Chapter 34: Round Hill Academy

Alert: This is a long post. Grab a snack.

In the late 1800’s there were several one-room school houses in North Carolina. According to my teacher/author friend Gretchen Griffith in Lessons Learned (the story of the history of Pilot Mountain School in Burke County), “the earliest state-supported schools were funded by a tax levied and collected by the sheriff of each county. Schools were built through the North Carolina Library Fund starting in 1825.”

The Sprouse children of our Brackett Town Saga learned their ABC’s at the Macedonia School on Vein Mtn Road which was open from 1888 to 1930. Families helped support these subscription schools because state funds sometimes ran out after only three months. The teacher received from $15 to $25 a month. In McDowell Co, NC, 1843-1943, a caption under a photograph of a herd reports that twenty to thirty children were registered each term, ages 5-19. I never wanted to be a teacher, but I’ll pray for them.

Those who could afford private tutors were better able to prepare their young men for Wake Forest Institute founded in 1834. By the end of its first year, they had 72 boys enrolled.

What about the ladies, one might ask today. Perhaps they were on their own until 1887 when an elementary school started up in Ashville and enjoyed immediate popularity. From the beginning,”home training and religious instruction” for girls were emphasized along with academics. Within weeks it was filled to capacity with 75 boarding students and 45 day students, per High school classes were added, and eventually the elementary section was phased out. In 1892, the campus was expanded and renamed the Asheville Normal and Collegiate Institute prepared to educate young women from the southern Appalachian area. The goal was to train teachers for rural schools. (From 1903 to 1925, senior students practiced on girls “who could not be trained in homes of their own” and lived in Pease House dormitory.  That piqued my curiosity, and probably that’s where I would have fit in!)

In Concord NC, a single building school with an elementary course of curriculum phased in a study track developed for older students in 1895. According to Wikipedia, the first high school in NC was in Cary, established in 1896. In Rutherfordton, there was the Bell Academy but it closed around 1898 using the best rumors I can uncover at this posting.

Interest in advanced education must have been a topic from the pulpit in North Carolina, because several schools started up at the same time. Perhaps there was a little competition among the churches. The Catawba citizens of the Piedmont were happy when the Lutherans founded Highland Academy in Hickory in 1891. It was a one-room school but soon became Lenoir-Rhyne University.  The Presbyterians founded Lees-McRae in Banner Elk in 1900. Further up the mountain in Boone, Watauga Academy founded in 1899 became Appalachian State. But there was still a gap between elementary school education and college for the general population in western NC.

Round Hill Academy 1899 Union Mills, NC

Round Hill Academy 1899
Union Mills, NC

About 3 miles south of the McDowell county line on a dirt road between two county seats,(now Hiway 221), the folks at Round Hill Baptist Church determined they needed a high school to ready their young people for college. In 1899, the Rev. C.B. Justice exerted his influence at The Green River Association requesting Baptist endorsement and support for college preparatory education. The plan presented was for a building that had the capacity to accommodate 300, six rooms in a two story house 32 x 60, with a 15×32 vestibule, at a $1,000 cost to the general conference. Round Hill Baptist Church even deeded the building and two acres to the Association. The maintenance of the school was governed by a Board of Trustees. In a brief history of Round Hill, J. Worth Morgan wrote “our object is to give boys and girls an education under religious influence, and to prepare them for Wake Forest, and Baptist Female University (founded in 1891 and now Meredith College) or any college they may desire.”

There was a hunger for more education in some of the youth around Nanney Town and Crab Apple Gap. A Friday night debating society was already meeting at the old Double Springs Public School near Cathey’s Creek. Evidently there was enthusiastic local support for continued education because the finishing and furnishing of the school would fall on church members and friends to have fundraisers, such as “pay entertainment, box suppers and ice cream suppers.” The community got behind the effort.

William M. Nanney was somebody I mentioned earlier in this Nanney Saga as one of the 1700 warriors from NC to serve in the Confederate Army. He was raised on a farm and like most parents hoped for better opportunities for his son.  John Plato Nanney, born in 1870, graduated from Carson Newman College in TN and returned home to Union Mills with his wife Susan Livingston. Both were teachers. It was on their recommendation their Carson Newman friend D.J. Hunt and his wife Julia travelled to the area to be administrators of the only high school in this area at that time. The first session of Round Hill Academy began October 30, 1899, with sixty students and two teachers. Total enrollment the first year was 122.Meldonia Livingston Round Hill

Mrs. Hunt became gravely ill during the first term, and J.P. stepped in to finish out her year. He soon sent an SOS to his sister-in-law Meldonia Livingston, who had followed the Nanneys to their first teaching positions in Holly Springs, NC. Meldonia took over the position of lady principal of Round Hill in 1900. She gave it a woman’s touch. In its second year a Ladies’ Home with fourteen rooms was completed. And a music department was added.

In 1902, the building of a mission school in McDowell County was started. Clear Creek Academy was established five miles northwest of Marion, NC. “This building was one-story 32 x 40 and housed eighty pupils at the cost of $500.” “Tuition ranged from 75 cents to $1.50, according to grade. Board was secured in homes of good families, from $5 to $7 per month.” I found it interesting that the Trustees chose to expand before enlarging their own campus which they eventually did.

The first Round Hill Academy graduate was Mayme Freeman in 1904. She married William Worth Nanney and stayed in the Union Mills area. It was through her efforts for a 1965 reunion that so much of the history of the school was recorded and preserved.

In the Round Hill class of 1904-1905, two Nanney cousins graduated to go into the ministry. A.H. Nanney, son of Clingman Nanney, and John Harold Nanney, son of Albert Randall Nanney. (Remember I’d already mentioned Rev. Chas Nanney? Although Charles was born in 1921, John Harold was his older brother born in 1884.) Their granddaddy was the reluctant Confederate soldier James Harvey Nanney who died of scurvy because of primitive living conditions in a prisoner of war camp. I told you about him weeks ago. Remember?

Guess what! Their sister Minnie Lee Nanney graduated in 1907, and brother Richard in 1910. Harvey Albert Nanney was also a brother. H.A. graduated in 1909, went to Wake Forest and graduated cum laude in education in three years. And then completed graduate work at UNC Chapel Hill. Their dad Albert must have been proud. And broke. He had seven more sons and one daughter at home to feed. I bet they worked the farm. (Baby brother Calvin Cread Nanney, born in 1905, would be class president of the first graduating class at Alexander School 1929 when Round Hill Academy was transitioned.) Read on.

A two-teacher school was built in 1904 in the Glenwood community near Montford Cove. To again quote Lessons Learned, in the more populated Burke County east of McDowell, there were fifty white schools and ten black schools in the rural system in 1905. “Of those, only seven had more than one teacher, and only five teachers in the entire county system had college degrees. Teacher salaries averaged $28.95 per month for white teachers and $26.10 for black teachers.”  The Macedonia School in Brackett Town was the first in McDowell county to approve a school tax in 1909, thereby creating a public school.

My neighbors were leaders in education!

In 1907, Round Hill Academy petitioned The Green River Association for funds to build a new administration building and convert the old one to a boy’s dormitory. Now the cost is up to $6,000. The contract for a 2-story brick building 100 feet x 66 came out to $10,000. During the summer of 1908, most of the brick was made in kilns at a site near the old Haywood home across the small branch and a short distance from the Southern Railway depot. Commercially made brick of a better quality were used for the front of the building.” (This quote is from the history of the church and reminded me how even today, local folks will describe a location by what used to stand there.)

“In 1909 the debt had eased up to $5,500.” But were the kids learning? That was the purpose of this commitment. Until 1910, the graduating class was one, two, or three students, a Nanney or two in each year. In 1910, there were twelve graduates, with four Nanneys.

Their hearts were willing.


Copyright, 2015, Georgia Wilson

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5 Responses to Chapter 34: Round Hill Academy

  1. Gretchen says:

    What an interesting post, Georgia. The Round Hill Academy sounds like a story in itself just waiting to be researched and written. Small schools like this one and Pilot Mountain School are dear to my heart. Thanks for including my Lessons Learned. We’re all learning lessons, aren’t we?

    • georgia ruth says:

      Thanks, Gretchen. There is a volunteer organization that has stepped up and assembled as much historical information as they can and they’re having fundraisers to preserve the magnificent administration building. Every Friday night this time of year the Union Mills Learning Center has a dinner for a nominal price and then a bluegrass group performs in the old school auditorium, sometimes local sometimes imported. The first Saturday night of the month is an all-you-can-eat breakfast for $6.00. I will be posting more information about this, because their board is doing a phenomenal job of protecting the vital history of their community.

      • rosemary peacock says:

        In going through my mother’s things, I came across a picture of the Columbian Society of Round Hill Academy dated 1909. My mother attended Round Hill and lived with her foster aunt Meldonia Livingston. Would you like the picture?

      • georgia ruth says:

        Rosemary, absolutely. Can you download it to my email address,
        Thank you so much for your offer! I will share with all.

  2. Pingback: Episode 13: Dysarts Sit Down Laughridges Stand Up | Georgia Ruth Writes

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