Who Are The Rangers?
Unaka Elementary School is located in the northeastern portion of Carter County, Tennessee. It sits on a hill beside State Route 91 overlooking Iron Mountain, which is part of the Unaka Mountain range. Unaka Elementary serves students from pre-k through eighth grade. The name Unaka is rooted in the Cherokee term unega, meaning "white". Estimates range from 25%-50% of the trees in the Unaka Range were American Chestnut trees prior to The Great Chestnut Blight. Because the chestnut had white blossoms resembling long tassels, the Unaka Mountains turned white in color during the spring blossoming of the chestnut trees. They were called the White Mountains by the Cherokee.
Prior to 1915, there was not a proper highway from Elizabethton to the head of Stoney Creek. Most children attended their community school which was usually a one or two room building that served the students within walking distance. There were many of these community schools scattered across the county. On the upper end of Stoney Creek there was Lane Hill School, Buladeen School, Carter School, Brooks School, Willow Springs School, and Winner School. All of these community schools eventually closed and students went to Midway or Unaka. Later, in 1988 Midway School closed and their student population was absorbed by Unaka.
The original Unaka School was completed in 1922. It served as a high school and an elementary. Materials were obtained to build a school through a partnership with the county and United States Forest Service. George Cole, a forest ranger, solicited timber located in the Unaka Mountains. Mr. Cole and fellow forest rangers agreed to provide the labor to cut timber used to build the school. The rangers also assisted with the construction of the school. The school was named Unaka to represent the source of the wood used. To honor the work of the rangers, the Ranger became the school mascot. In 1936 the gymnasium was added to the school. Sadly, the original Unaka School burned in the fall of 1957. The gym was all that remained from the original school. High school students had class in the gym until the new school was being built.
The Unaka Elementary School building, as we know it today, was built during three different periods. The first phase of the building was in 1950 to alleviate overcrowding. The original Unaka School then became a high school. It consisted of five classrooms, a library, a cafeteria, and an office. The second building addition took place in 1953. At that time, three new classrooms were added to the northern part, along with a new office. The third building phase took place in 1958. At that time, a new cafeteria was built, three new rooms were added to the front of the building, and a new office was built. The old cafeteria was turned into a classroom. The school still uses the original gym, which is the oldest school facility still in use in the state. Several portables have been added to alleviate overcrowding since the last major building project.
Unaka has sent many wonderful people into the world equipped for any challenge. It has a history of teachers caring for students, building character, and pride. The history of the building is interesting considering all of its transformations, but it is the previous and current faculty, staff, and students who make up the living history that tell the story of Unaka.
Mooney, James (1972) Myths of the Cherokee and sacred formulas of the Cherokee. Nashville, Tennessee C and R publishers.
Trivette Peters, Jackie and Dawn (2012) Images of America, Carter County. Charleston, South Carolina Arcadia Publishing