New life for old school

By Phil Major
Posted 8/31/23

The name carved in stone above the door says Lloyd C.S.D 17, but it is more popularly known as the Coke school.

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New life for old school


The name carved in stone above the door says Lloyd C.S.D 17, but it is more popularly known as the Coke school.

Although it has not heard the sounds of pupils for 58 years, it has continued to serve the community 10 miles north of Quitman.

And now it has been given new life thanks to D’Ann and John Drennan in what D’Ann describes as a family project to restore the building and turn it into a retreat.

For D’Ann, the former D’Ann Nichols – 1989 Quitman High School graduate – the lovingly restored school is in many ways a personal tribute to her late father, as well as to the history of the community.

Juan Nichols was the longtime manager of the Wood County Electric Co-op. He retired after 35 years in 1997 and passed away in late 2021.

Juan attended Coke schools, starting in the former schoolhouse about a half-mile south of the existing building.

He transferred to Pleasant Grove just to the east to finish his junior high years and then attended high school in Winnsboro.

It was a good move, because that’s where he met his future bride. Jerry and Juan were wed for 70 years, and she continues to reside in Quitman.

The school was named for the Lloyd family which had given the original school site.

It was among more than 70 common schools across Wood County and the final one to close, in 1965, with the brick building serving classes for 20 years and then many more for the Coke Volunteer Fire Dept.

Although it was supposed to revert to the Robinson family which had given the land at FM 69 and FM 515, they allowed the fire department to continue utilizing the facility, with the addition of truck bays in the back.

But when the fire department moved to a new facility just north across 515, the process to return it to the Robinsons began.

D’Ann contacted Jack Robinson of Quitman only to find out she was the third to call about it and thought she was too late.

But about a year later Jack called.

She said he was very gracious in making the deal for the property and was influenced by her desire to see the schoolhouse restored.

Thus began a journey now three years in the making.

The Drennans will welcome the community for a come-and-go open house Saturday from 2-5 p.m.

Though it is still a work in progress, D’Ann said it was time to let those with an interest see what they have accomplished so far.

It’s part museum, part family retreat and part tribute to a community that once supported its school so well that it did not require any government support.

That story is preserved throughout the building with photos and artifacts, period and original furniture.

Original lockers grace the entry way. The two classrooms (one for grades 1-4 on the left and 5-8 on the right) have been repurposed as bedroom suites.

D’Ann explained that care was taken to ensure that anything new would be obvious to observers, such as the modern kitchen in the corner of the auditorium that spans the back of the building.

The separate cafeteria building is behind the school (where women of the community prepared the school meals) and has yet to find its ultimate purpose, serving as a sort of catch all while the main building was renovated.

The stories resonate throughout the building.

A friendship quilt pieced by the women of the community in the school building after it closed includes D’Ann’s great-grandmother’s name.

One of the many small descriptive placards throughout the building explains that Quitman’s famed actress Sissy Spacek first became interested in performing while watching the Coquettes on stage in that auditorium.

The period cabinet in the kitchen that seems perfectly at home actually came from her father’s garage where it held oil cans for years, and before that was in her grandfather’s kitchen.

Original school desks and auditorium seats remain. Some of the artwork gracing the walls was done by Coke students.

D’Ann said the school was a strong supporter of the arts.

Among the tributes to her father is a collection of his hats gracing one bedroom wall.

Her daughter’s artwork appears in various locations.

Items from the old Coke store that once stood across the highway are also on display.

And there are a couple surprises on either side of the stage.

Sometime in the next year or so the Coke School will have its own state historical marker.

D’Ann got the word just about a month ago that her application had been approved.