In 1952 Lloyd Tarwater went to work for the Sevier County Board of Education. He was the instruction supervisor for Sevier County schools, and the Chapter 1 supervisor for a total of 34 years. When he started there were 74 schools in the county, and 44 of them were one-room schools. In those days, the central office staff numbered four. Today the staff fills the old Murphy College Building on Cedar Street.
Born in 1921, Lloyd H. Tarwater was the second of six children of Oliver Walter “Ollie’ Tarwater and Grace Wynona McPherson Tarwater. After graduating from Sevier County High School and East Tennessee State University, Tarwater served in the Army during World War ll. Upon his return, he started teaching school and married Elise Yates. Born in Russell County, Virginia on April 18, 1921. Elsie was a graduate of Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Virginia and East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. She was the first female elected official in Sevier County and served as Register of Deeds from 1954-1974.
From 1949 to 1952, Tarwater was the only teacher and principal at Kellum School, a one-room school on Kellum Creek Road. In the mid-1950s the one-room schools began disappearing as several schools were consolidated, and, due to an improved busing system, some students transferred to larger schools such as Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. The new consolidated schools had at least one teacher per grade. Although Tarwater played a vital role in the change, he felt that communities lost part of their identities when the smaller schools closed.
All of the new schools had to be named. Some, such as Caton’s Chapel, adopted the name if the community where the building was located, while other schools covered an area that had several notable community names. Tarwater was involved with a situation of what to call the new school on Newport Highway. He suggested New Center—with the idea of the name being changed later. However, they never changed it. In fact, over time it was accepted as the name of the community as well.
In 1952 there were 5,200 students in Sevier County, which was a big increase because a new compulsory attendance law helped in keeping children in school. By the time Tarwater retired in 1986, the number of schools in the county had dropped to 18 and enrollment had increased to 8,200.
Today, the Sevier County School System is the tenth largest school district in Tennessee with 31 schools and nearly 15,000 students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. General education schools in the system are accredited by AdvancED, formally known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Our schools offer comprehensive instructional programs with opportunities for every student to achieve and excel. Early post-secondary opportunities abound at the secondary level and include Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, State Dual Credit courses, Career and Technical Education programs and industrial certifications, services for exceptional children, and many other instruction and intervention options.
In his role as instructional supervisor, Tarwater became known to generations of children for organizing the annual spelling bee and the academic field day. Until shortly before retirement he didn’t bother with vacations. He arrived before 7:30 a.m. at the office every morning and stayed until after 4 p.m. He made rounds at schools regularly to see the progress of various programs he implemented.
There was a time when floods interfered with his job. In the early 1950s the school system’s offices were located in the courthouse. The superintendent’s office was on the third floor, but Tarwater’s office was in the basement. The floods that plagued Sevierville in those days would flood the basement as much as three or four feet. Many of the old school records were lost when the ink ran due to the water damage.
Tarwater served under six superintendents, one of them twice: Mayford Seaton, Roy Ledwell, Chan Huskey Paul Bogart, Eugene Huskey, and T. Mack Sharp. Ledwell returned for a six-month period when Chan Huskey worked for the state at the end of his term.
In those days the superintendent was elected by the voters. Each one of them had their way of operating. Therefore, Tarwater went through a lot of transitions from one regime to another. But the state had rules and regulations to run the schools by and the superintendents had to adjust to them.
When a new superintendent was elected, Tarwater was there with his wealth of knowledge and his dry wit, which endeared him to his associates over the years.
The rules increased over the years. Federal government mandates often had stricter rules, whereas the state allowed local districts some flexibility. Despite the increased rules and the heavier amount of paperwork, Tarwater told his friends that he enjoyed his job because there was something new every day and he got a chance to meet new people.
After he and Elsie retired, they loved to send time gardening at their home on Robertson Branch Road, and he loved to go fishing at their place near Pittman Center. He was a member of Union Grove United Methodist Church and the American Legion Post 104.
After a lengthy illness that ended with his residence at Fort Sanders Sevier Nursing Home, Lloyd Tarwater died on Oct. 8, 2005 at age 83. He is buried in the Tarwater Family Cemetery.
As a widow, Elsie was a member of Sevierville First United Methodist Church, and involved in the Prayer Shaw Ministry. She was an excellent cook and loved to entertain. She was a talented seamstress and a longtime volunteer at LeConte Medical Center, where her specialty was making baby caps for all the newborn babies. Elsie died in Alabama at age 98 on Dec. 10, 2019. She is buried beside her husband.
Carroll McMahan is the Special Projects Facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian.