The Botetourt Seminary for Boys (Academy) was established in 1785 in Fincastle. The building was situated on a hill within the town limits located in the southeastern part of the Town of Fincastle on Hancock and Murray Streets. It had been built jointly by the citizens of the town and the Masons. It was financed by tuition fees and individual contributions. The teacher was the Rev. Thomas Brown, an Englishman. It closed during the War Between the States and reopened in 1868 and continued until 1876. The Botetourt Male Academy (Seminary) and the Fincastle Female Seminary were consolidated around 1876.
The Botetourt Male Academy building was bought by the Botetourt County School Board in the early 1900s to be used as a school for the African American children in Fincastle who were attending school in the basement of the First Baptist Church of Fincastle. The original Botetourt Male Academy building was replaced by a new building in 1938, which stands today.
The first four-year school class graduated in 1940 under Roger W. Terry, the first principal. The Rev. W.L. Johns was appointed principal in 1944, and the curriculum expanded to include home economics and commercial subjects. Before 1940, students who wanted a high school education had to go out of the county– some went to Lynchburg, Roanoke, Christiansburg, and Charleston, W.Va.
The Odd Fellows Hall was converted to a cafeteria and primary grade classrooms, but was destroyed by a fire in the early 1950s. Arena Richardson Preston’s diary entry from January 21, 1938 said, “No report from the stockholders of Odd Fellows Hall in regards to renting it for school while the old school building is being torn down. Another diary entry from March 24 that year said, “Visited the school being held in Odd Fellows Hall. Viewed the raising of the old school building.”
There was also a county school bus garage that was converted into classrooms, including elementary and high school, a cafeteria, a home economics room, and a principal’s office.
The Botetourt County School Board records dated between 1936 and 1959 show that Botetourt County African American parents, teachers, and citizens came before it and asked for better school facilities for their children. Academy Hill School closed in 1959 after a new school, Central Academy School, was built and opened in September of 1959 for the county’s African American children ranging in grades one through 12. Minutes from the March 28, 1958 School Board meeting note, “On the suggestion of the County-Wide League, the name ‘Central Academy School’ was recommended for the combination high and elementary (Negro) school. The School Board unanimously approved this name.” The new building contained 19 classrooms, a cafeteria, library, gymnasium, teachers’ lounge, clinic, guidance office, music rooms, locker and shower rooms, coaches’ offices, and industrial arts and mechanical drawing facilities.
Information for this article was provided by Betty L. Barnett Smith, the late Emily Gordon Honts, and diary entries from Arena Richardson Presyon.