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Valley Hill buildings on verge of new life

After the old Valley Hill School was demolished, the gym and cafeteria remain. Owner Kirby Johnson wants to develop the property for an antique tractor museum. After the old Valley Hill School was demolished, the gym and cafeteria remain. Owner Kirby Johnson wants to develop the property for an antique tractor museum.

If you drive by 175 South Carolina Ave. you may wonder what happened to the old Valley Hill School.

In March, Kirby Johnson acquired the 3.7-acre tract and the two buildings that remained. The price through a court-ordered sale was $168,000. “I’ve been working on getting this property for about 10 years and I’ve finally been able to make it happen,” Johnson said. “We hope to use the gym for an antique tractor and implement museum and maybe make a duplex out of the cafeteria next door.” Johnson, a Mills River produce grower and packer who lives in the Valley Hill community, is connected with IHCC Chapter 43, a Western North Carolina antique tractor collectors club.

On Saturday a yard sale was held in the old gym which, after a dozen years, was cleaned up for the event. The gym and cafeteria, both brick structures, are fully functional. After years of neglect, the school was bought by Pathway Christian Academy and used as a school again. But hard times fell on the private school business during the recession and the elements took a toll on the oldest of the three school buildings. After the roof caved in, the site was razed in 2018 but the rubble was never removed until last month.

Kirby Johnson and Rick Wood worked on the preservation of the old Valley Hill School property.Kirby Johnson and Rick Wood worked on the preservation of the old Valley Hill School property.Preservation of the site has been a project of the Henderson County Education History Initiative, a committee that former local historian Tom Orr founded in 2011.
“A lot of people have told us they went to school here and cleaning up the eyesore was long overdue,” said Rick Wood, a former School Board member and retired West Henderson High School teacher and coach who chairs the History Initiative. Yard sale proceeds will be split 50/50 between the history organization and Johnson, who has invested $53,000 in the clean-up. Johnson said he has big piles of bricks on site that need a home. He is still unsure of what he will do with the balance of the property.
There is a great deal of history associated with the Valley Hill School, a building designed by noted Hendersonville architect Erle Stillwell.
“Julia Redden was principal at Valley Hill,” Wood said. “She may have been the first female principal in Henderson County.”
At different points in time Valley Hill School served both elementary and high school students. When Atkinson Elementary School was built in 1983, Valley Hill ended some 80 years of public education. Proceeds from HCEHI’s fundraiser will memorialize Valley Hill’s rich history with a permanent plaque marking the school site.