HISTORY OF EDUCATION IN PASCO COUNTY
The Myrtle/Myrtle-Denham/Denham School
School board records show an earlier Myrtle School not mentioned in the article below. Minutes of Aug. 5, 1895, show that J. A. O’Hara was appointed the teacher, and the minutes of Aug. 1, 1898, show Bell Powell was appointed the teacher.
Minutes of May 5, 1902, show that the superintendent recommended that the Myrtle School (no. 26) be abolished because there were not a sufficient number of children living in the community to make the required daily attendance.
A 1914-1915 roster of pupils for Myrtle school #26 shows T. J. Garner as the teacher.
A 1916-1917 roster of pupils for Myrtle school shows Blanche Claxon as the teacher.
A 1918-1919 roster of pupils shows J. Shearer (?) as the teacher.
A 1920-1921 roster of pupils shows R. Spivey as the teacher.
1921 and 1922-23 rosters of pupils for Myrtle school #26 show F. W. Polen as the teacher. According to this page, “Fred Polen began teaching in 1913 but later gave it up to become a mail carrier.”
A 1923-24 roster of pupils shows the teacher to be M. Henderson.
From the 1924-25 school year through the 1933-34 school year, the rosters show Verna Watkins as the teacher.
A 1927 map shows the Myrtle school in the NE ¼ of the NW ¼ of Section 29 (in Range 19, Township 26). This is a little more than ¾ mile north and less than ¼ mile west of the marked center of Myrtle. Myrtle is located approximately 2¼ miles east of Drexel.
MacManus has: “When the one-room school at Myrtle got too crowded, a decision was made to build a larger, two-room structure to be named Myrtle-Denham School.” By 1934, the name Myrtle-Denham is found in school board minutes.
In 1934-35 the teacher name is illegible.
Gertrude Godwin is shown as a teacher from 1935-36 through 1943-44, although a second teacher is indicated as follows: Alice Atwater in 1936-37, Grace Norsworthy in 1937-38 and 1938-39, Mary George Hunt in 1941-42 through 1945-46.
Beginning about 1943, school board minutes refer to the Denham school.
In 1944-45 the teacher was Martha Barnes (spelling?).
In 1945-46 Mary George Hunt and Margaret Hancock (?) were the teachers.
In 1946-47 Cora Kelley and Lula Bellamy were the teachers.
In 1947-48 Lula Bellamy and Alice Baker were the teachers.
Denham school closed at the end of the 1947-48 school year, with the opening of Sanders Memorial Elementary School. Also at this time the Drexel and Tucker schools closed.
Myrtle School Began Humbly
The following article and the photograph were taken from Citrus, Sawmills, Critters, & Crackers: Life in Early Lutz and Central Pasco County by Elizabeth Riegler MacManus and her daughter Susan A. MacManus.
Where to put the new school created a great deal of dissension among the early settlers of Myrtle in central Pasco County. (Some things never change!)
According to old school board records, the issue was finally resolved in 1910 when one settler, Henry Strickland, donated an acre of land for it. The site selected was on the north side of Gooseneck Lake, northeast of the intersection of S. R. 54 and Collier Parkway.
Before the Myrtle School opened, students from Hernando County attended County Line School, part of the Hillsborough County school system. The County Line School was south of the County Line Cemetery and is still standing. Hillsborough County collected funds for each of these students form Hernando County. When Pasco became a county in its own right in 1887 by splitting off from Hernando county, it assumed the responsibility for paying Hillsborough County for these Myrtle students.
In 1910 Pasco County decided to build its own school in the area. Grace and Dora Perry went to the school in 1912. This time, it was Hillsborough County making payments to Pasco County to send its students to Myrtle School. The County Line School had closed.
The earliest transportation to the one-room school was by wagon that was driven by the Gilbert children’s father. Mildred Goheen Wilson remembers riding it. To tease Gilbert, the children would climb in a big tree and make him wait until they climbed down. This practice came to a screeching halt when their parents found out about it.
By the time Elizabeth Riegler reached school age, the wagon that hauled her mother’s generation had been replaced by an open-type vehicle with no windows. A student, Hardy Redbrook, drove the bus. Before he was old enough to drive, he would ride his bicycle two miles to school. Many students walked to school during Elizabeth’s elementary school years.
Fred Polen was one of the first teachers at Myrtle School. (He also taught at Lutz School.) Besides teaching, he would cut the boys’ hair and play baseball at recess just like a kid. But the fun stopped at the classroom door. Inside he was a strict disciplinarian. After several years of teaching, he quite to become a mail carrier. He served as Lutz’s only mailman for many years.
Myrtle School had such a small enrollment in 1928 that parents were asked to send their younger children. Elizabeth Riegler began school at age 5 and Pauline Law started when she was 4, although she turned 5 just after school started. Miss Verna Watkins was the teacher. She would often hold the youngest students on her lap, a treat they distinctly remember. Miss Watkins stayed in Myrtle during the school week but went home to San Antonio on weekends.
By today’s standards, Miss Watkins would be seen as overworked and underpaid. She taught every subject every day to all eight grades and still had time (and energy) for conducting spelling and public speaking contests, teaching manners, and giving instruction in art and music. One student’s favorite memory is of her throwing a book at an older boy who was bigger than she was — and hitting him. She was so mild and soft-spoken that the whole school was stunned. The students loved her, and all cried when she left to get married.
Politics then, as now, helped Myrtle School survive. In those days, the county was split into numerous school districts, each of which had its own board of trustees. All were under the supervision of the county school superintendent.
Myrtle was lucky to have among its trustees a Sergeant Fagan, an effective politician. Whenever Myrtle district trustees heard rumors that county school funds had been misappropriated, they would send Fagan to Dade City Consequently, this Myrtle district had the best school building and the best-paid teacher in the county. Most teachers received $200 a year. The teacher at Myrtle received that county stipend plus $200 from the district’s own funds, making her salary double that of the other teachers in the county.
The school house was board-and-batten construction with four windows on each side, about 6 feet apart. Primitive by today’s standards, it had no screens. Even the ceiling was unsealed. Heat came from a wood-burning stove. On cold days some of the older children came early to start the fire.
The school house had a cloakroom in the back, where we left our coats. It had a porch and wide, wooden steps that ran across the front of the building. Shade was provided by three oak trees on the east side and two on the west. The yard had a shed with an old pitcher pump where we got our drinking water. The schoolyard was fenced because the Strickland’s cows roamed the area.
Recess was a popular time, but we had no sports or play equipment. The arrival of a swingset in 1928 was a momentous occasion. Before that, we entertained ourselves by playing games like Red Rover, Mother May I, Drop the Handkerchief, Go In and Out the Window, and others. Tag and baseball were perennial favorites. We didn’t have to worry about getting our shoes dirty at recess because most of us came to school barefooted.
Before leaving school, we would often dig holes about five inches deep around the sides of the schoolhouse to catch toads. The next morning when we got to school, we would rush to see if any were hiding in the holes. If there were, we grabbed them out. But toads got even in their own way by wetting on us (and making us think warts would spring up on our hands), so we quickly put them down!
The school had no cafeteria offering hot meals. Most students brought their lunches in tin lard buckets. A few students lived close enough to go home for lunch. Students had an hour for lunch, plus two 15-minute recesses.
One person who attended Myrtle School in its early days distinctly remembers the absence of outhouses. For girls, going to the latrine meant going into a clump of bushes and sitting in a log. The boys had their own spot in the woods. The woman who told me this tale remembered once that a group of students got even with a classmate they didn’t like by pushing her off the log. The girl had tattled on everybody else for chewing tobacco. (Boys and girls alike were good spitters in those days.)
Later, two outhouses were built on the northern two corners of the schoolyard — one for boys and one for girls. The guava bushes in back of these privies never grew faster!