And the walls came tumbling down

Published 11:00 pm Friday, February 24, 2012

Henderson Schoolhouse, pictured above, has been the location of years of entertainment for the residents of Pike County. (Photo/Jaine Treadwell)

Rex Locklar has been keeping the doors to the old Henderson Schoolhouse locked.

“I’m ashamed,” Locklar said, looking around at the gaping holes in the ceiling and the collapsing walls. “I’m 86 years old. What can I do?”

Anyone who knows Locklar and the life that he has breathed into the old schoolhouse for 47 years and counting will say that he has nothing to be ashamed of.

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If the walls of the old schoolhouse could talk, they would tell tales of family reunions, gospel singings, round and square dances, bluegrass festivals, church functions and even a funeral.

“This ol’ place has been a lot of things to a lot of folks,” Locklar said. “Hate to see it go down like this, but time and the elements have had their way with it.”

The Henderson community was originally called Gaynor’s Store but was changed to Henderson in honor of its favorite son, Gov. Charles Henderson.

“There was a note on the schoolhouse, I guess it was back in the 1930s, and Charles Henderson paid it off so they could open the school. They called it Henderson School after him,” Locklar said. “Oh, we had a good time at that old school. Back then, there wasn’t no such thing as grants where schools could get money. We had to get out and raise the money for the schools. We had all kinds of functions over there. Auctions, dances, singings, quiltings, homecomings, reunions, beauty contests.

“Hank Williams came all the time. He’d get a little too much to drink at some places he played. Even got put in jail over in Goshen, but he never took a drink when he was at the Henderson School.”

Locklar said every time Williams came to Henderson, it rained.

“He told my daddy, ‘Perry, anytime you need rain, just call me and I’ll come.’ I reckon if we’d called him he would’ve come.”

Locklar said one of the big moneymakers at the school was a picture show that a man would set up.

“He would bring a projector and everybody would come from all over to see the picture show. He’d have to stop and change the reel so we could go on with the picture.”

The school was a favorite stumping place for politicians and they would always attract a big crowd.

“Back then folks were looking for places to go and they’d go to just about anything,” Locklar said.

“When the school closed, Locklar’s dad, Perry Locklar, bought the schoolhouse and made it into three apartments.

“It got where it would take more to fix the apartments back up after folks moved out than he’d got in rent money so my daddy decided to give up on that,” Locklar said. “I went to him and told him, if he’d let me, I wanted to put on some festivals out there.”

That was in 1965 and the festivals quickly caught on with folks in the area and far beyond.

“I put the stage back so the bands could play and we had a big kitchen and table where folks could come and eat,” Locklar said. “I had about a hundred goats out there next to the school and we had goat burgers just about every Saturday night. Folks ate ’em up. We couldn’t keep ’em made up fast enough. But goat burgers weren’t all we had. Barbecue, potato salad, hamburgers, cakes. We had it all.”

The Saturday night dances attracted round and square dancers.

“And, they kept old folks going,” Locklar said, laughing. “We had lot of good entertainment. Some big name entertainment, too.  Charlie Williams and the Georgia Peach Pickers were real popular.

“And Uncle Dave Macon was a big hit. He was popular all around the country. He didn’t have but three people in his band but folks came to hear Uncle Dave play the banjo. He was a trick picker. He would play the banjo behind his back and over his head. He was a sight to see.”

Locklar said Josh Graves and Kenny Baker from Nashville appeared at the Henderson Schoolhouse. “And we had that Japanese fiddle player, Shoji Tabuchi,” Locklar said. “He’s out there in Branson now. Somebody on one of those bus tours asked him if he remembered the Henderson Bluegrass Festival and he said, ‘heck yea, he remembered.’ Or something like that.”

The late Jim Revis, a buck dancer, could move his feet so fast that they were a blur and Merle Haggard’s son were frequent “entertainers” at Henderson. “We’ve had a lot of bands come through here and some mighty good pickers,” Locklar said. “The Rivertown Girls grew up here and the Benton boys are playing some mighty good bluegrass now.

“These old school grounds have been the stomping grounds for some of the best musicians around. Hundreds of people have picked and grinned in this old building but now it’s coming down. But we’ve still got a lot of good memories, good time memories. “The walls were covered with pictures that went way back to the 1930s. They’d got rained on and wind blown. I told folks to take the pictures they wanted. Some of them were of relatives and friends and others were of people they remembered or times. I’m sad it has come to this. But, when you get old you have to let go.”

However, Locklar is busy getting ready for the 2012 Henderson Bluegrass Festival in April. “I told ’em we ought to just forget it but they won’t have it,” he said. “We’ll have to have the festival outside but we had it outside in the fall. Some folks just won’t let things go. I’ve got work to do – if I can find my hammer.”