Locals Open First Schools
Priestly Academy was one of the first of many schools to open in Sparta. Chartered in 1815, the school was housed in a small log cabin erected by residents on the hill west of town. The Rev. Memucan Wade, who was known for his strict manner, taught at Priestly for a number of years.
In about 1825, a school was established in the 6th District at Zion Church. At about the same time Cumberland Institute was built in the 11th District and remained in operation until 1887. Other schools opened and closed over the next few years, including Nourse Academy and Onward Seminary.
Then in 1945, Peeled Chestnut Academy was established in the 6th District and became a prominent place of learning for early white residents for several years. Another leading school in the area was Doyle Station, just outside the city limits in the 3rd District. It was housed in a two-story brick building, erected in 1883 at a cost of about $9,000, and was known for being one of the best rural schools in the state.
The city's first school for black children, Wallace-Smith School, operated in Sparta from 1925 until the 1960s. Classes were held in the two-story brick structure for grades one through 12. The property was purchased in 1925 for $700 with funds from the Rosenwald Foundation, established by Sears Roebuck and Company President Julius Rosenwald, at the request of Booker T. Washington.
The school took part of its name from then superintendent of White County schools M.C. Wallace. The origin of the name Smith is unknown. Books and equipment were donated from unused supplies of White County High School. It is said they were often of poor condition.
The first class graduated from Wallace-Smith in 1931. The school was closed at the beginning of World War II as all male students of draft age left for the war. Upon closure of Wallace-Smith, high school students were bussed to Darwin High School in Cookeville. Elementary students continued to attend the school. In the 1960s, public schools were integrated and Wallace-Smith became part of the Sparta City school system until the building was torn down in later years. Today, the property is a city park.