News Stories & Columns
By Mark Hill
The Rutherford County News, December 3, 1986
One man’s vision and gift to his people, Cliffside Elementary stands tall today more than 64 years after its completion
At 1 p.m. on April 22, 1922, a group of Masons marched solemnly across a freshly graded tract of land to a newly constructed building. Upon reaching the building, the Grand Master ascended a platform and the group formed a hollow of a square. The Grand Master explained the group’s purpose and the reason for the building’s
construction. The purpose of the gathering was to lay the cornerstone for the new Cliffside Public School. The Masons performed the ancient rites and customs of Masonry, and the huge crowd that was in attendance left and went home. Soon after, the freshly graded dirt was covered with grass; years later, small saplings grew into huge oak trees. In all these 64 years, though, little else has changed—particularly in the way the community feels about its school.
Cliffside Public School was the dream of Raleigh Rutherford Haynes, the driving force behind much of the economic development of Cliffside. Haynes died in 1917, but his dream was carried out by his son, Charles H. Haynes. It was Cliffside Mills, under the leadership of Charles H. Haynes, that paid for all the materials and construction costs of the school. Cliffside Mills paid approximately $330,000 for the school’s construction between 1920 and 1922. In 1934, the mill sold both school and land to the Rutherford County school system for $120,000. Today the main building is insured for $1,797,000. The explanation for the present value lies within the material available. As the Haynes enjoyed the best for themselves, they spared no expense in building Cliffside School. In the words of present-day Cliffside management, the school was “built to last.”
The building features a steel skeleton with reinforced concrete floors and ceilings, allowing for extreme strength and firmness. The school basement is a Civil Defense shelter. The brick exterior is trimmed with Indiana limestone brought in on the Cliffside Railroad. The building’s four magnificent columns are also solid limestone.
Compared to other schools built around the same time, such as Alexander, Cliffside is a giant among structures. The three-story main building contains 44,062 square feet. The 4,029-sq. ft. auditorium once had a seating capacity of more than 600, but with the elimination of the balcony some years back for safety reasons, that number was trimmed to 500.
Few other changes have been made at Cliffside over the years. One significant change was the addition of a lunchroom. When the school was built, the county had no lunch program. Later the boy’s bathroom on the dirt floor and a couple of classrooms were converted into a cafeteria. Other changes have been minor ones, improvements that included the addition of safety rails on steps, enclosing steps and coating on some floors.
With the opening of Chase High School in 1960, Cliffside Public School, which had served grades 1-12, simply became Cliffside Elementary. An enrollment that had once boasted 700 students has dwindled today to about 300.
Current Cliffside Principal Phillip White has restored many of the school’s original fixtures. White’s office contains the filing system that was initiated when the school first opened. A pendulum clock dating back before 1922 in the main office runs the school’s bell system even today.
Appropriately enough, White hung the old Cliffside Inn sign over the teachers’ lounge entrance. In the school’s early days, married women were restricted from being teachers. For this reason many single teachers stayed in a “teachery.” The Cliffside Inn was one such place.
There is much to remind local residents that the past wasn’t so long ago. Mrs. Joe Swing, wife of the county planner, teaches in a classroom that has her husband’s initials engraved in the blackboard.
Catherine Smart transferred to the new school building when she was in the fifth grade. By her account, the old Cliffside School was a wooden three-room structure that didn’t have enough room for school programs.
When Smart graduated from Meredith College, she returned to Cliffside and taught.
Amy Houser remembers the “new” Cliffside School as “comfortable and nice.” Houser attended the school shortly after it opened. Mrs. Margaret Torrence Beatty, wife of former Principal H. C. Beatty, recalled a time when teachers and students would work in cotton fields after school.
Many schools 50 or more years old in the county stand in various states of disrepair, in desperate need of attention or replacement. Not so with Cliffside. The school that R.R. Haynes built, in the town that R. R. Haynes built, stands proud today, as it did in 1922 — a monument of the relationship between the town of Cliffside and the Cliffside Mills.
Reprinted with permission.