A group of Bullitt County residents almost lost hope. The 98-year-old Bowman Valley schoolhouse it has spent three years trying to move and restore is quickly deteriorating and seemed on the verge of being lost to history.
Enter Louisville-based developer Lee Wilburn.
Wilburn, owner of CrossPath Group, read about the group’s efforts in a Courier-Journal article and knew it was time to help. He contacted group leader Tammy Ott and offered to oversee the entire project.
“She probably thought I was a kook,” Wilburn said of his call to Ott.
Ott and Bullitt County Genealogical Society president Daniel Buxton couldn’t believe the offer. Not only was Wilburn backing the project, but he’d contacted numerous developers and companies willing to pool their resources and see the restoration through, including Shelbyville-based Edwards Moving, which has agreed to move the building.
The restoration will repair the school and make it look as it did while it was in use.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Buxton said. “We didn’t want to say it, but we all felt like it wasn’t going to happen.”
Bowman Valley, built in 1916, is the last remaining African-American schoolhouse in the county. It was once one of at least eight African-American schools in the county and closed in 1957 after schools were desegregated. At that time, it had about two dozen students.
The group of residents has wanted to move the school from its hidden Cooper Run Road location to a more visible spot on Ky. 44, but it had hit a wall in getting donations and grants to make it happen.
The plan is to relocate the school to a space near the Bullitt County Board of Education building, placing it next to a former one-room schoolhouse for white students, the Woodsdale School. Once it’s moved, Wilburn will continue to help fund and acquire donations for the restoration of the school.
Wilburn said he had not heard of the project before but has driven by the school while doing work in the county. He has since spoken with former students and is happy to give them the opportunity to share their school with their families.
“When I first looked into this, I thought there might be a stigma about separation. I’ve never actually seen a school in our community that was segregated,” Wilburn said. “People who went there are very proud of their school.”
Wilburn’s development team is currently working to get a state permit to temporarily close an Interstate 65 ramp during the school’s relocation.