John Maltby was quick to say he “liberated” that flag. He didn’t swipe it; he “rescued it.”

After all, the original, wood-and-stone E. Rivers Elementary — his school at the time — had been destroyed.

E. Rivers Principal Matthew Rogers stands in front of a Georgia state flag that was “rescued” by 11-year-old John Maltby when the school burned to the ground in 1948.

“Everything was consumed. It burned to the ground,” he recalled. “Everything burned, with one exception.”

Maltby, then just 11 years old, checked out what remained the day after the fire. He found a big Georgia state flag that had flown at the school, complete with burn marks, left neatly folded in the ashes. Maltby took the flag home for safekeeping.

That was in 1948. E. Rivers, named for Atlanta developer Eretus Rivers, was rebuilt to house classrooms for another generation of Buckhead students. Now, nearly a century after that first two-room schoolhouse, originally called Peachtree Heights School, was raised in 1917, E. Rivers Elementary has been rebuilt again to modernize and expand its building to house new generations of students. School officials say it is Atlanta’s oldest public school.

Maltby, who returned the flag a few years ago, was back at E. Rivers March 27 to tell the story behind the big Georgia flag that now hangs in a frame outside Principal Matthew Rogers’ office.

“The loop is closed,” Maltby said. “The journey is over. The flag now is where it should be.”

Kindergarten teachers Rachel Lightfoot, right, and Nancy Sears keep an eye on their students at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly remodeled E. Rivers Elementary School.

Maltby, who said he returned the flag to the school in 2007, spoke as part of a ribbon-cutting celebration during which hundreds of students, parents, teachers and alumni gathered to hear city and school officials, including new Atlanta School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, praise the school and its new, $22 million building.

“It’s fantastic. It’s beautiful,” Elise Lowry, parent of an E. Rivers third grader and a sixth grader who attended the school, said as officials gathered to cut blue and yellow ribbons set up in the school courtyard. “They put a lot of thought into taking advantage of the natural light and they kept a lot of attributes of our old school.”

Parent Laura O’Neill, who has three children at E. Rivers, said the school stands at the heart of the local

Hundreds of E. Rivers students, teachers, parents and alumni gathered to celebrate the new school building.

community. “For me, it’s such a community-based school,” she said. “In our neighborhood, I think maybe 90 percent of the kids go to this school. Everybody knows everybody and the kids all play together.”

Rogers said the construction of the new building took a year and a half. During that time, students attended a school at a temporary more than five miles from E. River’s site on Peachtree Battle Avenue.

“My favorite memory of E. Rivers is the first time I heard children’s voices in this building,” Rogers said. “It didn’t have life. The returned the first time I heard laughter and your voices inside the building.”

Amy Kuykendall, right, accompanied by daughter Vivian, were on hand to support another daughter, Sophia, a first grader.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.