Blue Ridge School for Boys

The following article on the Blue Ridge School for Boys was published in October 2003 in the Hendersonville Times-News and written by Jennie Jones Giles. A reunion was planned at the time the article was written.

To ink with a photograph of an early postcard depicting the school and the original article, click on

One mile east of Hendersonville, a long, circular driveway through brick gateposts led to several buildings on top of a hill. From the top a person could see to Hendersonville.
As one turned into the driveway, tennis courts could be seen on the right. Behind the buildings was a large drop-off. At the bottom of the drop-off were fields where boys and young men played football and soccer.
For more than five decades, young men studied, lived and played at the Blue Ridge School for Boys.
The school was located on what was then Chimney Rock Road. Today, this is Four Seasons Boulevard. The entrance to the school was in front of where Applebee’s is located today. First Citizens Bank now occupies the space where young men played tennis.
Because the school was at the top of such a tall hill, the young men took the team name Hilltoppers. The hill is gone now and the Blue Ridge Mall occupies the land. Paved parking lots sit on the space that once consisted of grass, fields and trees.
Still, some remember the school, and a reunion is planned in a few weeks.

 Sandifer’s School

There was an inn with 35 rooms atop the hill on 10 acres along the Chimney Rock Road when Joseph R. Sandifer bought the land in 1914.
Founder and headmaster Sandifer was a native of North Carolina and had taught at a military academy before coming to Henderson County in 1913.
“The man was 92 when I first arrived,” said Jose Varela, chair of the Department of Languages and Humanities at Eastern Kentucky University, who attended the school from 1952 to 1955. “Very, very tall, some 6 foot 6 inches, and very, very thin.”
“There was not a more distinguished looking or acting gentleman in Henderson County than Mr. Sandifer,” said longtime Hendersonville Police Chief Bill Powers, who attended the school from 1937 to 1939.
Sandifer’s brother-in-law was A.G. Randolph, a co-founder of the school. Randolph was superintendent of Monroe City Schools, resigning to help establish the boarding school.
In documents, Sandifer said he had three goals in founding the school: cultivation of a manly Christian character, laying the foundation for a thorough liberal education and development of a robust, physical manhood.
The school offered courses to prepare the young men for college. They were small classes, with no more than eight or nine boys. The school was to be nonsectarian, but Christian in spirit and teachings, he said.
“Sandifer believed in the mental, moral and physical development of young men, who, when grown, would preserve the cultural heritage and fundamental principles and values of the democratic way of life and recognize the dignity and worth of the individual,” said Frank FitzSimons in his book “From the Banks of the Oklawaha.”
A rock and brick building was constructed near the inn. The building was designed by Earle Stillwell, noted architect, who also designed City Hall and St. James Episcopal Church. Over the years, the two buildings were joined by a three-story building of stone and brick, and the original inn was brick veneered and improved. Later, another 10-room building was erected nearby.
Not long after starting the school, Sandifer married Nettie Davis Moore of Charlotte, formerly of Rocky Mount.
The first graduate of the Blue Ridge School for Boys was John Caldwell Erwin, who was later executive vice president of Allison-Erwin Co. in Charlotte and a member of the Alumni Advisory Council for the school
In 1918, Randolph sold his interest to Sandifer. He later returned to the school as an instructor. His daughters were the only female graduates of the school. In later years, Randolph became superintendent of the Henderson County Welfare Department.
In the early 1920s, an additional 50 acres of land was purchased to the rear of the school. Some of this land was used for truck farming, Sandifer said in documents.
In the late 1930s, Sandifer decided to move the school to Florida for the winter months. He bought a hotel, the Colonial Inn, in Welaka, Fla., along the St. John’s River about midway between Palatka and Crescent City. From January to March in the early 1940s, the boys relocated, coming back to Henderson County in April. After a few short years, Sandifer sold the Florida school.
During World War II, Sandifer included pre-military training in the curriculum. In a scrapbook kept until his death in 1956, Sandifer listed the school’s alumni who died in the war: Charles B. Harberson, Morris Johnson and James William Lowe.
Sandifer, whom the students called Sandy Joe, was also a civic leader and Rotarian. He was a charter member of the Rotary Club in 1927, serving as president, district governor and director of Rotary International. The Rotary Club established the Joseph R. Sandifer Memorial Scholarship Fund in his memory.

 Home away from home

Sandifer paid for ads in newspapers throughout the Southeast. One of those ads from the early 1920s states: “Rest, Recreation and Home-like environment can be found at Blue Ridge School for Boys. … Modern conveniences, tennis, quoit and basketball courts. Baseball diamond on the grounds. A small lake nearby affords excellent swimming. On bus line.”
The staff tried to create a homelike atmosphere, said Mike Preston of Brevard, who served as dean of students at the school from 1963 to 1968. Preston later served as vice president of Wofford College.
“We had them 24 hours, seven days a week,” said Preston. “We were responsible for their welfare and safety.”
He said the staff taught, coached and served as substitute parents.
“A lot of kids have fond memories of growing up there,” he said.
“It was like one big family,” said Steve Carlisle of Flat Rock, who attended the school in 1966-67.
The food reached homelike standards, former students said.
“Meals were family style and we had to wear coats at supper,” said Varela. “I was at the end of the table and was served first. Before Mr. Reed (the English teacher) was finished serving the whole table, about eight people, my plate was going to him for seconds. He got really upset with me. Mr. Sandifer transferred me to Coach Morris’ table. There I had to compete with football team players.”
The school saw steady growth until the 1960s. When Sandifer died in 1956, about 3,000 students had attended the school. By the time the school closed in 1968, young men had attended the school from 43 states and approximately 14 foreign countries. From student yearbooks, it appears most of the boys were from the Southeast, many of them sons of prominent businessmen, textile mill owners, bankers and investors.
There were students from South Korea, Thailand and other nations, but most of the foreign students were from Central and South America, particularly Cuba.
“I was one of about 10 Cuban boys at Blue Ridge in the 1952-55 period,” said Varela. “There were three Colombians and one fellow from Ecuador, who later was killed in Cuba. That’s about 15 percent Latinos.”
“It was probably 20 percent Cubans when I went there,” said Swann Babb Jr., retired principal of Edneyville Elementary School, who attended the school from 1957-59. “One of my good friends, Roberto, wanted me to come to Cuba, but it never happened. He ended up in Miami after Castro took over.”
“There were a lot of kids from Cuba,” said Cam Boyd, owner of Boyd Cadillac-Pontiac-Buick. “This was about the time Castro was going into power. They would leave at Christmas and come back with a lot of money and jewelry, trying to get it out of Cuba. The parents would send their children out with some of their assets.”

 Academics and sports

The school was known as a place where young men could prepare for success at college. The school was fully accredited throughout its history with the N.C. Department of Education, Private Schools Association of the South and the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. It was also known for its Saturday classes and required study halls.
“The structure of the school was not designed for people to fail,” said Prescott.
“With a Blue Ridge transcript there was no trouble at all getting into colleges,” said Carlisle, a professional actor for 30 years and current actor with the Flat Rock Playhouse and drama teacher at Western Carolina University.
It was the required study halls each night after dinner that former students remember. Sandifer said in documents that courses were planned to teach the young men how to study.
“We had to go to night study hall from 7 to 9, two hours,” said Charles Medd of Henderson County, retired teacher with the Henderson County Public Schools. “We couldn’t talk. We had to study and stay busy. That’s where I learned how to study and become a better student.”
“My parents sent me there to improve my study habits,” said Richard Dunn of Asheville, former cycling member of the U.S. National Road Team and currently a cycling coach who attended the school in 1967-68. “It worked. They taught me how to study and it helped me through Mitchell Junior College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.”
Students received merits and demerits, earning and losing privileges in the process.
“Every demerit was 30 minutes in study hall,” said Boyd.
Babb remembers receiving 10 demerits from the athletic coach. One demerit could be worked off with a half hour of work. Babb was told to rake the leaves in the front yard. He raked too fast. After working two hours, he still had three demerits. The coach had him move the pile of leaves to the other side, Babb said.
The school was also known for its sports. Blue Ridge and Hendersonville High were the only two schools in the county with football teams for many years. Blue Ridge was the only school with a soccer team.
“Whenever there was a sporting event, the whole school would go,” said Carlisle, who played basketball. “We were our own cheerleaders.”
Local author and historian FitzSimons was a football coach at the school in the early 1920s. Before World War I, there was another private boys school in the county at the present site of the Highland Lake Inn, known as Carolina Military and Naval Academy. There was an intense rivalry between the schools, FitzSimons wrote.
“The games were finally discontinued because they generally ended in riots and free-for-all fights between supporters of the schools,” he wrote.
The father of U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, R-Charlotte, congressman for the 8th District, was also one of the school’s athletic directors.
“I was a football nut in those days (1930s) and Blue Ridge played a better class of football,” Powers said.
Sandifer once told Powers that scouts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill came to watch him play, but Sandifer would not let them.
“I’ve never had one of my students fail (at college) and I’m not going to let you ruin it,” Sandifer told Powers.
Powers did receive a full football scholarship to Furman University.
After classes on Saturdays, the young men were allowed to visit Hendersonville. None of the students was allowed to have a vehicle or motorcycle.
“Sometimes when nobody was looking we would sneak out to Cox’s store to buy candy and cigarettes,” Babb said.
The store was located in an old building that today is adjacent to WHKP-AM 1450, across the road from Lowe’s.
“We would call for a taxicab and a group would go together and take a cab into Hendersonville,” said Dunn.
“We had to wear a coat and tie to go into town,” said Carlisle.
Dunn said students who did not have too many demerits were allowed to stay in town after attending church on Sundays. A bus took students to the churches of their choice each Sunday.
Michael Moll of Germantown, Md., who recently retired from the National Institutes of Health, attended the school in the late 1960s.
“On Saturday nights we used to hang out at the Teen-Age Canteen and the Hasty Tasty restaurant in the Hendersonville High School/Boyd Park area,” said Moll. “To this day I still carry my Teen-Age Canteen membership card in my wallet.”
Fred Coates of Littleton, who attended the school from 1964 to 1968, also remembers the canteen.
“Our band Bunny and the Fabulous Wild Hairs would play at the teen canteen,” said Coates, owner of Fred’s Boat Repair and Sales on Lake Gaston.
One of Moll’s most vivid memories at the school was the mid-air collision of a Piedmont Boeing 727 and a private plane on July 19, 1967.
“The main wreckage eventually impacted the ground less than a mile from the school near Camp Pinewood,” said Moll. “But human remains and wreckage rained down on the school grounds and surrounding area during its agonizingly slow descent. Seventy-nine people died before my eyes. Heavy stuff for a teenager in those days. I still have a fear of flying because of it.”
“The airborne out of Fort Bragg was sent up because of the plane crash,” said Wayne Fletcher of Hendersonville, who was a coach at the school in 1966-68. “They stayed in our gymnasium. The soldiers were on campus for two weeks.”

 Sold for mall

After Sandifer’s death in 1956, J. Edgar Singletary, a graduate and teacher, became the headmaster.
“He was a fine, fine gentleman,” said Fletcher.
The Blue Ridge Educational Foundation, composed of about 12 members, managed the school for Sandifer’s wife.
One of the members of the board was Marvin “Jake” Owings of Saluda and Clemson, S.C.
“The school had to be self-supporting and we didn’t have enough income,” said Owings.
Preston, also on the board, said the group was trying to move the school to Greenville, S.C., where there was a larger population to help support a private boarding school.
“Mrs. Sandifer got an offer for the property to build a shopping center,” said Preston. “The corporation had a certain amount of time, and we couldn’t raise a sufficient amount of money.”
“It was a shame that it went under,” said Boyd. “They hung on as long as they could. People were just not going to private schools.”
A group of local businessmen incorporated under the name 64 East bought the property, according to records at the Register of Deeds office. FitzSimons and others state the group was composed of 12 individuals. The only confirmed members of the group, most of whom are deceased, are John Holley Sr., Don Garren, Ernest Roper Jr., R.A. Stenson, Ed Todd, Ruel Davis and Doug Brooks. The Blue Ridge Mall now occupies the site.
In July 1986, a historical plaque was placed on a pillar inside the mall acknowledging the site as the former home of the school.

 First reunion

Kay Alexander and Janet Sharp, daughters of the last secretary of the school, Vivian Melton, helped former alumni plan the first reunion ever held by former students.
“Even though there is no school, they still want to come,” said Sharp. “The Blue Ridge boys were very important to my family, and we are proud of every single one of them. I’m helping find these boys for my Mom and Dad. They brought a lot of joy in our lives.”
“I’m looking forward to attending the reunion and seeing old friends,” said Dunn.
The main event for the reunion will be held from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Cedars. There will be an informal gathering Friday, Oct. 31, at the Quality Inn.
Those interested in attending are asked to bring school memorabilia. Deceased alumni will be honored with a special display.