"Learning Is Still Alive and Well at the Little Greenbrier School" in Smokies Life Fall 2020

Besides supporting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the many perks of a Great Smoky Mountains Association membership is a subscription to Smokies Life magazine. Below is a sneak preview of one of the features in the upcoming fall issue. Become a member by July 31 in order to receive a copy in the mail.


In 1881, the small farming community of Little Greenbrier in the Great Smoky Mountains came together to build a one-room schoolhouse. Constructed meticulously using dry stones for the foundation, dovetailed tulip poplar logs for the structure, and hand-hewn oak shingles for the roof, the Little Greenbrier School became an important hub for generations of children right up until the very last class was dismissed to make way for the creation of a new national park in 1936.

But the Little Greenbrier School’s story didn’t end there. Like many of the structures left standing within the bounds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park at its creation, the school would go on to serve another important purpose. And this year, 2020, marks a significant milestone in that saga—the 50th year that park volunteers have devoted their time to maintaining the historic structure and sharing stories about life in that little one-room school.

In the 1970s, an enterprising local educator, park volunteer, and all-around ‘force of nature’ named Elsie Burrell returned to the schoolhouse to launch a popular interpretive history program for the benefit of park visitors. Assuming the role and attire of a traditional mountain schoolteacher, ‘Miss’ Elsie Burrell successfully rekindled the tradition of education at the Little Greenbrier School and, before her retirement, passed the torch on to the school’s current volunteer headmistress, Robin Goddard.

In the fall issue of Smokies Life, author Rose Houk explores the history of the Little Greenbrier School and interviews the school’s most recent educator, Robin Goddard, to discover how children in the Smokies once strived to learn their reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Photo of Elsie Burrell and students courtesy of GSMNP archives.


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