Massie, being the first public school in Georgia, began with much excitement in 1856. The school year began with 150 students and three teachers. However, more students enrolled, and by the end of that year there were 240 students, but still only three teachers!
Students would assemble in Calhoun Square at the start of the day. When ready, the principal would ring the school bell, and the students would assemble (by gender) at the school entrance. The genders were kept separate throughout the school day, with girls sitting on the left side and boys sitting on the right side of the classroom facing the teacher.
In classes where there were multiple age levels, the youngest students would sit in the front rows, and the older students would sit toward the back of the room.
During the Civil War, Massie became a field hospital for Union soldiers under the command of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. His occupation of the city of Savannah brought 60,000 hardened veterans to the city in December of 1864 – many of them sick or injured – thus nearly quadrupling Savannah's population. Massie was somewhat unique in that it possessed a coal-fired furnace that provided heat. However, little or no coal was available since the Union Navy had blockaded the city by capturing Fort Pulaski near the Savannah River's mouth in 1862.
During the cold winter of 1864-65, when Savannah saw snow in December, the soldiers burned Massie's desks in the coal furnace for heat, eventually destroying it in process. The newer-looking desks in the classroom today are replicas of the original desks, while the older desks are from other Savannah schools and date to the early 1900s.
After the enslaved peoples' emancipation in Savannah, Massie briefly served as a Freedmen's School for black children in 1865. In October 1865, white students returned to Massie, and the black students attend another school across town.
Geography was an essential part of the curriculum since the country was expanding rapidly, and pioneers' tales filled the era's newspapers—the maps on the wall show this expansion. The United States was only eighty years old when Massie opened!
There are several exciting artifacts to explore from Massie's early days:
Slate board and chalk
These were used in place of paper as an erasable board for doing arithmetic and writing exercises. The school provided the slate board, but the students had to bring their own chalk. Many of the poorer students would bring charcoal pieces from their fireplaces since they could not afford chalk.
Students did not carry "book bags" like children today, but instead carried a belt-like strap that held all their books together. Books were passed down from generation to generation. The thinking went, the Three R's (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) did not change, so textbooks did not either.
Sanitary pencil holder – In the late 1800s, there was an increased focus on public sanitation and health. This new invention allowed each student to use their pencil only each day, limiting the spread of germs from pencil sharing. At the end of the day, the student would return the pencil to a specific numbered hole.
The principal's office has a commanding view of Calhoun Square where the students assembled before school and enjoyed themselves at recess in later years.
The display cases along the west wall have several items of interest relating to the Massie School's history, such as letters, photographs, and artifacts.