Elzo Guthrie Elementary School — Harlan County, Kentucky


Since I have been exploring these abandoned schools and posting about their history, the one strongest on my mind and most desirable to learn about and get pictures of to document its existence is Elzo Guthrie Elementary School.  Which is basically in my own back yard, as noted on the map above, you can see the relative proximity of this building to my home.  But to understand the accuracy of that proximity you have to understand the infrastructure and general dynamics and lay of the land in Harlan County.  By ATV this building is no more than 10-15 minutes from my house.  By car its pushing 30.

Before I get into my own photos from todays exploration, I want to share some historic photos from the schools past,


This photo of Elzo was taken from the Harlan County Schools website.  Notice the words Elzo Guthrie Elementary are over the top of the building, common in schools built in this area in the 1950s and 1960s.


There is an Elzo Guthrie Elementary group on Facebook and I swiped this picture from the group.


And finally a newer photo of the school taken in 1986 and posted in the facebook group.


From my best guestimates Elzo Guthrie was opened in about 1953, around the same times schools with a very similar design were opened at nearby Cranks, Smith and Rosspoint.


The school served students in grades Kindergarten through 6th from the Catrons Creek area of Harlan County along Highway 72.


The school was special on my list of buildings to document for a few reasons.


The school has a very colorful history in the mid to late 1980s.


In 1985 the state board of education done a Facilities plan study for the Harlan County school district, who at that time had 7,500 students in 21 schools in 31 buildings.  At that time seven of the school systems elementary schools were placed on an interim basis meaning they either needed replaced or consolidated.  Those schools were Ages, Holmes Mill, Lynch, Black Mountain, Totz, Cranks and Rosspoint.   The news article concerning that Facilities plan can be found here


As you notice, at the time, Elzo Guthrie was not listed on this list.  All was well.


Flash Forward to February 1986, for some reason between May 1985 and February 1986  the state board of education saw fit to do a revised facilities plan for Harlan County.   The news article from the Harlan Daily Enterprise concerning that facilities plan can be found here


This time, Elzo with its 153 students was moved to a interim basis.


The residents of the area served by Elzo Guthrie Elementary were in an uproar.


The state and school board promised that consolidation was a long way off, that they had to include the enrollment at Elzo with the enrollment at nearby Hall Elementary to satisfy state requirements for building a new school.


It was supposedly all just something wrote down on paper to satisfy government regulations.


The acting school superintendent at the time was even quoted in the news paper as saying “Elzo is in the best condition of any school in the county and the people shouldnt need to worry about consolidation for another 20 or 30 years.


In the late 1980s faced with severe budget issues and  a declining enrollment, the school district was taken over by state management.


The state began shutting old schools down, and building new ones and improving old ones that remained in operation.


in 1989 construction began on a new elementary portion for Hall Elementary School.  In the original plan a complete new school was promised.   Those promises were never realized.


In the 1989-90 school year Elzo had an enrollment of 140 students.  Rumors ran rampant that the school was closing and parents began enrolling their children at Hall, the school that would absorb the students from Elzo if and should it close.  At the beginning of the 1990-91 school year only 53 students remained and Elzo still ended up closing its doors in May of 1991.


I was actually a student at Hall when Elzo’s students and teachers were absorbed into Hall.  Funny thing, I ended up holding my first teaching position at Hall Elementary many years later with several of the teachers who had came to Hall from Elzo.


After the school closed its doors to students, the building was sold to the Industrial Development Board.


The windows were bricked over top of and a glove factory was the occupant for several years until around 2000.


Today Elzo Guthrie stands in ruins.


The roof is falling in, the walls are falling apart…..


and the outside grounds are over taken by shrubs and brush.




The school has obviously been the sight of a few parties in the recent past.




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