Before 1928 there were six schools in the Highlands district:
Highlands 1 was known in 1882 as the Shortoff School, named after the mountain nearby. Miss Susan "Miss Tudie" Rice, who taught here, later taught Ava Gardner at her home in Smithfield, N.C., and served as Thomas Wolfe's secretary in Asheville. The building still exists across from the Shortoff Baptist Church on the Buck Creek Road.
In 1906 Highlands 1 was replaced by the Emmons Industrial School on the hill, where Boston-native Annie Whipp Pierson began her forty-two years of teaching mathematics. This building also served as a church where one tragic Sunday morning in 1913 two girls were struck and killed by lightning. The building no longer exists.
Highlands 2 was the first school in the town of Highlands. In 1878 it was known as Highlands Village School, where the pioneer botanist and educator Prof. Thomas Harbison established Highlands Academy, one of the first graded public school in N.C. The school existed where Town Hall is today, and its bell, which called students from five to seven miles away, still rings in the Town Hall tower.
In 1916 Highlands 2 was replaced by the Town Clock School on Knowledge Hill. Erected high up on the hill behind the original one-story schoolhouse, about where the ABC Store exists today, the new two-story school would crown the town’s skyline as one of its most familiar landmarks until the current Highlands School was built in 1951 in Muddy Hollow.
Highlands 3 was known as the Horse Cove School, which still exists as a home near the Whiteside Cove turnoff from Horse Cove Road. Horse Cove is where Woodrow Wilson spent his summer in 1879.
Highlands 4 was the Clear Creek School, which exists today as a home on Clear Creek Road near the Sassafras Gap Road turnoff. Aunt Mett Picklesimer Brooks and Irene Picklesimer James, now 101, attended school here in their childhood.
Highlands 5 was known as Broadway Gap School and existed off Highway 106 where Turtle Pond Road forks up the mountain. Beryl Morgan of Franklin taught these four students among many Reeses of the area.
Highlands 6 was Flat Mountain School, which existed to the left just beyond pavement's end on Flat Mountain Road. Here six grades of students (mostly Wrights, Heddens, and Phillipses) sat on logs in one big room and learned from Miss Annie Hughes.
In 1928 all six schools in the Highlands district were consolidated into Highlands 2, which at that time was the Town Clock School in Highlands. This meant that many students had to walk from five to seven miles to school if they lived in Clear Creek, Horse Cove, Flat Mountain, or Broadway. Some had to leave home before daybreak, carrying a lantern to light their way to school.