Written by Sonja Ingram
Being the field representative for Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I receive many phone calls and emails asking for assistance on a variety of preservation topics. When I received an email about the Konnarock School in Smyth County, my initial thoughts were that it would be a typical request for grant information -- but I was wrong.
My first trip to Konnarock School in March of 2009 was an adventure itself. As I left Danville, I traveled across the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Further up the Crooked Road travelers will find Bristol, Virginia, the birthplace of country music and Carter’s Fold, the home of the famous Carter family where bluegrass is still played every Saturday night.
But my trip did not take me that far west; instead I successfully navigated my way across Lover’s Leap near the town of Stuart, named after Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, then through the scenic Meadows of Dan and onto the aptly named town of Hillsville.
When I arrived at Konnarock School, located at the foot of Whitetop Mountain and near Mount Rogers, the two highest peaks in Virginia, I was met by two fantastic folks, Penny “the Penster” and Monroe Herring; and one very friendly dog, Buddee. Once we started discussing the school, I began to fully realize the importance of the Konnarock School and what it has meant -- and still means -- to this community in western Virginia.
The Konnarock Training School was built in 1924 by the Lutheran Church as a boarding school for girls. For the next twenty-five years, the school educated many girls in this rural part of Virginia who would not have received the opportunity otherwise. The school also engaged in extensive health, educational, and religious outreach throughout the mountains of Southwest Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. A companion school for boys, the Iron Mountain Lutheran School for Boys and Young Men, was built in the 1930s.
The Konnarock School was built of native hardwoods and is sided with the bark of the American Chestnut tree, a species that is nearly extinct after its decimation during the Chestnut blight in the 1930s-1940s.
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