The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 2 Feb 2014, and was revised on 11 Jun 2015. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
There is a small, frame, boarded-up building on the south end of Cooper Run Road as it enters onto Highway 61 in Bullitt County. It might not look like much now. But that little building has stood strong against the storms of Nature and the storms of Man for a very long time.
The little two-room Bowman Valley Schoolhouse (also known as Bowman's Valley) is perhaps the last remaining intact African-American school house in this multi-county region. Though there is some history even before, this little school had its beginnings on this site in 1916, soon to be one full century ago.
According to Daniel Buxton, whose research forms most of this story, it is unknown at this time how the school got its name. Daniel's guess is that it came from the previous land owner, Richard Bowman. On May 12, 1916, J.R. Ball was awarded a contract from the Bullitt County Board of Education for $327.00 to build an African American school house. Four days later, the school board purchased ¼ acre of land from Mr. Bowman for that purpose.
The school, which typically served about twenty to twenty-five students in first through eighth grades, was a simple two-room-style school house. The design was fairly common for the era, but it is one of only a few remaining in the nation today. The school had simple wooden steps that led up to the doors that led to the two separate class rooms. One former student, Leonard Masden, remembers bringing coal into the school to fire up the pot-bellied stove for heat; Charles Schooling remembers splitting fire wood. 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. There was no plumbing; water came from a nearby well, but the water was so wretched with sulfur that it was almost undrinkable. Some former students remember traveling some fifteen miles, passing other schools along the way in that day of segregation, to get there.
But get there they did, and they made quite a few memories of their own. Despite many hardships, students learned and students played, as most all kids manage to do. Several graduates of Bowman Valley went on to some renown. One was Faith Lyles, who became the first African-American co-host on a morning show for WHAS TV in Louisville.
In 1932, an African American School in Shepherdsville was closed, and the students were moved to Bowman Valley. The Lebanon Junction and Mount Washington African American Schools closed in 1939 and those students started going to Bowman Valley as well.
On May 17, 1954, the U. S. Supreme Court handed down the decision in the Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka case, ending segregation of schools in the United States. In the July 27, 1956, edition of the Pioneer News the school system deals with this issue of segregation. The report states that the African American students who lived on white routes would start riding the bus with white students and they would attend the school in their area or continue to go to Bowman Valley if they chose. The high school students would go to the high school in their area instead of having to go outside the county.
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, and converted to a residence; this property was in his family for 39 years, renting it out from time to time. It was eventually sold again, and now sits empty, waiting to see what comes next.
Around the year 2010, a group began forming to preserve the historic old structure. A team of interested citizens was created that consisted of, Chairperson Tammy Ott, Genealogical Society President Daniel Buxton, Education Specialist Gwinn Hahn, Treasurer Lynn Eddington, Keith Griffee, former students Charles & Darlene Ayers, and history advisor David Strange.
The old building, now nearing one hundred years old, needs a lot of help to move it to a new location, and to preserve it for a new generation. If you would like to be part of this project, contact one of the members or the Bullitt County History Museum for more information.
Checks can be made to the "Bowman Valley School Project" and sent in care of the Bullitt County History Museum, P.O. Box 206, Shepherdsville, Kentucky, 40165. Contributions to the effort, as a function of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, are tax-deductible.
Memories come in many forms. This is one memory that should last for everyone. And what better time for memories than a one hundredth birthday?
The school house was moved September 24, 2015 to the School Board property, and much restoration work remains to be done as funds can be raised. Below is a picture of the school during its midnight move, and another picture showing the school roof being restored at its new site next to the Woodsdale School by the Board of Education.
Copyright 2014 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.