School started back this week for some area students and will next week for the rest. Summer break ends as classes begin. But did you know that in Old Forney some schools met only in summer so children could help on their family farms during planting and harvest? And private school years could be as short as 4 months, sometimes depending on curriculum and sometimes on when the money ran out.
There were various and assorted schools in the Forney area long before there was a Forney. As far back as the 1850s there were the Mustang School, East Fork, Union Hill, Wheatland, and others – all private and often held in private homes. Families pooled their money to hire a teacher for area students who could afford to take classes. Children usually attended just a few months before farm work took priority, and most quit lessons entirely well before anything resembling high school graduation.
In 1869 Harbin H. Self erected the Brooklyn School at the center of town near modern S. Bois d’Arc and College streets (where the current FISD building sits) in a building that also served as community center, union church, and Masonic meeting hall. By the early 1880s the school building had become so dilapidated classes actually met outside instead and at two different locations – south Forney and north Forney. Of course, back then north Forney really wasn’t all that far north. The new north school was built at N. Bois d’Arc and Aimee.
Soon the north side of town had another school in the Lewis Academy, a preparatory school opened and led by Edward C. Lewis in 1894. The private academy taught primary, intermediate, and advanced students and not only offered classical instruction in Greek and Latin but also formed Forney’s first football team. It had male and female dorms and occupied both sides of Cedar Street between Buffalo and Kaufman. Over time the preference for free public schooling and the consolidation of north and south Forney schools reduced the number of students at Lewis Academy until it closed in 1903.
As Forney grew it built new schools and upgraded old ones, receiving new buildings in 1903, 1922, 1938, 1968, and 1974. When a new high school was built, the old one usually became an elementary or middle school although some were torn down completely.
Since then the number of schools in Forney has exploded. As recently as 1988, Forney ISD was only 3 schools: elementary, middle, and high schools. Forney now has 9 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and 2 high schools for a total of 13, plus the administration building and academic center.
One thing has remained constant, however. Since Harbin Self’s Brooklyn School in 1869, there has always been a school building (either classrooms or administration) at S. Bois d’Arc and College streets. And next week it will usher in yet another school year just as it always has.
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