from 1928 until 1947, when it became part of the Cobb County School System. The school continued to serve the village as a community center, and is still in use today, privately as an eatery.
By Abbie Parks, an Acworth resident, who co-authored pictorial essays on regional history and collaborated on a book celebrating Acworth’s 150th birthday that featured anecdotal history and family photographs.