The people of Bakersville have
always believed in education. Before the public school as it is known today
was established, parents were pooling their resources to hire a local or
itinerant teacher to teach their children the rudiments of learning. During
the period of sparse settlement, the teacher would go from home to home
to conduct classes. Later, as homes were built closer together, the children
would come to a central home or at a meeting house for their lessons.
Beginning in 1884 the county shared in the funds provided by the state for public schools. From that
date to the present, except during the period of the Civil War, education
of a kind has been provided at public expense for all children of all the
people. The development of education
in Bakersville from the days of the itinerant teacher to the present is
briefly noted: In the early 1870's W.C. Bowman
was able to secure aid from the Peabody Fund for operating a school which
was far superior to the public school at that time. To qualify for the
fund, the school had to have 100 pupils at least, must run for the greater
portion of the year and must be presided over by competent teachers. At
least two of these Peabody schools were conducted at or near Bakersville.
A few years later, J.C. Bowman
established Bowman Academy which he conducted for many years. When the
venture resulted in a financial loss, he transferred the property to the
Southern Baptist Convention, and the name of the school was changed to
Mitchell Collegiate Institute. Professor Bowman moved to Berea, Kentucky and taught at Berea College.
These institutions of learning
served well in their day, especially by developing a desire for learning
which has resulted in the greatly expanded facilities which are now available
at Mitchell High School in Bakersville. The change from a church supported
school to a public school was made in 1923. In a consolidation movement,
the Southern Baptist Convention sold the Mitchell Collegiate Institute
to the County Board of Education, and the purchase price was added to the
support of Mars Hill College. The school was named Bowman School in honor of Professor Bowman. The school was grades one through twelve and remained that way until 1957 when Gouge School was opened on another tract of land bordering Cane Creek in Bakersville. The new school was named in honor of Ruby Sisk Gouge, who was a leader in education in Bakersville and who was recognized throughout the state and Southeast for her contributions, and her husband, A.E. Gouge, M.D., who is a legend in Bakersville. He practiced medicine for over 60 years, made house calls, and delivered most of the babies born in Bakersville between 1905 and 1965. The Gouge school became a K-5 elementary school.
In 1968 Bowman High School was consolidated with Tipton Hill High School and continued under the name Bowman High School. In 1973 Bowman High School was consolidated with Harris School of Spruce Pine and a new facility was built in the Ledger Community of Bakersville and was named Mitchell High School. A result has been an expanded curriculum and graduates who continue to excel. The old Bowman High School became Bowman Middle School. Therefore, Bakersville and Mitchell County continue to reap an abundant harvest from the early educational seeds planted by early settlers and residents of Bakersville. The attitude valuing education continues today.