Life in our Foothills August 2023 – A hundred years of excellence – Tryon Elementary School building celebrates Centennial

Published 1:54 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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As summer break draws to a close, Tryon Elementary School prepares to celebrate a milestone in its history. This fall, the school’s original building turns 100 years old, and the community is coming together to commemorate the occasion.

The school, located at 100 School Place in Tryon, has been a cornerstone of the community for a century. Designed by renowned architect Ronald Greene of Asheville, the classic school building has provided generations of students with a valuable education. Today, the school is home to 416 students, who proudly call themselves the Tryon Tigers. 

Ronald Greene (May 11, 1891 – October 11, 1961) was a leading architect during Asheville’s architectural heyday of the 1910s and 1920s and is best known as the designer of the mountain city’s first skyscraper—the slender, Gothic Revival style Jackson Building. 

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To mark the school’s 100th anniversary, the principal, faculty and PTA are working together to plan a grand celebration. An Open House will be held on Saturday, October 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., where visitors can tour the classrooms and enjoy displays of trivia, yearbooks and “old pictures.” Other ongoing activities will be planned throughout the year, including a “Through the Decades Dance,” t-shirt sales with students creating the artwork for the shirts and interviews conducted by current Tryon students of former students for a display entitled, “A Day in the Life.”

Craftsmen from the WPA signed their work with an etching on the wall they constructed at Tryon Elementary School in 1938. This is how it appears today. (Courtesy of John Vining)

Other activities themed to the century-mark include students collecting 100 cans per grade level to donate to Thermal Belt Outreach, collecting 100 “Pennies for Pets” to be donated to Foothills Humane Society and performing 100 acts of kindness.

Additionally, the school PTA will host a Centennial Festival at the playground from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 12, as a fundraising event for students, their families and the community. The festival will have bouncy houses, food, face painting, games and prizes, a cake walk, a DJ and some popular activities and songs from 100 years ago. There are also plans to recognize former Tryon School students and employees at Senior Night on October 13, at the home football game at Polk County High School  

Principal Dr. Cari Maneen and Superintendent Aaron Greene are working to make the celebration as grand as the century-old building that has been at the heart of the community for so many years. 

“Polk County Schools is extremely excited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tryon Elementary School,” says Superintendent Greene. “Tryon Elementary has been a beloved place in Tryon. From its time as a comprehensive school serving all grades, Tryon Elementary has been revered as a high-performing school with outstanding faculty and tremendous students and families.”  

Principal Maneen is excited about the chance to recognize the success of the school during October’s Centennial Celebration.

“The Open House at Tryon Elementary School will present us with opportunities to celebrate our school, to connect individuals and community members who may not have been connected before and to continue to preserve our school history,” she says. “The goals of the Centennial Celebration are to celebrate the school’s success, reflect on the challenges and changes in the school’s history and look toward an extraordinary future.”

Superintendent Greene says that a quick look at the school’s history reveals the true impact the school has had on the community and vice versa.

“The school’s local support and community investment helped create one of the finest educational institutions in the state,” he says. “We are proud to celebrate alongside all the amazing alumni and community members who have been a part of or connected to Tryon Elementary School. Happy 100th, Tryon Elementary School!”

The celebration will be about more than just reflecting on the school’s rich history. It is also about looking forward to the future. 

As part of a new project, the school is in the process of adding a one-story addition to the existing building that will include new classrooms and new dining room facilities adjacent to the existing dining area. This will provide much-needed space for the growing student population and state-of-the-art facilities to support the school’s innovative programs. 

The new addition will allow school officials to relocate students from the current Forbes Preschool site, located down the hill on School Street, helping to solve logistical and space concerns. The facility will include occupational and physical therapy, speech-language rooms and a preschool playground. 

Polk County Schools’ preschool program has been hailed statewide as a model and is often cited as one of the factors in Polk County Schools consistently ranking among the state’s top school districts. 

The project is just the latest in a long line of improvements to the school over the years. Like many older Polk County Schools, Tryon Elementary School has benefited from projects funded and built by the Work Progress Administration. For example, the original stone wall facing School Street was a WPA project in 1938. But the school’s history goes back even further than that. 

Early schools were frequently called “graded schools,” a term used to designate a school that had the instructional curriculum divided into school grades. These were not one-room schoolhouses any longer. Tryon’s initial graded school was housed in the current Tryon Town Hall. When the school on the hill (now Tryon Elementary School) was built in 1923, the original graded school building on Trade Street was sold. The new building was paid for by 6% school bonds the Board of Trustees put out on July 1, 1922. 

The school bonds paid for $47,000 in lumber purchased in Charlottesville, Va., which was used to begin construction of the school.

Over 300 students across all grades assembled in the school for the first time on September 14, 1923, under the supervision of Principal W.A. Schilleter, who had relocated from Buffalo, S.C., to take the job. The new facility served 1st through 11th grades, as there were no kindergarten or 12th-grade classes at the time.

From its early days as a graded school to its current position as a top-ranked school, Tryon Elementary School has always been committed to providing the best possible education for its students. And as the school looks to the future with its new projects, it is clear that this commitment will continue for many years.