Since I’ve been roaming the area for old abandoned schools one thing that I havent come across much of is a one room school. The Bear Branch School is probably one of the most intact and newest constructed one room schools in this part of the country.
Located along state highway 510 in a part of Letcher County almost disected from the rest of the county by mountains and rivers is the community of Gilly and Gordon near the Harlan and Letcher County Line. Along the highway when driving through Gordon you will notice a few interesting buildings. The most interesting and probably historic of these buildings is the old Bear Branch School.
I first came across this old school thanks to someone geotagging it on google maps. So when you pull up a map of the area and type in ‘school’ several dozen schools pop up. 90% of those are long gone, but once I cruised in on google earth and streetview I realized that this school was still standing and largely in tact.
I had to sort through some confusion when researching this school in large part thanks to my predetermined bias that one room schools were largely built way before when this one was actually constructed. This was actually the second Bear Branch School. There had been a school at Bear Branch as early as 1915. At that time the school had around 60 students.
This Bear Branch School was constructed around 1948 replacing the older Bear Branch School that was a wooden structure. I had to sort through some confusion when researching this school in large part thanks to my predetermined bias that one room schools were largely built way before when this one was actually constructed. This was actually the second Bear Branch School. There had been a school at Bear Branch as early as 1915. At that time the school had around 60 students ranging in ages from 18 to 6.
While researching for this entry I found several references to this older building, leading me to believe that this building was much older than it actually is. In a 1949 edition of the Mountain Eagle, a newspaper from the county (Letcher) seat of Whitesburg there is an advertisement for bids on the old school. Those interested contact Superintendent Martha J Potter. a pdf image of that newspaper clipping can be viewed here: Mountain Eagle Article
How progressive, strange and admireable it was to find a woman named as a Superintendent as a school system in rural eastern Kentucky in the 1940s. In fact, the early 1940s. Martha Potter was named superintendent of Letcher County Schools in 1943.
In 1963 Letcher County began building new, larger school centers replacing the old one and two room schools like the one at Bear Branch. It was recommended that as soon as roads are fixed and transportation was arranged that the 15 students enrolled at Bear Branch be transfered to Kingdom Come Settlement School about 10 miles away in Linefork.