Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Community History: Schools

Importance of Schools to a Community

One of the first signs of the impending decline of a community is the loss of the local school, which is why so many people in the past fought school consolidation.  Schools provided an identity, a built in educated community leadership, and a drawing card for businesses to locate around.  In order to study early public schools you must first understand how Texas organized and funded public education through the years.  To study the history of private schools you must look at the sponsoring institutions, if there are any, such as Masonic lodges and churches.

"How To" book

For a book on doing research on the history of schools, see:

Butchart, Ronald E.  Local Schools:  Exploring Their History.  Nashville:  American Association for State and Local History, 1986.  At the UT Tyler Library at LA9 .B87 1986 and LA9 .B87 2003 (reprint).

Bibliography of Smith County

First, check out the Bibliography of Smith County, under Education, then either General or the name of a particular school or school district or county public schools as a whole.  Note that there were a number of masters theses during the early 20th century studying the organization and funding of county schools.  Amazingly you CAN get most of these in on interlibrary loan, and they contain very useful statistics and descriptions.

Early County School Records

Early county school records are housed in the basement of the Cotton Belt Building, corner of W. Front and Glenwood, in the Records Services office.  The phone number there is (903) 590-2960.  They are open 8-5 M-F, but are closed for lunch 12-1.  The folks there are very helpful--just explain what you are looking for and they will pull the books.  There is a photocopier available but they will need to make the copies due to the fragility of most of the paper and bindings.  The most useful education resources will be from the the County School Superintendent's Office.  However, don't expect a lot of detail from each school.  It seems that nearly all of the paperwork from the boards of the little county districts was discarded after consolidation.


See the maps section under the Communities tab. There are two main sources for county school maps.  The first is in Randy Gilbert's "The Development of the District School Systems of Smith County" in Chronicles of Smith County, Texas 11 no. 1 (Spring 1972):  1-8.  It covers turn of the last century white county school districts.  The second is from Edwin Clayton Curry's University of Texas thesis, "An Administrative Survey of the Schools of Smith County, Texas," (1938), which shows all existing county schools in the 1936-1937 academic year, both black and white, with symbols to indicate number of grades, number of teachers, and number of months held.  Contact me if you need that one.

For later maps of consolidated school districts, contact their administrative offices.


There are two types of census that are useful for school history.  The first is the scholastic census, taken to determine the number of children of eligible age, whether or not they actually attended school so that state funds could be apportioned fairly on a per capita basis.  The 1854 Scholastic Census has been published in Chronicles, and the 1925-1927 census was published by the Texas State Library.  The Scholastic Census for 1925-1931 is on microfilm at the public library.  There are probably other years either at the Cotton Belt Building or in Austin.

The second census is the regular national census, conducted every ten years.  The Social Statistics schedule is available for 1850-1870 and includes number of students, number of teachers, and number of schools.  The Historical Census Browser can crunch out numbers for literacy, broken down by race and foreign-born, those attending school of certain ages, as well as males versus females attending school, depending on the census year.  These numbers can be generated on the county, state, and national basis, for comparison purposes.  If you prefer to take a closer look yourself, the Smith County census, 1850-1940, is available in Heritage Quest database.

African-American Schools

There are two special sources of information specific to African-American public schools.  The first is Records of the Superintendent of Education for the State of Texas, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870.  The state is on 18 rolls of microfilm, and it may or may not be available on interlibrary loan. Texas libraries that hold this microfilm include:  Baylor, Lamar, Rice, A&M, Texas Southern, Texas Tech, UNT, UTPB, and the State Archives.  Other libraries may own it, but it doesn't appear in their catalogs.  Here is a guide to that film.  Tyler is not mentioned in the guide specifically, but there was a Freedmen's Bureau office here, and at least one school.  Roll 18 includes "Record of Teachers," "School Record," "Record of Schools," "School Houses Rented and Repaired," "List of Houses Rented and Teachers Employed," and "Record of Schools," mostly covering October 1865-June 1870.  Other reels include correspondence and reports.

The other source consists of websites that include the Rosenwald schools of Smith County.  For a general background see the Rosenwald page of the National Historic Trust.  To find photographs of specific schools, number of teachers, date of construction, number of acres, total cost, amount of insurance, and sources of funding, go to the Fisk University Rosenwald database and enter county:  Smith and state:  Texas.


Schools need to own the land they are situated upon, or they are subject to feuds that could end in kicking them off of the property.  Check the Reverse Deed Index at the County Clerk's Office to find the earliest date for which a record exists for the school.  Follow up with the volume and page of the actual recorded deed to get location and board members.  Then continue with both the Reverse and Direct deed indices until the school is disbanded or consolidated.


School events always make it into the local newspaper.  Unfortunately, Tyler does not have a complete run of any title.  See the newspaper section of the Bibliography of Smith County to see what has survived.  If, on the other hand, you have too many newspapers to look through, focus on when school starts, usually in September (although it can be later for African American schools, since they were timed to begin after cotton picking was over) and when it ends, usually in May, when there are all sorts of school assemblies and graduations.  There may also be interesting information when the summer institutes are held for area teachers.

For the years 1925-1935 see Index to Tyler Journal:  1925-1938 [1936-1938 have not been completed, although the microfilm for the newspaper exists], in the Archives of the UT Tyler Library at AI21 .B4 1925-1930, or in the local history room of Tyler Public Library or the Smith County Historical Society Archives.

High School and College Annuals and Newspapers

Tyler Public Library has a large number of Tyler school annuals.  The Tyler/John Tyler annual is called the Alcalde while the Robert E. Lee annual is the Legend.  The Emmett Scott annual was The Bulldog.

Tyler Public Library also has a range of Tyler Junior College's Apache.  Tyler State College/Texas Eastern University/UT Tyler has never published an annual.  I did not find a Texas College annual in their library catalog, but they could be in their Archives.

For annuals of other county high schools, contact either the school librarian or the journalism teacher of the school.

For backfiles of student newspapers contact the journalism teacher at the specific school.  If they are not in the journalism office, he/she will know what exists and where they are.

Oral History

If you are working on a 20th century school, it should not be too difficult to locate at least one student or teacher who attended the school and who is still living in the area.  That person can send you to another and another.  You will probably want to consider conducting an oral history interview but only after you have done a sufficient amount of research to be able to ask specific questions.  Ask if your interviewee might have photographs, annuals, or other school mementoes. If you have a digital camera or portable scanner, take it with you, because the person may not be comfortable lending items to you.

The UT Tyler Library has several oral history manuals:

Sommer, Barbara W.  The Oral History Manual.  Lanham, Md.:  AltaMira Press, 2009.  D16.14 .S69 2009.

Ritchie, Donald A.  Doing Oral History:  A Practical Guide.  2nd ed.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2003.  D16.14 .R57 2003.

Baum, Willa K.  Oral History for the Local Historical Society.  3rd ed.  Walnut Creek, Cal.:  AltaMira Press, 1995.  D16.14 .B37 1995.

Baum, Willa K.  Transcribing and Editing Oral History.  Nashville:  American Association for State and Local History, 1991.  D16.14 .B38 1991.

Charlton, Thomas L.  Oral History for Texans.  2d ed.  Austin:  Texas Historical Commission, 1985.  F386 .C47 1985.


Check with the Smith County Historical Society Archives for images of particular schools.  See also Robert Reed's webpage, A History of Tyler, Texas, Through Postcards for thirty different school postcards.

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Instagram