When the Byers community gathers ’round the bell in front of the Byers School Monday evening, it won’t be to ring in the school year, as the new Byers senior class has traditionally done for years. This time the meeting and the ringing of the bell will signal the end of 105 years of students and teachers using the building to grow and learn.
At the 6:30 p.m. ceremony June 25, former Byers superintendent Mike Priddy will speak, and longtime teacher Judy Wade will ring the bell to officially end the history of Byers School.
That history began exactly 106 years ago when, on June 25, 1906, George and Walter Byers held a lottery for 100 lots in what is now the town of Byers. They sold those 100 lots for $50 each, and with that $5,000, the first Byers School building was built on land donated by the Byers brothers. Classes began in the fall of 1907, and according to the Texas State Historical Association online handbook, the school had 115 students and two teachers. The first class graduated in 1909. Not shown in photos of the original building are the outhouses on either side, one for boys and one for girls.
According to a history Wade put together for the school’s 100th anniversary, the first building was renovated in 1929, with a flat roof replacing the bell tower and flagpole. Two-story wings were added to each side of the building.
A new gym and four elementary classrooms were added in 1957, with the original gym converted into a cafeteria. Elementary teachers had two grades each in three of the classrooms, with the fourth classroom used as a music room and library. The open walkway to the gym was enclosed in 1980, and two additional elementary classrooms were built to the east.
In September 1982, a fire destroyed the main part of the building, but the gym and elementary classrooms were saved. Priddy said that a bond issue passed overwhelmingly to fund a new building, and while high school students met for class at the First Baptist Church, a new school was built. “Those were trying times, but we made it through, and we were proud of our new building,” Priddy said.
The vocational building where homemaking, ag and shop classes were held was completed first, then in February 1984, the main building was complete. Although the new building no longer had a second story, a spot was saved at the school’s northeast corner for the English room, the spot it had occupied for as long as anyone could remember.
In 1996, a bus barn was built that could house four buses. A science lecture room, hallways connecting the vocation building to the main building, two more elementary classrooms, restrooms, a multi-purpose room west of the gym and new high school dressing rooms were built with a $425,000 state building grant and local money.
Thanks to a Technology Infrastructure grant in 1998, Byers ISD entered the Internet age with new wiring and equipment and in 1999, another TIF grant updated computers and other hardware with the most up-to-date equipment for that time.
In 2000, the gym was renovated to accommodate pull-out bleachers to seat 300 fans. The First National Bank of Byers sponsored a new state-of-the-art scoreboard on the west wall and a smaller one on the east wall. A softball field was completed behind the gym, and a girls’ softball program began. The PTO made several contributions to the school, with some playground improvements dedicated to the memories of Katie Kucharski and Cody Fleming.
To list a building history does not tell the whole story. It was the people who worked and taught there school that made an impression on those who attended. Mary Lee Warren Herrin remembers Mr. George, the principal. She didn’t remember his first name, he was just Mr. George. Herrin graduated in 1940, just after the Great Depression and before World War II. Either because of the economic times or the war, they did not have film, so she has no photos of her class. Sports in those days were basketball, volleyball, tennis and track. She remembers the community lived for sports back then, just as many do now.
Jim Landrum, class of 1946, recalls two longtime teachers from her days were coach Paul Steph and homemaking teacher Mary True.
Wade said that any history of Byers school would not be complete without mentioning longtime custodian Joe Reese and cook Effie Whitehurst. Whitehurst was known for her homemade hot rolls, hamburger buns and other breads. Reese was an “institution,” Wade said.
The 1988 girls basketball team, as Priddy remembers, made it to state competition. He said that many times the athletic teams went to regional competition, but didn’t advance. Many members of the 1988 team were part of pioneer families whose parents and grandparents also were Byers students. In 2001, Priddy retired after 22 years, and Wade retired after 36 years. The following school year, Wade returned to Byers ISD. At the close of Byers’ final school year, she ends her career of 47 years.
In 1967, the Byers School building was awarded a Texas State Historical marker. In the fire of 1982, Wade said that somehow the plaque was rescued and is now inside the building. The inscription reads, “Land given to found school (first in north Clay County) by A.W. and G.W. Byers. First superintendent Edgar Haney, later legislator, promoted first independent school district laws. Rufus Rush, first graduate, later taught President Lyndon B. Johnson.”