Before consolidation (1928 and 1960) and desegregation (1964/65), numerous schoolhouses dotted the landscape of Henderson County. One- or two-room framed or log buildings counted among the county’s earliest institutions of learning.

Rigorous restraints:

Pursuant to their contracts, teachers were expected to keep their classrooms tidy with daily sweepings and weekly scrubbings of floors. Smoking was strictly prohibited, as was dressing in bright colors. And teachers were not to dye their hair.

Other rules for female teachers included:

• Wear at least two petticoats.

• Dresses must be no shorter than two inches above the ankles.

• You must not keep company with men.

• You must not marry during the years of your contract.

• You must be at home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., unless attending a school function.

• You may not loiter downtown in ice cream parlors.

• You may not ride in any carriage or automobile with any man except for your father or brother.

And for living like nuns, early-20th-century female teachers earned the whopping pay of $2 to $3 per day. Male teachers earned slightly more than their female counterparts.

Some of the county’s earliest formal institutions of learning included Mills River Academy (1829), Judson College (1879), Blue Ridge School for Boys (1913) and Fassifern School for Girls (1914).

Mills River Academy

Revolutionary War patriot James Brittain set aside land in 1797 for a school and church in Mills River. Brittain’s son Phillip (1787–1849) deeded the land to five trustees in 1829. The school began as a log structure, later named Mills River Academy, the oldest institution of learning in what became Henderson County, and considered the cradle of government and education in the county. Some of the earliest courts of pleas and quarter sessions took place in the building also shared by the Mills River Presbyterian Church until 1908. A two-story, brick-veneered school constructed in the mid-1800s burned in 1921 and was replaced in 1922.

A select few of the county’s other schools follow.

Dana

The earliest learning institutions in Dana included Pace School (1820), renamed North Blue Ridge, on Pace Road; and Union Hill (“Brittain”) School (circa 1829) near Lamb Mountain Road.

About 1860, Leander Case (1830–1862) built the Ridge School. Later named Blue Ridge Academy (1866), this learning institution was first to reopen after schools went dark during the Civil War.

William Gunaway Brownlow Morris (1840–1891) served as the first “professor” at this school after the Civil War. In 1907, a new building was constructed and then replaced in 1928 with the Dana School. Locals called this school the “Blue House.” Professor John H. Merchant (1845–1919) also taught there.

After construction of the larger school, Robert Gibson Anders (1882–1968) launched a countywide program for school consolidation and transportation of pupils to school by bus, and instigated improved professional training and standardized testing. In 1928, most schools in the Dana area were combined when the modern school was built near its hub. Later, a Henderson County superintendent—Anders, known as “the superintendent on horseback,” attained great strides for the improvement of education in the area.

Adam K. Hyder (1860–1932), the first superintendent of Henderson County schools, built the Adams Run School at Deep Gap in the late 1800s. Hyder served as one of its teachers, as did Frank Clark (1870–1958) and William Scott Young (1858–1940). This was the last one-teacher school in the county.

The Ace School stood west of Ridge Road near Old Dana Road. This school later moved closer to the Old Dana Road on the land of James Lemuel Hood (1809–1884). The Hood School moved to land owned by John Capps and was renamed Mount Vernon School.

In 1960, when high schools in Henderson County consolidated, Dana served grades one through eight. In 1974, a new facility was constructed after the Dana School was destroyed by fire by an arsonist. The present facility, Dana Elementary School, includes grades kindergarten through five.

Mt. Vernon (1909)

Frank Lockwood FitzSimons Sr. (1897–1980) wrote that Collie [sic] Margaret Caroline “Callie” Crawford Hill (1839–1930) suggested to name a Dana school Mt. Vernon for the home of George Washington. FitzSimons, a teacher at the school (also its principal and coach), later explained, in one of his books, the school’s nickname: “Dry Hill.” Apparently its shallow well ran dry during prolonged droughts.

The two-room school, described as “beautiful” by FitzSimons, sported white weatherboarding with dark shutters on its windows, and two outhouses. Potbellied stoves supplied heat for each room. The school stood on a hill above Old Dana Road and Haunt Branch.

Mt. Vernon’s teachers included Elva Pressley [Drake] (1901–1993), Minnie Justice Mitchell (1882–1964) and her daughter Irene Mitchell (1904–1994), William Scott Young (1858–1940), Sallie Osborne [Henderson] (1879–1949), Eleanor Plank (1900–1983), T.W. Osteen (1879–1950) and Winnie Pryor [Henderson] (1888–1970).

John Henry Capps (1880–1976) had given the land for the school. When schools consolidated and Mt. Vernon’s students transferred to Dana Elementary, the land reverted to the Capps family. John’s son Ector Capps (1911–1997), a former student of Mt. Vernon, dismantled the old structure. He recycled its boards, joists and floors and built his home from the materials, a few yards from where the old schoolhouse had stood.

Green River Township

Before the days of formal education and consolidation, Green River youngsters attended classes in churches and homes. Early one-room, one-teacher schoolhouses (subscription) included Cedar Springs, Crossroads, Double Springs, Mount Olivet and Green River. Mount Olivet was the last of one-room schools for white children in Henderson County. In that era, it was not uncommon for children to walk as many as three miles to school, a time when farm and factory work many times preempted students from attending regularly. A handful of the county’s small learning institutions included mission schools.

Such early institutions were known as “old-field” schools, which implied that until all the crops were in and the roads passable, only then would school sessions commence.

Valley Hill

A small building known as Ficker School (1869) in the Valley Hill sector evolved into Pleasant Hill School (1899), Valley Hill School (1908) and eventually Atkinson Elementary School (1983).

Black schools 

Henderson County’s earliest schools for black students included the Freedmen’s School (Rugby, 1870s), which doubled as a chapel. The Rev. Edmund Kilgore taught and served as a minister. Other black schools included Laus (Edneyville), Brickton (Fletcher), Dausuel (Shaws Creek) and the Rosenwald School in East Flat Rock.

In the early twentieth century, philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and Dr. Booker T. Washington developed a matching-grant program to provide schools for black children. Only one chimney and the well pump remain from the 1923 East Flat Rock Rosenwald School, which closed in 1952.

Other pre-segregation schools for black students were the Sixth Avenue (1916) and Ninth Avenue Schools (1951). 

Yale

Adjacent to the Brightwaters guesthouse in Horse Shoe stood a late-19th/early-20th-century schoolhouse known as Yale. The Samuel Childs family converted the schoolhouse to a dining room for their resort and added onto it to provide more accommodation for guests. The converted schoolhouse burned down in the 1970s. Bert Johnson and Myrtle Murphy taught at this school.

New book 

Several of Henderson County’s early schools count among the 240 photographs in Terry Ruscin’s soon-to-be-released book, “Images of America: Henderson County.” The Heritage Museum will host a launch of this book with a talk and slideshow in the courtroom of the Historic Courthouse at 2 p.m. Saturday, followed by book signings and refreshments in the Community Room. The event is free and open to the public. Call 828-694-1619 for more information.

Terry Ruscin is the author of several books including “Hidden History of Henderson County,” “A History of Transportation in Western North Carolina,” “Glimpses of Henderson County,” and “Hendersonville & Flat Rock: An Intimate Tour.” Reach Ruscin at truscin@earthlink.net.