Chapter 37: What will Become of the Union Mills Historic School Bldg? Where’s the Love?

A book was printed with essays and memories of many students describing the happy times at Round Hill Academy. Elizabeth Rucker Castles wrote, “For some years after the school closed as Round Hill Academy in 1925 and the name was changed to Alexander Schools, Inc., no reunion of the faculty and students was held.” Then Worth W. Nanney organized a picnic on the grounds in 1939. There wasn’t another RHA/ASI reunion until July 25, 1965, when Harvey Nanney served as chairman. A crowd of 325 was served lunch and Ms. Castles estimated the attendance was greater. One student drove all the way from San Diego but had a heart attack and could not attend. He had to wait for the next reunion in 1969.

This written history of the school is preserved on location and includes an unusual report about banking. During the 40 years of banking service in Rutherford County, Union Trust Company was frequently under the supervision of Union Mills-born bankers. In all three offices. Seven of these managers attended Round Hill Academy and three graduated from Alexander. “Mr. J. Worth Morgan, class of 1917, was with the Forest City office for 33 years. Worth Nanney was manager of the Rutherfordton office from the date of its establishment” in 1930 until his death in 1942. For several years later his sons ran the office, Hugh until he got tangled up in WWII and then Mayor Louis W. Nanney stepped in to help his brother.

Downtown Union Mills 2015

Downtown Union Mills 2015

Mr. Morgan recorded the names of many of the businesses he remembered in downtown Union Mills when the school was young:  Nanney & Morris (later J.D. Morris & Co), Tate & Deck (later W.C. Tate & Co), G.W. Bryant & Co., W.H. Harrison, C.S. Hemphill, J.G. Morris, W.W. Nanney, C.M. Lewis, J.H. Baker, T.A. Bridges, J.L. Barnes, H.A. Barnes, G.W. Morgan (later G.W. Morgan & Son), Claude L. Simpson, H.A. Belk & Co, J.R. Scoggin advertised Board, Lodging and Livery Accommodations, W.F. Flack, General Insurance, Wagons and Farm Machinery, W.G. Scoggin, Insurance, Peoples Bank, J.P. Guffey Milling Co., and C.F. Keeter and Sam Mashburn who operated blacksmithIMG_3163 shops. C.Y. Nanney, ASI class of 1932, was the popular barber of that day and operated a handy-pantry kind of store. In the building where the mercantile firm of W.C. Tate operated on the first floor, The Lodge of the Woodmen of the World had their headquarters on the second floor. All these buildings are gone or repurposed. Commercial activity moved to larger towns.

The Union Mills Community Club was very active from 1939 to the 1960’s, and received many awards in the Western North Carolina Rural Development Contests. The Roadside Beautification participation encouraged the citizenry to keep their yards neatly trimmed and colorful. In 1960, 119 families took part in 25 community projects, and Union Mills was named the top rural community in Western North Carolina. There was a lot of pride in this village.

A student recreation center was constructed in 1975 across from the dining hall. At this time there were fourteen buildings on thirty-seven acres plus a swimming pool, tennis courts and athletic field. Four buildings were used for the students’ living quarters. The Home Ec building was the oldest building, the Superintendent’s house was the second oldest.

Sweatt Administration Building 2015

Sweatt Administration Building 2015

But the beloved school was fading away. In the fall of 1976, the eleventh and twelfth grades were transferred to Central High School closer to the big city of Rutherfordton. Later the school’s enrollment would be reduced to the middle school, and in 1980 there only remained K-5. Then those classes, too, were transferred. And the old school was left empty and quiet. Windows in the front of the administration building are still boarded up. Full story at http://alexanderschoolsinc.org

In 1997 a reunion was held at Jerome Holler’s home to remember school days. Lennon Clements, president of the ASI class of 1947, organized the 50th anniversary. Seventeen out of thirty-one graduates attended. And their second grade teacher, Ms. Irene Koone, class of 1925 RHA. Careers ranged from “in the home,” and social work to the IRS. The Daily Courier staff writer wrote, “what made the experience so special was the sense of community involved, between the school, members of the community and the local church, Round Hill Baptist next door on Hudlow Road.”

Across from the Administration building are the CIT offices in this photo, and behind them are the four buildings that were student housing in 1975

Across from the Administration building are the CIT offices in this photo, and behind them are the four buildings that were student housing in 1975

In 2000 the community bought their school back for $1.00. They got two buildings. Everything else was sold to CIT, Christian Intercultural Training who is using or renting out the other old campus buildings. The cost of the water and septic is shared with Union Mills Learning Center, a non-profit striving to breathe new life into a landmark.

I was given a tour of the historic administration building by Justin Conner, president of the Learning Center. His family is related to the Halls in Montford Cove, and his father was a graduate of Alexander. Justin went through ASI middle school and transferred to Central HS. He has stories of his own and is actively committed to the restoration of the administration building built in 1946.

On the old stage every Friday night from March to December, a variety of vocal groups perform for donations to the preservation of North Carolina history. The auditorium seats 300. A classroom is set up to sell dinner. This week on April 17th is a Ham Supper with green beans, corn, deviled eggs, roll, dessert, and drink for $7.00! Best deal in the area. Come on down to Hudlow Road about a mile off Hiway 221 where the sign points to Union Mills close to the county line and Nanney Town.

And the first Saturday of the month is an all-you-can-eat breakfast for $6.00.

The fundraising doesn’t stop there. It can’t. The windows now are $1,000 each to replace, because of the odd shape. But if the exterior is not taken care of, the building might go the way of another school in the county that was abandoned for ten years and water damage made it unsalvageable.

Look for the third Bluegrass and Arts Festival on the grounds the weekend of May 15 and 16. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Seven hundred showed up last year. This year the bands scheduled to perform are David Holt, Mountain Faith, and Darin & Brooke Aldridge.

The Learning Center is also leasing refurbished classrooms to local businesses that don’t need a storefront downtown. For example, a pyrographer and a photographer have work space, along with a small Christian school, an appropriate fulfillment of the building’s historical purpose. One room at a time, the rescue is taking place, but it is costly.

The first room completed was a conference room to accommodate the memorabilia of past school days. Every year in August ( this year on the 8th and 9th) there is a reunion, meeting at the school for dinner and fellowship. On Sunday they worship together at Round Hill Baptist Church. There are many old photos out there in the community that will now have a home. Not only those from the school, but the Learning Center is also looking for newspaper clippings and stories about the community, the railroad, the gold mining, and all the businesses that used to be. They are still holding on to this labor of love. Recent reunion photos are at http://alexanderschoolsinc.org

An ultimate expression of alumni loyalty was expressed by the Rev. Charles Nanney family when he passed in 2009. “In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Union Mills Learning Center.”

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 Georgia Wilson

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