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By Bonita Irwin, for Roane Newspapers
Students and friends from Roane County’s former Wheat community will meet Oct. 2 in George Jones Memorial Baptist Church in celebration of the 80th year of reunions for those who have connections to the community.
The church is the only building left standing in what was a thriving community.
The service will begin at 11 a.m., with the Rev. A.L. Turpin bringing the message.
The community of Wheat was first known as Bald Hill because the trees were cut to build houses, churches and schools.
Robertson School was one of the first schools in Roane County after Tennessee re-established a public school system.
Poplar Creek Seminary was founded at Bald Hill in 1877. W.H. Crawford was president of the school and also served as a teacher.
The seminary grew so rapidly that soon there was a need for more teachers. The Baptists, Methodists and Cumberland Presbyterian Church became involved.
After nine years of operation, steps were taken to form an institution for higher grades.
In 1885 the board and faculty of the seminary agreed on a college and made application for a charter and incorporation of the school under the name of Roane College.
The Roane County Board of Education assumed the responsibility of the educational institution in 1908. It came to be known as Wheat High School.
Roane College continued to operate until 1916. Members of the faculty were dedicated men and women equipped with proper training, high ideals and determination to do their best for the students and school.
Students from the surrounding communities — and even from out of state — who wanted a good education found the chance to realize this ambition at Wheat.
Through the closeness of the churches and school working together, the community was recognized as a model community.
In 1942 the area was taken by the federal government in order to build the city of Oak Ridge and construction of the atomic bomb.
There were 157 young men from the area who were called to serve their country during World War II. Nine of them gave their lives for their country.
By the time the government had seized the land, the homecomings had been held each year in October since 1932.
It is a tradition that continued even after the community and schools didn't exist.
Everyone is welcome to attend the reunion. A basket lunch will follow the service.
Wheat Not Forgotten
In 1802, in what was later to be called Wheat, the militia resided in the area. There were two justices and a captain for each militia company. The captain required every able-bodied male between ages 18-50 to organize them into the militia company.
It was in this war that Tennessee became known as the Volunteer State. Two graves in Bethel Cemetery are marked as having served in the War of 1812.
After the treaty with the Indians in 1817 and 1819, the Indians moved westward. Peace came to the countryside.
Elias Roberts was first to move in, coming from the Sugar Grove area. He settled in and built cabins from trees cut from the area.
The land was stripped of timber and was rafted down the river to Chattanooga. That is why the area was first called Bald Hill.
Roberts was killed in 1806 by an arrow from a Cherokee's bow.
Much progress was being made in the area northeast of Clinch River; as families moved in, educational opportunities were being sought. The Bible classes and ciphering books were the textbooks.
One school referred to in the mid-1800s and being in the vicinity of the George Jones Church and Roane College was Mount Zion Baptist Church. The school was known as Robertson's School House and was there before the church was organized.
A post office was established after a settlement sprang up as early as 1838. This area was to be later called Wheat.
Churches, blacksmith shops, general stores and all conveniences that were necessary for pioneer life were there.
Evan Evans or Magills never lived elsewhere and Josiah Montgomery lived near Clinch River in the Southwest end of Bethel.
Many schools and churches were established in the area.
In the last half of the century by 1870, provisions were made for land used by churches and schools would be tax-free.
Poplar Creek Seminary was established in 1877. School enrollment grew rapidly.
The Rev. George Jones deeded 200 or more acres of land for the school. It was known as the loud school or subscription school.
When the post office was established near the campus, its postmaster was Frank Wheat.
In 1881, the name was changed from Bald Hill to Wheat (named for the first postmaster).
We had a very unique community, being based on religion and education.
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Bonita Irwin is a member of the Wheat High School Alumni Association and is instrumental in the annual reunions at the former community.