While a cluster of the boys were playing marbles in a corner of the school yard, a circle of girls were in the back, jumping rope.
Just above a whispering September wind, lilting childish voices reel off breathy rhymes as their worn rope repeatedly slaps the dirt, now and again punctuated by cheers and jeers as kneeling opponents rally their skill striving to augment their collections of tiny clay and glass marbles.
Seated some distance away, on the stone steps of the old building, a group of girls read and compare their brand new school books, which their parents have purchased for them from McCord and Harris.
Suddenly, the clanging of the school bell peals out into the morning’s reverie, astride the whir of the old hemp rope and squeaking pulley. As someone inside, observing the commencing hour’s arrival, calls the students to assemble in separate lines: girls on one side, boys on the other.
This year a new tradition began.
Young Walter Lyon appeared on the front porch, a shoulder sling holding a fine new wooden marching drum. Without showing how nervous he really was, Walter, a mere fourth grader, drew out his drum sticks and began to snap out a sharp military rhythm.
Eyes wide, each of his classmates instinctively knew what to do. As one, they turned in their line and began the march up the steps, in the door, and up the inside staircase to their classrooms.
The “little drum beater,” as Walter is still fondly remembered, kept a steady pace until every student was efficiently inside and in place. Thus began a typical morning of studies at Bradley Academy through the 1920s and 1930s.
Certainly memories of the Bradley are clearly imprinted in many hearts and minds of its former students, but long before it became an institution of learning in modern times, the Academy played a vital role in the educational, social and cultural life of Rutherford County for more than 200 years.
Before the settlement of Lytle Creek was ever named Murfreesborough even before Murfreesboro was the capital of Tennessee in 1818, and decades before the Battle of Stones River in 1863, a school named Bradley Academy was founded.
The year was 1806, three years after the County of Rutherford was organized. At that time, the Tennessee Assembly passed legislation and appropriated funds mandating the establishment of an academy in every county of the state. Knowing that buildings alone would not do, the lawmakers also provided for the appointment of Trustees for every new school.
The first structure was a log building constructed on land donated by the Col. Hardy Murfree family, the man for whom the town of Murfreesboro was eventually named.
The academy was intended to be an educational institution for the white land owners to send their sons for a classical education. From its earliest years many gifted teachers moved here to teach at Bradley Academy.
One notable professor was the Rev. Dr. Robert Henderson, who arrived here from Maury County with an agenda to gather a congregation.
His Murfree Springs Church later became the First Presbyterian Church. As it happened, an early protégé of Henderson was a boy named James Knox Polk. A gifted student, Polk studied Greek, Latin, mathematics, geography, literature and philosophy. Young Polk met his wife Sarah Childress here before he went on to become president of the United States in 1844.
By the late 1820s or early 1830s, the original log structure was replaced by one of brick construction.
Bradley Academy grew as the town expanded until the time of the Civil War. After the war’s ravages of the entire area, the Bradley’s brick structure stood vacant for nearly 40 years. These years of neglect compounded the damages suffered during the war.
For a time many thought the Bradley was beyond repair.
But in 1884, the Rutherford County Commission designated the Bradley Academy as a school for the African-American community.
The first year, the Bradley had three teachers and 150 students.
Even though the reorganization declared “separate but equal” schools for black students, they were rarely even close to equal. The old Bradley lacked running water, electricity and had only one stove to provide warmth over the winter months.
By 1917, laws were passed by the Tennessee General Assembly to strengthen education for both blacks and whites.
The present building was constructed as a result of these reforms. The architectural firm Manley and Young of Knoxville designed the building and a local developer, J.N. Yearwood supervised the construction. Thus began the modern era of history for the Bradley Academy.