Volunteers’ restoration of schoolhouse reviving memories of Green Valley
Old Green Valley — I dream so oft of you.
— from Charlie Mays’ poem in The History of Green Valley Community, 1870-1900
Like the hundred or more souls in its little cemetery, Green Valley sleeps.
Cradled by two big creeks and punctuated by a third smaller stream, the 10-mile-long stretch of gently rolling low country off FM428 north of Denton is but a whisper of the dream its founders had when they settled between the lush banks of Clear Creek to the south and Elm Creek to the north and opened a grocery store, a blacksmith shop and a one-room school.
With Culp Creek flowing in the valley and heavy timber throughout, it offered good hiding places from the Comanche Indians in the early days. It was at a crossroads between the dirt paths leading from the north to Fort Worth and from the east to Fort Jacksboro. When the railroad came through, everybody said, it would be a bustling town.
But the streams that drew settlers to the place they named Toll Town were the barriers that caused the railroad to pass it by. If the tracks had followed the old mail trails, three bridges would have had to be built.
Bridges cost money, so more than 100 years ago, the railroad tracked through Aubrey instead, and the aspirations of the little village died.
Now, on certain afternoons, the sounds of hammers and saws and the laughter of men enjoying the hard work they are doing crack across the valley. There is an awakening born of the generosity of men who once served their country and now serve the small community with their labor and skills.
The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 920 adopted the stretch of blacktop in front of the old school as a cleanup project. And then they adopted the sagging school building itself.
The Green Valley School Historical Society started trying to save the school, said Bob Hunt, president of the society. They were able to repair the foundation of the listing old shell, but then the economy tanked and the society ran out of money. So the building sat.
Vietnam veterans to the rescue. In March 2011, members of the Denton-based VVA chapter began the seemingly impossible job of renovation.
Gary Steele created a website to chronicle the work done on the building. It bristles with photos he took of the veterans tearing out the old, rotten materials and hammering up the new. They literally raised the roof with long poles attached to heavy blocks, and they replaced the joists and beams underneath.
The veterans have volunteered more than 6,000 man-hours so far, Steele said. And now they’re moving inside. They’ve been able to save about two-thirds of the building’s longleaf pine wood floors. The rest rotted away because of a roof leak. They have donations of doors and light fixtures, but they still need an air-conditioning system, drywall and myriad other things.
“Times are hard right now,” Steele said. “It’s hard to get people to donate. But once they’ve seen what we’re doing, it’s amazing.”
The veterans and the historical society have thought of several ways that people can help. There will be a wall of honor for veterans down the long hallway that bisects the school. For $50, a plaque will be hung on the wall honoring the veteran, and for $99, a biography of the veteran will be added to the Wall of Honor on the website.
Supporters can purchase windows in honor of loved ones. Donations can be made online at www.greenvalleyshs.org using PayPal. Or supporters can contact the society and the veterans via the website to learn what supplies are needed. Donations are tax-deductible, Steele said.
One room will be kept as the old classrooms looked. The others will be fitted for meetings and gatherings. The hallway still will run the depth of the building.
Local lore has it that student J.D. Reeves rode his horse down that hallway in the old days. In 1999, his 15-year-old grandson Justin Reeves decided he didn’t want to see the school fall down. So the teen worked to get a historical marker for the school, and in 2001, he succeeded.
“We still need $80,000 to $90,000 to finish,” Steele said. “We’ll do it with some help. We’re a bunch of guys who gave to our country, and we’re still giving.”
The building was the third to call itself the Green Valley School. The first one was built in 1884, a few years after a new post office designated the community Green Valley instead of Toll Town.
Historians don’t know how the community ever got the old name in the first place, but in 1878, a teacher suggested Green Valley when the government rejected Toll Town as a name for the post office.
In 1894, the original school building was destroyed by fire and replaced by another building. The current building went up in 1919.
There was trouble about the placement of the second school, according to a book written by Maude Smith Grace in 1944. She attended the school and wrote a history for a reunion that year.
Some wanted to move the second school a little to the north, she wrote. Some wanted to move it a little to the south. The discussion got heated. When the decision was made to move it half a mile to the north, one of the town fathers was furious.
“Mr. Steagall was so angered that he pulled up his family and moved to Denton,” Grace wrote. “He never set foot in Green Valley again.”
In her book, The History of Green Valley Community, 1870-1900, Grace wrote of the families who came and went, the post office that moved to Aubrey once that town won the railroad landing, and the politics, both local and national.
A Mr. Oldham owned 1,100 acres in the valley, she wrote.
“He was the only Republican that ever lived there.”
Buddy Dobson grew up in Green Valley. He graduated from the eighth grade there in 1949, the last year the school was open. The school district merged with Denton, and he finished at the North Texas State Teachers College Demonstration School.
He and his siblings walked the two miles to school some days, joined by other children whose houses they passed on the way. Sometimes their mother took them to school in their Model A Ford. His father was on the school board.
Some children rode horses to school, he said, and the 81-year-old remembers a few instances of horses galloping down the hallway from the front door to the back when an adult wasn’t around.
He married Bessie Lee and the couple lived in Denton for 25 years. Then they built a house at the far north end of a street off Hartlee Field Road. From that house, Dobson can look north into Green Valley.
Beginning in 1974, the valley was feisty on Saturday night. Waltzes and schottisches played by the Hardtimers band came through the walls of the Double L Ballroom off Green Valley Road, and cars and pickup trucks crowded the dirt parking lot.
Fred and Ila Lynch, their son, Freddie, and his wife, Jenett, built the Double L because they liked to dance and they didn’t like the rough bars in Dallas. Denton was dry, and there was really no place to dance, Freddie Lynch remembers. So they built their own dance hall out of cinderblocks.
It took two years to build because the owners did the work themselves when they weren’t busy with their regular jobs. People became so anxious for it to open they persuaded the Lynches to have the first dance there before the building had a roof and plumbing was installed.
The dance floor was 40 by 70 feet, and it stayed crowded with dancers.
They didn’t allow any trouble, Freddie Lynch remembers. If they had to ask you to leave, they kindly asked you never to return.
The owners favored couples and groups. They didn’t care for single men showing up. That was the stuff of problems, Lynch said. And they didn’t sell alcohol, though they allowed people to bring in coolers. Children were allowed. Their hands got a red stamp instead of the black stamp adults sported after paying their $4 admission.
They had a house band, usually the Hardtimers, which consisted of Lonnie and Lee Dunn, their father and a friend. They took only one 15-minute break a night because people came there to dance.
“All in all, we had a pretty good group of people enjoying themselves and having fun,” Freddie Lynch remembers.
His father, Fred, died in 1980. Freddie and Jenett Lynch got out of the business in 1988, and Ila Lynch closed the Double L in the early 1990s.
It was a job running that club, Freddie Lynch said. They opened only one night a week unless someone rented it for a special occasion.
“We weren’t selling alcohol,” he said. “We were selling dancing.”
The old Double L letters still march across the front of the cinderblock building, but it has become part of an air-conditioning business. Not far away, near the old school on FM2153, the First Methodist Church of Green Valley has become a community church. The cemetery lies nearby, quiet in the late summer sun. The Dobson family lies there. Bill Lynch’s headstone sports a cowboy hat. Laurence Meador’s stone has an old car deeply etched with the words “second love.”
Other stones bear the names Adcock, Hunt, O’Neal, Branch and Foutch. Charlie Bankston was buried there in 1900. Other stones read Maxwell, Jackson, Beam and Wilson.
Those who lie underneath don’t seem to be disturbed by the noise of the hammers and saws just down the blacktop road.
In fact, who could doubt they’d approve?
Old Green Valley — you have aged but I still see
You just as fair and lovely
As in days that used to be.
Your hills somehow seem greener,
Your valley just as fair,
With Culp Creek still aflowing
Like it did when I was there.
— from Charlie Mays’ poem “Green Valley”
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON THE WEB
Green Valley School Historical Society: www.greenvalleyshs.org