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.
Front row from left: Ab Edwards, Arthur Griffin, George Cleaveland, Bessie Anderson, Nettie Reese, and twins Helen & Belle McKinney. 2nd Row: Charlie Anderson, Jim Cleaveland, Charlie McKinney, Walter Reese, Will Cleaveland, Jim Munger, Ed Anderson, Georgia Edwards, Tina Anderson, Pearl Brown, Frank Henry (the teacher's brother), Bessie Reese, and teacher: Mae Henry. Photo courtesy of Highlands Historical Society.
In 2020 US News and World Report Magazine ranked Highlands School in the top 12% of all schools in North Carolina and in the top 14% of all schools in the United States. Between 2012 and 2020 Highlands School was listed in the top 15% of all state and national schools. The School also established itself as a leader in athletics. Between 2001 and 2021 Highlanders brought home 36 conference championships in Boys' Soccer, Girls’ Soccer, Boys’ Basketball, Girls’ Basketball, Golf, and Volleyball.
Highlands School continues its unique brand of education as one of two K-12 schools in Macon County’s public school system. Every senior who graduates from Highlands School receives a scholarship from the Permanent Endowment Fund. Highlands is one of the only schools in North Carolina that provides funding like this to encourage higher education among its graduates.
Photo of Town Clock School. It replaced Highlands Village School when it was built in 1916-19 on Knowledge Hill where the ABC Store stands today. All 6 schools in the Highlands District were consolidated into this building in 1928, and it crowned the town with its impressive architecture.
Photo of Emmons Industrial School in 1925. It replaced Shortoff School when it was built on the hill above in 1906, but it's gone today. Prof. Harbison wrote a personal account of the tragic lightning strike at Emmons Industrial School on Sunday, July 20, 1913.
Photo of Flat Mountain School. It existed 7 miles from Highlands on Flat Mountain Road beyond the end of today's pavement and to the left. Natalie Georgia Sato, whose home is near the original site, is seen astride a pony beside the school in 1932.
Photo of Broadway Gap School in the 1940s, courtesy of Marie Reese. Teacher Beryl Morgan of Franklin with her class. It used to exist 7 miles from Highlands on Turtle Pond Road across from where the road forks up the mountain.
Photo of Horse Cove School in1898. It existed 5 miles from Highlands on Horse Cove Road to the right before the Whiteside Cove Road turnoff and is a home today. Left to right are Leonard Hill, Genelia Speed, Sallie Wilson, Lena Wilson, Mary Edwards, Hoyt Hill, Simon Speed, Radford Morris Hill, Carrie Edwards, Edna McKinney, John Edwards, Barnett Wilson, Garse Edwards, Lafayette Speed, and Fannie McKinney.
Newspaper photo of Highlands Village School. It was built by Arthur House in 1878, where Town Hall stands today and was where Professor Thomas Harbison established Highlands Academy in 1886 as one of the first public graded schools in North Carolina. Its 360-pound bell still rings the time of day above the current Town Hall.