To the Editor: Shall We Save Hillsboro School?

Hillsboro School today (Photo by Rob Langdon).

Perched at the summit of Half Mile Branch Road in Yancey Mills, stands the skeleton of the old Hillsboro School for Blacks. Originally built in the late 1800s, the school saw students from the communities of Hillsboro, Freetown, and Midway, many of whom walked to school every day regardless of the weather. 

For the students from Midway, that was almost a 4-mile journey. In addition to the children from the communities mentioned, at least twenty-two children who lived in the tenant houses on Tiverton and Seven Oaks Farm also attended Hillsboro School.

Because the school was built before 1917, it did not benefit from the Rosenwald funds available to some of the other African American schools constructed after that date.  Hillsboro School was built entirely by the folks in the communities it served and may well be the oldest African American school in Albemarle County. 

The Hillsboro School served the educational needs of African American children well into the 20th century.  In 1954 the United States Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional, and by the end of 1957, the students from the Hillsboro School relocated to the public schools in Crozet, Greenwood, and Ivy.

Hillsboro School today (Photo courtesy Rob Langdon).

In 1958, the Hillsboro School took on a new and vital role in the community as The Hillsboro Community Center, hosting all sorts of events that engaged the local communities, including shooting competitions, live music and dances, wedding receptions, community barbeque dinners, etc.  These were no small events either, as they attracted many people from Crozet, Yancey Mills, Brownsville, Greenwood, Batesville, Midway, Mechums River, White Hall, Ivy, and points beyond. Patrons’ cars would literally be parked up and down Half Mile Branch Road, in the Piedmont Baptist Church parking lot, and along Piedmont Church Lane.

Both as a school and as a community center, this building was well-loved and well-used and was an integral part of our local history.  The “schoolhouse” was used, but not abused.  Just through wear and tear and lack of maintenance, it started to show its age. In 1999, the building was in bad need of roof repairs, but rather than addressing the issue, the building was abandoned and has been abandoned ever since. In 2013, the right wing of the building totally collapsed.  Today, rather than being an integral part of the community, it serves only as an eyesore.

The sad part is, for the last 20-plus years, it has been presented to the community as a “restoration in progress.”  While the old school falls in the Greenwood-Afton Historic District, it is not designated or recognized as a historic landmark. Therefore, it would have been possible to do a historic renovation on it rather than a restoration. That would have included reusing as many original components as possible in the renovation but using conventional building materials as needed to complete the renovation.  This would have been quite doable back in October and November of 2023. However, it has deteriorated rapidly over the winter, and the only thing holding it up right now is habit.  Not that the renovation couldn’t still be done, but it would have to be approached differently than it would have before. But, one would have to act VERY QUICKLY if there is any hope of saving the building. It seems a shame to let a building that represents so much history in the community fall by the wayside. 

With so many old houses and buildings being consumed by the growth in the Crozet area, wouldn’t it be nice to see this building, once the nucleus of the community, be brought back to life?  It really is possible if something is done quickly!

According to the Albemarle County GIS Web, the current owner(s) is listed as:
Hillsboro Community Center, Trustee, 595 Half Mile Branch Road, Crozet VA,  22932

Oddly enough, as of January 1, 2024, the building is still listed as a charitable, tax-exempt clubhouse. Whether or not the current owner(s) have any vision for the building remains to be seen. Why it has been neglected for the past twenty-five years remains a mystery.

Rob Langdon


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