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A grassroots effort is underway to relocate a historic school building.
Bowman Valley School, the last remaining one-room school that was attended by African American students, sits off Preston Highway near Shepherdsville. The structure is still standing but organizers of a relocation project are concerned its days are numbered.
“It is such an important piece of local history,” Tammy Ott said. She and retired educator Gwinn Hahn are hoping the aging facility will soon find a neighbor in the Woodsdale one-room school house which sits between the Bullitt County Board of Education and Roby Elementary School.
The Bullitt County Board of Education agreed by giving unanimous approval Nov. 13th to coordinate with Ott and Hahn on Bowman Valley’s relocation and restoration.
According to Superintendent Keith Davis, the relocated building would then become board property and, like Woodsdale, receive routine maintenance including a fresh coat of exterior paint as needed.
None of the relocation or restoration will cost taxpayers a nickel. Donations and (organizers hope) grant funds are paying for the project.
Ott is the owner of Today’s Kids Child Care and recently sworn in as president of the Bullitt County Chamber of Commerce. She has been working on the relocation project for several years.
Hahn retired a decade ago from teaching and feels an urgent need to preserve Bowman Valley for future generations.
They spoke to all school principals during an October Leadership Team meeting and learned that several schools were enthusiastic about the effort.
“We were very happy to see the interest from principals and central office staff,” Hahn said.
One of the greatest hurdles in moving the school is cost. Ott said the lowest figure thus far is $10,000.
“I feel in my heart we can relocate Bowman Valley School for a fraction of that amount,” she said reaching out to volunteers for assistance.
She has researched several news sites for school history and found The Pioneer News archives quite beneficial.
“Bowman Valley School located on Cooper Run Road had its beginnings in 1916,” she said. “It is unknown at this time how the school got its name.”
Her best educated guess is the name came from the previous land owner Richard Bowman.
“The Pioneer News indicated on May 12, 1916 that Mr. J.R. Ball was awarded a contract from the Bullitt County Board of Education for $327.00 to build an African American school house,” Ott continued. (Adjusted for inflation, this cost would be $6,656). “This article does not indicate the name of the school house but it is my belief that they were talking about the Bowman Valley African American School.”
History reveals that just four days later on May 16, 1916 the Bullitt County Board of Education bought 1/4 acre of land from R.T. Bowman. This 1/4 acre of land is the current location of the now-empty school.
“The school was a two room frame school house which held 25 to 30 students,” Ott said from her research. “The school had wooden steps that led up to doors that led to the two separate class rooms. The school had a furnace which burnt coal or wood, according to oral history.
“One student, Leonard Clinton, remembers bringing coal into the school for the furnace while Charles Schooling remembers splitting fire wood for the furnace,” Ott continued. “There were two out houses; one for boys and one for girls. The students had to bring their own toilet paper and soap to school because it was not provided. The students recall they only had sulfur water to drink.”
Historical records indicate due to the end of segregation and the lack of jobs in Bullitt County for African Americans, this caused them to move to Jefferson County. Therefore the African American population decreased and as a result the Bowman Valley School was closed in 1957.
“The school building and the property it is on was sold on April 12, 1962 to C.F. Roberts; this property was in his family for 39 years,” Ott said. “While he and his family owned this property it was rented out from time to time. The school has been empty for some time now.”
Donations can be sent to Bowman Valley Project, P.O. Box 1714, Shepherdsville, KY 40165. Checks should be made out to the Bowman Valley Project.
Bullitt County Public Schools has over 13,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12. There are 25 school facilities, a certified staff of over 900 and a classified staff of over 850 working every school day to make the district the leader in educational excellence.