Bridges, Pleasant Ridge to hold homecoming for alumni, community

Wendy Byerly Wood Content Manager

November 15, 2013

STATE ROAD — History runs deep in the Pleasant Ridge community of State Road, including the memories and stories of what is now Bridges Academy. And officials of the school, along with alumni from its former namesake Pleasant Ridge School, are opening the school to alumni, students, teachers, staff and community members Sunday for a homecoming to celebrate its history.

As stories were told about the “good old days” as Bridges Academy has been undergoing a rebirth period, Principal Merry Lowe said the Bridges Board of Directors felt it was important to get the community involved in the school again.

Board member and Pleasant Ridge School alumnus Philip Norman and Lowe decided to open the school up for a homecoming. “Philip told us fascinating stories of when he went to school here,” said Lowe, explaining the history behind the homecoming.

“I started in 1954, and I remember there was a lot of community involvement in the school, from volunteer work keeping the grounds up to chicken stews and a womanless wedding,” said Norman, who with 1942 Mountain Park High School graduate Alex Carter, who attended Pleasant Ridge through seventh grade, could name off a number of the people involved in that infamous womanless wedding. Norman’s father was the groom.

“A big part of this is the board wants to open it back up to the community,” Lowe said of the school facility. “We want volunteers, and maybe to open the school up at night so the community can come in and use the computers.

“A lot of our teachers went to school here when it was Pleasant Ridge.”

The existing building is the third school building to serve as Pleasant Ridge School, Norman and Carter explained.

The first building, a one-room schoolhouse, sat across Pleasant Ridge Road from the existing site. “My mother (Omie Carter) went to it. It was referred to as the Huckleberry School in the early 1900s,” Carter said. “In 1907, the church was built and named Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, and so they renamed the school to Pleasant Ridge School.”

In the early 1920s, the three-room Pleasant Ridge School opened on the property now occupied by Bridges Academy. The building sat beside where the existing cafeteria now stands.

While the students were being educated in the three-room school, construction began on the larger school, which now houses Bridges Academy. “Then the cafeteria, gym and one room building were built later,” said Lowe.

Through its history, many of the students walked from throughout the community to the school each day, with just one bus serving the school for many years.

“Back then the traffic wasn’t a problem,” said Carter, who remembers horses and buggies passing the school when he was attending there.

“There was a bus that passed that went to Traphill High School, but most kids walked to here,” he said of Pleasant Ridge School. “It was a dirt and gravel road all the way.”

Students attended Pleasant Ridge during Carter’s time through seventh grade, and if they wanted to go to high school, they either went to Traphill or Mountain Park, where students would graduate after completing 11th grade. “I was the first year to hit 12th grade at Mountain Park,” Carter said, explaining the evolution of education through the years.

The main classroom building that Bridges operates in was opened in 1947.

For Norman, who started school in 1954, and his classmates, Pleasant Ridge educated students through eighth grade. They then attended East Wilkes High School.

The three-room school “was heated with wood,” said Carter. “There would be someone in the community who would take the contract for providing wood in the winter, and the students would go out and get a stack of wood during the day.”

The newer building was heated through a coal furnace, Norman said. “There was no air (conditioning) here until the daycare opened.

“We would slip off campus to buy candy at the store next door. We weren’t supposed to leave campus,” he said of the building that now serves as Bridges’ primary building.

In 1966, C.B. Eller Elementary School opened and Pleasant Ridge School closed with most of the students attending Pleasant Ridge moving to C.B. Eller.

Vess Douglas, a local banker and investor, purchased the property and it sat vacant for a number of years.

“Shortly thereafter, the Ruritan was formed in the community and bought the property,” said Norman. “The unique thing was the community came together and formed the club to work to buy the building back for the community.”

He said community members had seen other similar schools fall into disrepair and be torn down, and they didn’t want the same to happen to Pleasant Ridge.

“They raised two or three crops of tobacco to raise money for it, and some would give their allotment (of tobacco crops) to the Ruritan Club,” said Carter.

“For a while, this was a child care center,” Lowe said of the county-operated center.

“The Ruritan Club leased it to the county to operate a child care center and ran that here for many years,” she said.

The county closed the child care centers, including the one at Pleasant Ridge, and in March of 1999, Bridges Charter School, which was started in the old Hugh Chatham Hospital in Elkin, leased the school building from the Ruritan Club and moved in.

“At that point, the community was still using it for basketball and other activities,” Lowe said. “Bridges worked with the Ruritan Club to keep (the school) going and as it needed more and more repair, we eventually bought it.”

Bridges signed the offer to purchase in June 2007.

Most recently, Bridges has gone through a rebirth and regrowth period following some restructure.

“We changed the name to Bridges Academy and started a drive to get the community more involved,” Lowe said.

“We did make growth this year, and we’re moving forward. When I went around and announced to the seventh- and eighth-graders we made growth, they stood up and applauded,” she said of meeting state standards in testing.

Walter Holcomb was the last principal of Pleasant Ridge School, and organizers of the homecoming are hoping he will be able to attend Sunday’s event.

“The kids want to talk to the older ones about the history of the school,” said Lowe of the high interest the Bridges’ students have of the history of the facility.

“One of the alumni came by and said there was one room with the only telephone in it, and he remembered he was in that room when they called and said John Kennedy had been killed,” she said of stories that have started emerging.

“We’re trying to do some nostalgia with the old school. We’re going to number our three new buses after those that were at Pleasant Ridge,” said Lowe, noting that Norman remembers at least two of the bus numbers.

“There is a national movement to have more charter schools in rural areas to give students a choice,” said Lowe, who has been in education in the Elkin and State Road area for the past 22 years. “We are one of the few rural charter schools and one of the few with transportation.”

Bridges, with 147 students, serves youth from Yadkin, Alleghany, Wilkes and Surry counties in grades kindergarten through eighth, and Lowe said about one-third of those go on to attend either Wilkes or Surry early college high schools. Dr. Chris Jones, principal of the Wilkes Early College, is chairman of the Bridges board.

The other students go back to their home district high school, in most cases being East Wilkes, Elkin, Surry Central or Starmount.

The hope for Sunday’s 3 to 5 p.m. homecoming is that people will come by, tour the school, reminisce, share stories and enjoy refreshments. There will be pictures on display from throughout the history of the school, Lowe said.

Also, Stephen Harris of State Road will be on hand with his book, “All Roads Lead to State Road,” which includes a chapter called “The Red Paddle” about Pleasant Ridge School.

“We want people to just share their stories and see each other,” said Lowe. “It would be nice for something like an alumni association to come out of it, or to have a yearly gathering.

“The community and Ruritan Club kept this alive, and that’s what I want to continue to keep that,” Lowe said. “There is still a quaintness here, but we have all the high tech stuff like the SmartBoards.”

Reach Wendy Byerly Wood at wbyerly-wood@civitasmedia.com or 835-1513.