Mary Ray School listed on National Register
by w. winston skinner
Fried chicken and country-fried steak didn't build the Mary Ray Memorial School, but traditional Southern food did help restore and preserve it.
The century-old school building - located in the Raymond Community between Newnan and Sharpsburg - is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The listing puts the white frame building on America's list of its most significant historical treasures.
'I really am happy,' said Paula Stanford, one of the key volunteers in the restoration process. 'I'm happy and proud we did it.'
The school was officially listed on the National Register on July 23. Coweta historian Thomas M. Lee prepared the nomination, which was approved by the Georgia National Register committee on Aug. 24 of last year.
Constructed with private funds in 1909 as a one-room school, the Mary Ray Memorial School served the white children of Raymond as a public school until 1949 when the county schools consolidated. The school is the only example within the county of a school that was built by private individuals as a secular, non-profit school and was managed by a board of trustees to support free public education.
The school taught children in grades 1-8 before closing in 1949.
The school also functioned as a gathering place for various community groups from its inception. The Raymond Home Demonstration Club, begun in 1918 as a women's organization, was based at the school for more than 50 years.
Other groups to use the building included Sunday school classes, the Busy Bee Club and a literary society. In 1953 the Raymond Community Center organized and kept the building in use for public functions until 1985.
In 2007 the board of trustees reorganized and rehabilitated the school.
The school was named for Mary Rawson Ray, the wife of a Cowetan who served in the Confederate military. Mary Ray was known for her generosity to schools and churches.
Her daughter, Laulie Ray Shedden, and her husband, Robert F. Shedden, founded Raymond, a community southeast of Newnan off Georgia Highway 16 East. The Sheddens gave the land where the school sits to a board of trustees for the school on Oct. 1, 1909.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the school is a good example of a rural school building with elements of the Greek Revival style. According to 'Public Schools in Georgia, 1868-1971,' early rural public schools in Georgia usually consisted of one or two rooms and rarely had stylistic design elements.
Mary Ray has Greek Revival features including the rectangular temple form of the original one-room building and an entrance portico supported by square fluted posts. Side additions circa 1918 expanded the school into three classrooms.
A small bell tower with a pyramidal roof is located on the front gable. There are two small interior rooms - originally a library and storage room - located on either side of the main entrance door.
The original walls separating the center classroom from the other two classrooms were removed in the mid-1950s. Beams and columns were recently added to provide ceiling support. There is a small raised stage located on the west end of the original classroom.
The school sits close to Raymond Shedden Avenue surrounded by mature trees, a curved driveway behind the building and a 1965 concreteblock building constructed by the county as a polling place.
In 2009, the school building was placed on The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation's Places in Peril list. In April 2012, the Mary Ray Schoolhouse group was presented with the Georgia Trust's Chairman's Award. Mary Ray also received one of four awards given statewide for Excellence in Restoration at the Georgia Trust's 35th annual Preservation Awards ceremony in Roswell.
Several fundraisers were held to gather funds for the restoration project. A community cookbook was updated and republished. Sunday Dinners were served several times - offering people chicken, country fried steak or other Southern delicacies along with vegetables and cornbread or biscuits.
Volunteers have made the restoration effort work from the beginning. Supporters clean the building and cut the grass. Workdays are held periodically.
When the Georgia Trust honored Mary Ray's preservation group last year, Traci Clark of the Georgia Trust described Mary Ray as 'an amazing example of a community driven restoration project.' She commented, 'The grassroots efforts and volunteer leadership shown in the restoration of this community landmark speak to the roots of the historic preservation movement and are an inspiration to us all.'
The National Register of Historic Places is the nation's official list of historic buildings, structures, sites, objects and districts worthy of preservation. The National Register provides formal recognition of a property's architectural, historical or archaeological significance.
Properties on the list must receive consideration in the planning of state or federally assisted projects. National Register listing encourages preservation of historic properties through public awareness, federal and state tax incentives and grants.
Listing does not, however, place obligations or restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer or disposition of private property.
Several districts and properties in Coweta County are on the National Register.
The non-profit which maintains the school in Raymond continues to seek donations and members. Contributions may be sent to Mary Ray Memorial Schoolhouse, 771-R Shedden Ave, Newnan, GA 30265.