Historic memories are back in session at Henderson County Public Schools’ central office, the former Rosa Edwards School that opened 100 years ago and was named after an obscure, tragic figure in local educational history.
“Normally we don’t make a big deal about our historic plaques,” City of Hendersonville historic official Lu Ann Welter said. “But this is Rosa Edward’s 100th anniversary.” Welter is City Planning administrative assistant, and staff support for the Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) that put up the plaque Thursday. The actual anniversary was celebrated in March.
Historian Tom Orr, retired Hendersonville High (HHS) teacher who launched the Henderson County Education History Initiative, newly-retired Exec. Admin. Asst. to the Supt. Barbara Case Blaine, historian George Jones and retired Asst. Supt. for Curriculum Dr. Amy (Fisher) Pace are among researchers about the school. Pace was in the school building’s “hallowed halls” over a span of 57 years, from first grade in 1940 to retiring in 1997. Orr, now 73, studied there in 1945-53.
Rosa Queen Edwards was at Fourth Avenue Graded School/Academy for its first 20 years, as teacher then principal for 13 starting in 1919 just after World War I. Her tenure overlapped with baseball slugger Babe Ruth’s peak years. She died Dec. 22, 1932 while principal, from a heart attack at home while addressing Christmas cards, Orr said. The brunet lived where the main library now is. The academy was renamed for Edwards on April 3, 1933 in FDR’s first year as president, Orr found out by pouring through old school board minutes.
Rosa’s sister Lois Edwards died a year ahead of her, also of a heart attack. Lois taught first grade in Fourth Avenue Academy. In 1919, her students included Grady Vaughn, at 99 the eldest living Edwards alumni. He saw the plaque go up Sept. 13. He is among those who praised both Edwards instructors as caring and encouraging. Rosa urged students to breathe through the nose, not mouth, to lessen spread of germs and illness.
After Rosa Edwards died, her brother gave the school her favorite cat, Orr said. He is writing a children’s story on that cat, such as lapping up leftover lunch milk.
The school’s principals after Edwards (1919-32) were Almonte Jones (1933-53), Stamey Brooks (‘53-4) and Hugh Lockaby (‘54-55) with those last two moving up to lead HHS.
Jones, who oversaw arrival of a student soup kitchen, was Orr’s principal. “Almonte was the sweetest lady. She never raised her voice,” he recalled. “But she was strict. She’d point a long finger at you (for misbehaving), and say ‘now, now, now!’ You’d just crumble.”
The school’s first principal was “Miss Bessie” Steedman (1878-1941). She is hailed for providing clothes to students in need, and espousing Christian values and discipline. She swatted a child’s palm with a ruler, after bending it back so it hurt more.
HPC put up four plaques in town last week, to total 48 in three years, Welter noted. The four new ones are at Edwards school (1912), early brick Henderson County Public Library (1914) at King and Fourth, Boyd Park (1936) with its miniature golf and tennis, and Underground (1926) at Main and Fourth best known for the Teen Canteen youth jukebox-billiard hangout in 1948-58. It shifted to Boyd Park, for its final decade.
Fourth Avenue Academy’s Classical Revival style was designed by H.C. Meyer. It was dedicated March 15, 1912, exactly a month before the Titanic sank. It served as a school for 60 years, lastly middle school, until 1972. It was converted to central offices, for city schools (1974-93) then merged city-county public schools. Grades 1-11 were there in 1912-19. Then a wooden high school opened on Anderson-Noterman Estate, now Boyd Park. The current brick HHS opened in 1926.
The academy had grades 1-7, then added eighth grade in 1953. That kept Orr an extra year there, delaying his “rite of passage” ascension to high school. But he enjoyed “eight wonderful years” there.
The Rosa Edwards School two-story red brick building is at 414 Fourth Ave. (formerly Academy) by Buncombe Street. Its new plaque is to the right of its main door. Just inside, at right is a door into a mail room that was the principal’s office. Students entered not at center, but into each of two side entrances. Grades 1-3 were on the first floor, 4-8 upstairs which had more classrooms. Oiled-down wooden stairs and floors creaked, Orr recalled.
The center foyer’s reception desk is where there was a wooden stairwell. It was removed, to lessen the “fire trap,” Orr explained. Atop those stairs was a bell with long rope, rung to start and conclude each school day. “To ring the bell was a joy for me,” Orr said. He had that honor in eighth grade, as student body president. The roof, now flat, was pitched with a gallant cupola bell tower.
Classroom additions at those ends were in 1951. Two years later, a 200-seat auditorium was attached to the west end. It has long been the school board meeting room. When Orr was school board chairman in 1994-96, he was back where he was part of a Tom Sawyer play in the auditorium’s first year. He made “spooky” funeral sound effects, behind a curtain offstage. He lived a mere block away. “My boxer dog Boots heard me, and came in down the aisle. He was trying to find me,” Orr said. “My mother (Alva) and sister (Pat) saw Boots, and got him out.”
With such memories, Orr said, “I have a very big affection for that building, because of my tie to it. I’m so enthusiastic about the plaque, and 100th-year celebration. This reinforces to me the need to preserve our education history, through the Education History Initiative.”