The Old School House on the Hill

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Cedar Bluff School | Tazewell County, VA | c. 1906

Deep in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, along the Clinch River, a small community emerged in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a milling center. This community along the Kentucky Turnpike came to be called Cedar Bluff, but was previously known as Mouth of Indian, after nearby Indian Creek.

Some of the earliest settlers to arrive here were the McGuires, who purchased 200 acres when they arrived in 1792. Before the railroad, it was the country roads and old turnpikes that brought people to Cedar Bluff like the Richlands Turnpike that opened in 1850. Then, thanks to hand labor and the strength of oxen, the Norfolk and Western Railway arrived, opening a station at Cedar Bluff in 1889.

These new transportation routes opened this mountain community to larger markets that provided new opportunities for the people who lived and worked here. The mills were booming and some households even augmented their incomes by boarding workmen from the railroad construction.

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Cedar Bluff School History

As the community of Cedar Bluff evolved in the late 1800s, a co-educational school was founded in 1874 that taught grammar through high school ages. It was the site of the first high school in the county. Pupils came from the surrounding counties and boarded in local homes, paying tuition to attend the school which at that time was commonly referred to as a “college.” This first high school was chartered in 1874 and was built in 1882. In small communities like this one, buildings often served many purposes and during this era, the school building was also used as a town hall and voting precinct.

By 1906, the school had become too crowded so grammar and high school grades were separated and a new high school was built on top of the hill. The new four-room, two-story brick building was the most elaborate and sophisticated building in town, showing the community’s strong interest in education. Because of its prominent new location overlooking the town, the hill where it sat became known as College Hill.

The massive building contains 4,352 square feet with two large rooms on both floors, connected with a dual-sided staircase through the entry of the building. On the second floor was located the auditorium where performances, classes, and meetings were held. The two-story brick structure has a hip roof and a seven-bay facade with a central gable over the entryway. The windows were 12 over 12 sash and the building features a domed cupola/bell tower.

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In 1941, the high school was converted for use as an elementary school and a few years later in 1950, it was condemned. The school was closed for good and high school students were consolidated with the nearby Richlands School District.

I found an account of what it was like to attend school here that said: “To reach the school, children had to walk up the hill on a path, rather than the current road. The only teacher from the 1940s who drove a car up the road to the school was Agnes Gillespie, the 6th grade teacher.”

In 1995, the school was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the Kentucky Turnpike Historic District. In 2021, the school, 6.2 acres, and the adjacent home were listed for sale for $155,000.

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One Comment

  1. Has anyone bought this school? It could be turned into a beautiful house. Plenty of space to raise a family. Sitting on the hilltop it would be a site to behold.

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