HISTORY OF J.K. HARPER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
The ground that we ceremoniously break today is rich in history and has long been dedicated to the cause of education. There is no site in Thomasville or Thomas County that is more closely tied to our region's commitment to education than the six acres upon which we stand today.
This land was first dedicated to education one hundred sixty-one years ago when the North Florida Methodist Conference opened Fletcherville Institute on this property. Two large brick buildings housed separate classes for boys and girls with an average enrollment of over 100 students.
The school remained open through most of the Civil War. Toward the end of the war, the buildings were used to house sick prisoners of war when Thomasville was a temporary site for a prisoner of war camp.
Fletcherville Institute was operated by the Methodist Church for several decades. It fell on hard economic times during the economic depression of the 1870s which followed the war. When the state of Georgia decided to broaden its state university program, the citizens of Thomasville acted quickly to obtain a state college for Thomasville. In 1878, the Methodist Church conveyed ownership of the property to the State of Georgia, and the campus became the home of South Georgia College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts which was eventually shortened to be known as South Georgia College.
South Georgia College enjoyed its best years during the 1870s and 1880s. By the 1890s, support from the state had declined, and the citizens of Thomasville had started considering a public school system for Thomasville. The first referendum to start a public school system in Thomasville failed in 1893, but seven years later another referendum passed, and the Thomasville City School System was born. The board of trustees of South Georgia College conveyed the use of its campus to the City of Thomasville for a public school system. Official ownership of the property transferred several years later.
On this site, the Thomasville City School System was born. The Fletcherville building once housed the entire school system. When Eastside (the current Cultural Center) was built, it became the elementary school and the Fletcherville building served as the high school until 1924 when the MacIntyre Park building opened.
Damaged by fire, part of the Fletcherville building was rebuilt, but it fell short of the grandeur of the original building. The structure continued to decline and was eventually torn down after the current Harper Elementary School building was built in 1956. The annex building was built in 1991, in the same spot where the original Fletcherville building once stood.
The building that we begin today will pay tribute to the original Fletcherville building. The Fletcherville building was characterized by its gothic arched windows, a feature that the architects have included in the new design. As we build for the future, it gives us the inspiration to look back at the value that our ancestors have placed in education, and we are thrilled to be able to build upon the same land that they set aside so long ago for the cause of education.