The City of Meigs was once described as the perfect small town community — much like the town of Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Meigs High School Class of 1960 members and longtime citizens remember the way Meigs used to be and recalled memories they have always cherished.
Prior to 1882, the Town of Meigs did not exist except as a country flag station on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The area surrounding Meigs was thinly settled. In the ten years prior to 1903, the area increased rapidly in population and commercially.
Around 1885, land could be purchased in Meigs for $1 per acre. By 1903, the price had increased to $10 per acre.
The first school at Meigs was established in 1885, by Professor J.E. Dison, who taught about 20 students in a log cabin on West Marshall Street. The next year, a one-room school was built at the intersection of Mill and East Marshall streets. The building also was used for worship by Methodists and Baptists.
Dison was followed by a Professor Bucklew. J.S. Searcy and assistant A.S. Braswell were the last teachers in the building.
In March 1902, the building and contents were destroyed by fire. By 1903, a new and larger brick building was funded by liquor dispensary sales. The structure had two upstairs classrooms and two downstairs, a main auditorium and a balcony. The building, costing $20,000, was known as the Meigs Graded School. The first teacher was A.E. Smith, who was elected as principal of Meigs of Graded School in the fall of 1903, at a salary of $60 per month.
Consolidation of schools in Meigs was in 1928. The consolidation included the Meigs District, southern parts of Mitchell County, Law District and Center Hill District. A one-story brick high school building was built in 1934, with WPA funds. It consisted of four class rooms, a superintendent’s office, library and auditorium. Later, the auditorium was converted into a lunchroom. In 1954, Meigs had 450 students enrolled and 18 teachers.
A teacher who came to Meigs in 1947, was Earlene Proctor. At the age of 21, she traveled from Poulan to Meigs and with the help of a college classmate received a job teaching fourth grade in Meigs.
Proctor has many fond memories of teaching in Meigs.
“During my first year of teaching in Meigs, I had three goldfish in my classroom. Well, one day the fish and bowl went missing,” said Proctor. “I told the principal that they were gone, and he told me he knew where they were.”
“At the time, the janitor of the school and his wife lived in the basement. The principal just happened to be down there one day and saw my fish. I got the fish back and one day on the bus from Thomasville to Meigs, the janitor’s wife asked me how my little fish were doing.”
Proctor still has a good laugh over the missing goldfish.
The teacher, now 88, recalled various field trips the school took during her years at Meigs.
She remembered taking her class to a zoo in Albany, where a little boy got a little more than he expected from an eagle.
“There was this one little boy in the class who was playing near the eagles, and he came running up to me after a little while saying something had hit him on the head. Well, one of the eagles had flown over him and dropped a little something on his head,” Proctor laughed. “We all know knew what it was, but I just took a wet towel and wiped it off without telling him what it was.”
Proctor spent more than 34 years teaching. Memories of the Meigs school are some of her favorites.
She said, “My favorite part was that I knew the children and their parents, and I lived close to the school. It only took me five minutes to walk there.”
Blanche Lastinger was a member of the last class to graduate from Meigs High School in 1960. She recalled having a close family-like class that consisted of about 15 students. The class began with 40 students in the eighth grade, but over the years, the number dwindled.
“Our school was large enough to be happy and small enough to know everyone,” she said. “I remember respect being a big thing for our class.”
Lastinger also said the teachers were like their parents, and students always showed them respect. She remembered one first day of school when the class became a little disrespectful of their teacher.
She said, “On the first day of school, we had this English teacher, and when she walked into the classroom, we laughed. Well, after that she made us write sentences. We learned respect and showed it.”
Mary Layton Wilson was a member of the class, too. She loved the family atmosphere she felt at the school.
“It was wonderful. We were part of a family. There weren’t any groups like you see in schools today. We were friends with everyone and not just the people in our class — everyone,” said Wilson.
She recalled the junior-senior banquet, where dinner was served, music was played and songs were danced to that night.
“The last will and testament for the class was read, too. I really enjoyed it,” said Wilson.
The Class of 1960 graduated in the Meigs school gym, which is no longer standing. A senior trip was taken by a few of the classmates to Washington, D.C.
Before football, there was basketball, and it was the popular sport in many of the small towns, including Meigs.
The Meigs Hawks were the talked-about basketball team at the time for Meigs students and citizens. Team colors were orange and black.
Wayne Drawdy, a 1960 Meigs graduate, played on the Meigs Hawks basketball team all four years of high school.
“I was really involved at school. All my friends were there, and ball game nights were the highlights,” he said.
Drawdy remembered playing against all small towns in the area and how Central became Meigs’ rival. He also remembered game highlights from his time on the basketball court.
One game memorable to him was an away game in Doerun.
He said, “I was really hot playing that night, and everything went in the basket that I threw. When Doerun played us on our home court, they remembered me and triple-played me. It was fun that they triple-teamed me.”
At another game, Drawdy remembered a lady was getting into the game so much that she went after the referee with her shoe.
Aside from school, the people of Meigs enjoyed their small town to the fullest.
At the time, it was a bustling town with not only two schools but three grocery stores that delivered, two clothing stores, hardware stores, two druggists, three dry-good stores, two cotton gins and more. It is estimated that Meigs had more than 30 booming businesses at that time.
“We only went to Thomasville maybe once a year, primarily for the Rose Show, because we had everything we needed in Meigs,” said Lastinger.
The town had many activities for young and older people to enjoy, such as a movie theater.
Procter recalled parties in people’s homes she would attend. She also recalled the safety once present in the town.
She said, “Some teacher friends and I would walk to the post office at night. You can’t do that now.”
Lastinger would go to Aultman’s Drug Store after school and sit at the soda fountain and purchase a pack of cheese crackers. Dances were often held on weekends, and church was a huge part of community life.
“We’d skate, too. I remember the street being roped off for skating. I would walk to school and in the first grade, there was a traffic light. My daddy wouldn’t let me cross the street by myself,” said Lastinger. “However, there was a service station across the street, and a man that worked there would come and walk me across the street. Meigs really was like a big family. I would love to walk down the streets of Meigs again, but I’ve been warned against it.”
Later in Lastinger’s school career, she remembered her mother coming to pick her up from school in the car.
She laughed, “My boyfriend and I would put books in the car and walk home. The simple things were fun.”
There are other memories that have stuck with Lastinger her entire life. She remembered the day she saw her former husband in Meigs for the first time.
“It was at Mert’s Cafe that I saw my husband for the first time. He was wearing pink pants, a black shirt and white shoes,” she chuckled. “I didn’t know it at the time, but he was in a band. That’s why he was dressed like that. I thought he was pretty good-looking.”
Prior to 1970 when consolidation took place, vehicles filled the streets of the downtown area. Citizens and students, such as Earlene Proctor, Blanche Lastinger, Wayne Drawdy and Mary Layton Wilson, hold on to the way things used to be in Meigs — wishing children today could go back and experience the simple life.
Lastinger said, “Believe you me, it was Mayberry.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.