By Susy Sims
||Former Hamilton High School Principal Louis Hix Goggans stands in front of his collection of yearbooks from the school. He has a copy of each yearbook for every year one was published. He also has a copy of many of the school’s handbooks.
Have you ever wondered, "What is an Aggie?"
Maybe your local high school team has played against a team whose mascot was the Aggies. Or maybe you’ve watched Texas A&M football on television.
As you might have figured out, being an Aggie has something to do with agriculture, but what? The easiest way to explain is to start at the beginning.
If you’ve ever traveled in northwest Alabama and ended up in a small town called Hamilton, you’ve probably seen evidence of the Aggies’ existence. According to local folks, the nickname got started when Hamilton High School was an agricultural school.
In order to preserve what little information is available on the early years of the school, former Hamilton High School Principal Louis Goggans set out to gather and compile a history of the school. Some of his information was passed on to him from Judge James E. Shotts and Mr. E.W. Branyon. Goggans, 79, is considered to be the local expert on school history, and in 1995 he published a book entitled Hamilton High School: The First 100 Years
|This State Secondary Agricultural School building in Hamilton was constructed in 1917. It was used by the school until in burned in 1959.
According to Goggans, the school got its start in 1895 when the state of Alabama passed an act to establish district agricultural schools and experiment stations throughout the state.
The next year the government regulated the schools, ensuring that each was governed alike.
"During that time everyone made all or some of their living by farming," said Goggans, who graduated from the school in 1946. "The school helped to educate the young people of the area so they could be more successful at farming."
One of the early handbooks for the school stated a "practical education in agriculture" was needed by young people and that the school was the optimal place to receive this training.
Goggans said newspaper reports from 1895 noted that the school was located in the Sixth Congressional District and was open to anyone living in the district.
It was also reported that W.C. Davis, who represented the area in the state legislature, and Capt. A.J. Hamilton, for whom the town is named, had much to do with getting the law passed to create the school.
Goggans noted that Capt. Hamilton promised that the people of the town would make accommodations available for students who did not live in the immediate area.
It was reported the school opened in September 1895 with 136 pupils. The first graduating class—The Class of 1899—was made up of six students.
||Shown is the entire student body of the State Secondary Agricultural School in Hamilton during 1922.
Goggans said the original eight-room building was set on two acres. The grounds of the school were cared for by horticulture students.
In addition to what would be considered normal classes such as math, science, history and grammar, students were offered such subjects as botany, horticulture, livestock, soil chemistry, and general agriculture. The school was outfitted with chemistry and physical laboratories. In 1913, military drilling was added to the required coursework.
Goggans said that since it was an agricultural school, a farm was acquired and was used by the students to practically apply their classroom education. Part of the initial idea behind the school was that of an experiment station where new ideas could be tried, proven and recorded. According to an early handbook, the school had 12 acres of land set aside for such experimentation.
In 1927, according to Goggans, the state legislature passed a law that state secondary schools were to have demonstration farms.
A farm consisting of 120 acres was purchased from the Burleson family. Appropriate buildings and facilities were constructed on the premises. The dollar amount for purchasing the land and making the necessary improvements was approximately $30,000.
The farm remained in use until 1941, when it was purchased by the Guyton family.
Not all of the students went back to work on their family farms when they graduated from the agricultural school.
Many of them went on to enroll at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, which is now Auburn University. Through his research, Goggans learned that graduates of the West Alabama Agricultural School were permitted to enter the Institute’s junior class without examination.
In 1914, approximately 20 graduates of the Hamilton school were enrolled in Auburn.
New Building, New Name
The 1917 school year saw a new building for the ever growing number of students at West Alabama Agricultural School. The first building burned the previous year. The new building, recalled Goggans, was three stories tall and was made of brick and concrete. It had 21 rooms and cost approximately $30,000 to construct.
In 1919, the name of the school was changed from West Alabama Agricultural School to State Secondary Agricultural School. Not much information is available concerning the name change. The curriculum did not see any obvious changes.
Goggans said that the state began to have more involvement in governing the school as the state’s education department was evolving.
The name changed again in 1936 to its present name, Hamilton High School. At this time, Goggans noted that the school’s focus shifted to a more academic and vocational purpose.
The second building burned in 1959. The current building was completed in time for the graduation of the Class of 1961.
Many suspect that the nickname of "Aggies" came about when the school began a football team in 1911.
Goggans noted in his history that Principal Harvey Owen Sargent organized the team, which did not play a game during their first season. In fact, the team’s only endeavor was marching in a parade in the rain. The team went on to become more organized and well-known.
Goggans recalled that the present stadium at the high school was constructed in the 1940s and was named for the founder of football at the school.
As transportation became more reliable and more readily available, many of the smaller schools in Marion County began to close.
At first only the upper grades were consolidated with the secondary school in Hamilton and other schools in neighboring towns. Many of the elementary schools remained open for decades. Goggans said that at one time there were approximately 80 schools located in Marion County.
As it now stands, there are schools located in each of county’s six larger municipalities—Bear Creek, Brilliant, Guin, Hackleburg, Hamilton and Winfield.
Many Co-op folks know Steve Lann, the manager of the Marion County Co-op in Hamilton. He graduated from Hamilton High in 1988. Lann was the 2006 recipient of the E.P Garrett Award, otherwise known as AFC’s Manager of the Year award.
Goggans was a teacher, an assistant principal and the principal of Hamilton High School for 36 of his 39 years as an educator.
Persons interested in learning more about the school or those with information to share may contact Goggans by calling (205) 921-3633. His mailing address is P.O. Box 1684, Hamilton, AL 35570.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.