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Martin Institute

The Martin Institute story is well known to most long time Jefferson residents.

On November 20, 1818, the Georgia General Assembly approved the formation of the co-educational school to be called Jackson County Academy in Jefferson, Georgia. The Jackson County Academy operated under this name, and informally as the Jefferson Academy, until December 1859 when a judge in the Superior Court of Jackson County from 1819-1827, William Duncan Martin, willed upon his death a substantial endowment to the school; the name was soon changed to the Martin Institute. The Martin Institute was the first privately endowed educational institute in the United States of America.

In 1874 the Martin Institute was granted collegiate status, which is roughly equivalent to high school or lower undergraduate today. Between 1870 and 1882, the number of students in attendance ranged from 120 to 270.

In October 1883, the old building was burned down. The new building was completed in 1886 at a cost of $15,000. It was a two-story brick building on a hill north of and just outside the city of Jefferson, with classroom (then called recitation room) seating for nearly 300 students comprised the first floor, with a large chapel, vestibule, stage, and music rooms occupying the second story. The building was crowned with a belfry, from which ringing was said to be audible for miles.

The school had a significant reputation for its fine scholarship and excellent teachers, attracting students from several neighboring states and a few foreign countries. Among its most notable students:

Joseph Lamar Rucker - Associate Justice of the United State Supreme Court (1911-1916)

William Marcellus Howard - United States Congressman (1897-1911) and Taft-appointee to the United States Tariff Board (1911-1913)

When the school burned again on January 13, 1942, it was a student, supposedly the son of the mayor of Jefferson, who had intentionally set the blaze to avoid coming to school. The students and teachers met in local churches until a new building on a newly donated site was completed in 1946. The name was then change to Jefferson Elementary and High School.

My mother graduated from Martin Institute in 1942.  Aunt Nell ( Bennett ) Williamson had earlier graduated from the institute in 1936.

During the war years Mr. A.W. Ash served as Superintendent of Martin Institute. He was involved in most Jefferson Civic Groups such as Rotary, Board of Education, and was a staunch supporter of all war effort movements. He found time to coach the Martin Institute boys and girls basketball teams in what limited outside games they were able to schedule. The nickname for Martin Institute was the “Wildcats.”

On the night of January 12, 1944 ~ The basketball teams played their first games in two years as the boys beat Braselton 19 - 14 and the girls lost 43 - 19.

Members of the boys team were: Brooks, Elder, Appleby, Kizer, Aderholt, Whitfield, Potts, Pruitt and Shirley. Girls team members were: McEver, Foster, Purcell, Simmons, Peters, Malcolm, Payne, Dozier, Deaton and Parks.

The boys team would later play in the ninth-district basketball tournament at Gainesville where they defeated Maysville 23 - 17 and lost to Gainesville 46 - 26.

The girls lost out to Statham in their first game by a 31 - 19 score.

The teams were able to play eight games in 1944. Both won about one-half of their games.

Martin Institute was where many of the Jefferson teacher icons started their careers before moving over to the new Jefferson high school in 1946.

The Staff consisted of :

Cathryn Mobley - First Grade

Elizabeth Moore - Second grade

Emma Nell Spratlin - Second Grade

Irene Rankin - Third Grade

Stella Ash - Third Grade

Hilda Tonge - Fourth Grade

Miriam Moon - Fourth and Fifth Grade

Annie Roberts - Fifth Grade

Evelyn Cutts - Sixth Grade

Vergie Havers - Seventh Grade


High School Faculty:


Roy Isbell, Mrs. Louise Boggs, Martha Jo Blackstock, Mrs. Mildred Murphy, Dewey T. Archly, J. L. McMullan, Miss Mabeth Storey, and Superintendent A.W. Ash.


In 1945 Martin Institute had it’s eighty-fifth Commencement service in the First Baptist Church auditorium. Those receiving diplomas were;

Alva Jo Lavender, Frances Juanita Simmons, Billy Nathaniel Elder, Reba Larine Freeman, Sybil Elizabeth Elder, Carol Dean Blackstock, Leila Virginia Nix, Eleanor Maxine Berryman, Myron Edward Fuch, Doris Evelyn Waddell, Willie Nell Gooch, Marion Frances Brown, George Robert Potts, Herbert Royce Frost, James Chester Varnum, Evelyn Virginia Carlyle, Connie Ernestine Shumake, Marion Frances Shumake, Betty Jane Hardy, Marjorie Lannelle Howard, Wallace Odell Perry, Virginia Cornelia Rainey, Charles Smith Bentley, Walter Harris Nix, Nora Frances Parks, Gene Clayton Shirley, Mabeth Wilkes, Vernard Darrell Moore, David Lane Roberts, Jurelle Satterfield, Lewis William Shirley, Sara Elizabeth Archer, Clara Evelyn Craven, Betty Jane Riblack, Betty Ruth Hale, Reba Marie Fields, Frances Lucille Thompson, Amanda Kathleen Caldwell, Martha Lyle, Martha Ann Segars, Daisy Lucille McEver, and Herbert Kizer.

Introduction of Speaker - A.W. Ash

Speaker - A.D. Aderholt - Owner of Jefferson Motor Company

Diploma Awards - Morris Bryan, Sr. ` Chairman of the Jefferson Board of Education.


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