FORT MILL -- In rapidly growing Fort Mill, newcomers of less than two decades ask: Why was the street in front of the new Nation Ford High School named A.O. Jones Boulevard?
Many credit A.O. Jones with paving the path to Fort Mill schools' achievements. He was Fort Mill's first public high school principal in 1930. As superintendent, he hired eight principals who followed his standard.
Jones holds a place of honor in Fort Mill High's new historical photo exhibit and in the hearts of those who remember him. None revere him more than his sons Jim, 79, and Oscar, 80, who paired with district officials in championing the boulevard's name, contributed exhibit photos and donated their father's portrait to the district.
They hold keys to district history in their memory.
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A 1916 graduate of Fort Mill's high school, A.O. Jones attended Presbyterian College, earned his master's degree from the University of South Carolina and did more graduate work at Columbia University in New York. In 1921, he began his teaching career in Fort Mill. He became principal at Central School, located where the post office sits on Tom Hall Street, when it became a high school for grades 7 through 11 in 1930. Grade 12 was added in 1948. During Jones' 43-year tenure, Central was renamed A.O. Jones Middle School.
The family lived at Clebourne and Tom Hall streets, raising chickens, cows and horses. A neighboring physician tethered a horse outside for house calls.
"I was born where Bank of America is now," said Jim, the more serious of the Jones boys. Oscar is a man with a cane and a twinkle in his eye. Their mother had been a Winthrop girl who taught school until she married.
The boys attended Confederate Street's Carothers school, where students were weighed-in when the school year began. Those deemed underweight were served soup and cornbread. Everyone else carried their lunch.
It was a two-story building with a coal-burning furnace and without air-conditioning. The second-floor library was downright hot in the springtime, so the windows were opened.
"We were in the library, and Ira Starnes was pickin' on me," Oscar said of his first school disciplinary encounter. "I told Ira if he didn't stop, I would throw his books out the window. He didn't, and I threw the books out the window. He put up his hand. They took us to the principal. That was Daddy."
Principal Jones made both boys hand-copy five pages from a textbook.
What the principal did at home that night was a mark of his character.
"He never mentioned it," Oscar remembered. Jones separated home and school.
Worship before golf
Church was another matter. There were no school activities on Wednesdays, church night. When Springs built a golf course, Col. Leroy Springs and Jones had a talk. The golf course would not open until 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Many Winthrop girls came to Fort Mill to teach. A.O. Jones visited their homes before hiring them and found rooms for them in town boarding houses.
As World War II approached, the boys ran the football track first thing each morning.
"We had to get in shape for war," Jim explained. Both brothers served in the military, but the war ended before they could see action.
Oscar's wife, Sarah Ellen, arrived in Fort Mill in 1947 from a town outside Atlanta to work at First Baptist Church.
"I thought I was going to a dead end," she said with a chuckle about countrified Fort Mill. "I told my mother I was afraid I would be stuck in that town."
Then she met Oscar, ended up teaching in Fort Mill and wouldn't dream of leaving.
The post-war economy brought a new Fort Mill High on Banks Street. It later became Banks Street Elementary, now the Fort Mill Academy alternative school. Fort Mill High English teacher Jane Langley found a job there through a friend in 1967.
"They were very interested in my personal life," she remembered. "They wanted to know what church I go to."
The Banks Street high school graduated about 60 students per senior class. When first entering the current Fort Mill High, Langley thought she "could never find my way around." Recently, Fort Mill High has graduated about 500 students per senior class. Langley is still there teaching English.
"Why would you want to leave the best?" she asked. "There's just a legacy here."
A.O. Jones retired after 43 years. He died in 1986.
Before Nation Ford, the district's second high school, opened this year, Fort Mill High English teacher Jason Ford, who graduated there, as did his parents, discussed creating a display to preserve the school's history with Principal Dee Christopher. The Jones family and others contributed photos of each school and every Fort Mill High principal.
Because district policy now prohibits schools from being named for people, district officials and the Jones family began successful conversations about having the street in front of Nation Ford named A.O. Jones Boulevard.
"He was a tremendous influence on me," said Jim's wife, Aggie. "A spiritually gentle man who loved his family."
Said Sarah Ellen, "He was one who made Fort Mill schools what they are today."