B.B. Comer Memorial High School
I have always been interested in schools of yesteryear and how they evolved into such different places as time rolls on. From Miss Beadle’s school in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series of books, to any book I see about education in the long ago, I grab it and wonder if I would have been tough/smart enough to teach in those days of the one-room schoolhouse.
Did you know that B.B. Comer High School was once a private one-teacher school? When Avondale Mills was established in 1897, a new community named Mignon, after an old family name, grew up around the mill. Workers were recruited and brought their families to the area, dozens of children. That meant schools, churches, and recreational facilities soon would follow. By 1911 a private one-teacher school was established by Avondale Mills. By 1917 a new building was built at a cost of $1200. It was a two story red brick building with four classrooms on the first floor to accommodate 200 students as well as a cloak room and bathrooms. The top floor had a library and an auditorium which could seat 400 people. It was called the Mignon School and was located across the street from the present Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, which was then Mignon Baptist Church. The mill-owned building later became the Avondale Mills Credit Union. Mrs. Eolia Liner was hired as the Superintendent and remained so until 1928.
By 1922 the school required sixteen teachers. The cafeteria and teachers’ dormitory named Beverly Hall, was constructed across the street. Already the school had a successful baseball team called the Mignon Tigers. Seventh and Eighth graders were added by 1928, and the school had expanded to include a kindergarten, an elementary school, and a high school. That year the school graduated four students.
Mr. J.P. Creel became the School Superintendent and remained in that position for twenty years. His wife was the piano and music teacher. Recently when I visited the high school, the current school secretary, Mrs. Shelia Whetstone, allowed me to look through some old school memorabilia, and I was quite impressed with his organization and communication skills. He kept all of his correspondence with Mr. Hugh Comer and later Mr. Donald Comer in folders. He was very detailed in his reports to them, and they considered him the best man for the job and told him so quite frequently. There were notes to Mr. Comer thanking him for the wonderful Christmas baskets given to the teachers by Avondale and even a note from Mr. Hugh Comer to the Creels thanking them for including him on their Christmas card list. That was the overall impression that I got from the school. It was built on a foundation of trust and hard work that involved sponsors, administrators, teachers, and students working together to create something very special, and that is what they did.
A humorous story was that as the school began to grow, remodeling was necessary. In 193l reports indicated that the upstairs library of the Mignon School was remodeled to make room for a teachers’ lounge and restroom for teachers with this explanation, “The restroom will be used by teachers, but students who are slightly indisposed will have access to it also.”
According to Lynn Haynes’ Daily Home article of 1984 school enrollment had grown to 1,276 students by 1931. This number included ninety Black students who attended a separate Mill School, and about 100 adults who attended six evening classes. In 1933 this private elementary school system supported by Avondale Mills for children of its employees became a part of the Talladega County School System. The High School became a part of Talladega County School System three years later in 1936.
Avondale Mills donated 18 acres of land to the state for a new school to accommodate this growing school population which had expanded to 1400 students. The new building was constructed in 1937 as a Public Works Administration Project at a cost of $141,965. Avondale covered 55% of this amount, and PWA furnished 45%. C.W. Wright, and then Dr. A.R. Moseley, who was Mayor of the town of Mignon at the time, administered the project. The School was deeded to the State of Alabama on completion and keys were turned over to Mr. E.A. McBride who was Superintendent of Talladega County Schools. It was named in honor of Braxton Bragg Comer, the founder of Avondale Mills, and a former Governor of Alabama. It was a state of the art school with 33 rooms, 30 teachers, a small theater on the second floor, a health clinic, school-supply sales room, and modern restrooms and a teachers’ lounge. Avondale Mills no longer had supervision of school activities, but continued to not only financially support extra curriculum activities such as band and glee club, but also support transportation for school trips and provide teachers with the same perks as mill employees, such as usage of the clinic and hospital as well as recreational facilities.
B.B. Comer has come a long way since it was a one-room private school. The Elementary and High School are separate entities, but they share the auditorium and cafeteria. Buildings have been added and improvements are always ongoing .B.B. Comer School has risen from the ashes of a devastating fire in 1994. It has survived the closing of Avondale Mills and many of the facilities that all the people in Sylacauga enjoyed. Sometimes a small start and hard work leave a golden legacy, as in this case, and not so long ago at that.
Special thanks to Samantha Machen at B.B. Comer Library, Mrs. Teresa Offord at First Baptist Church Library, and to High School Secretary, Mrs. Sheila Whetstone, Katie Bryant, and Maliyah Cotter at B.B. Comer High School for your assistance.