Stecoah Union School – Stecoah Valley Center

Stechoa Valley Center

The first time I ever visited the Stechoa Valley Center was in October 2014. Some of you may remember I spoke at the annual conference of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) last fall. I was also asked to do an Appalachian Cooking demonstration during the conference and lucky for me the chosen location was the Stechoa Valley Center.

Stecoah Union School photo


From the moment I walked in the back door of the building I was in love. I took a peek down the hallway and instantly felt I had been there before. Chitter and I were carrying my supplies in and it was all I could do to keep from running through the building.

Chitter said “What’s up with you?” I said “This building is just like the old Martins Creek School. I mean everything is the same it even smells the same way!”

I spent over 8 years at the old Martins Creek Elementary School and was so saddened when it burned to the ground. All these years later I still dream about the old school sometimes.

Stecoah Union School


The following few paragraphs are from the Stecoah Valley Center Website and detail both the history of the school and the purpose of the center today.

“Stecoah Union School welcomed its first students in October 1926. The school was built of native rock with the skill and labor of many local residents. On Dedication Day, the proud community posed for the panoramic photograph shown above and now featured in the auditorium. After sixty-eight years of service to the community, the school was closed in consolidation in 1994.


Stecoah Valley Arts, Crafts & Educational Center, Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed by a group of concerned citizens dedicated to restoring the historic school to its original role as the center of the community.

The school property consists of the main school building, adjacent gymnasium building and grounds. The original main building burned shortly after completion; the present school building was constructed within the same rock walls and reopened in 1930. It remains today a beautiful solid stone structure surrounded by approximately ten acres of natural mountain land.

The name Stecoah is derived from the Cherokee language. The term “Usdi Gohi,” meaning “little place” was applied to many places by the Cherokee, but here the words became “Stecoah” and the name stuck.

At any time during year, stop by to view our permanent Cherokee history exhibit that documents the history of the Cherokee in Stecoah Valley; and to see the Cherokee arts and crafts in the Stecoah Gallery.


Growing from an abandoned school building just a few short years ago to the vibrant center of the community today, Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center now offers over 20 programs to approximately 10,000 people annually. The Center brings music to the mountains through the summer performing arts series An Appalachian Evening, as well as the Annual Harvest Festival and other events. Additionally, the Stecoah Artisans Gallery provides sales promotion and support for local and regional artists.”

Stecoah Valley Center Website

Old schools in western nc

Although the Stecoah Valley Center is very similar to the old Martins Creek School-there are differences. The outside of the Stecoah Center is rock-while Martins Creek’s was brick. The Stecoah Center also has a real auditorium (with beautiful old wooden seats) while Martins Creek only had the gym. But there are so many similarities: the windows, the 2 long hallways on each side of the building, the outdoor stoops (that’s where the bathrooms were at Martins Creek), the wainscoting, the doors, the wooden floors, and the smell!
I got to return to the Stecoah Valley Center on a work assignment a couple of months ago. I had the same intense feeling of being back at Martins Creek Elementary. I had more time to sit, look, and feel on my second trip to the old school.
I closed my eyes and imagined Mr. Moffitt holding his finger up for silence while he looked at his watch; Mr. Smart, Mr. Caldwell, Mr. Martin, and Mr. Little talking in the gym by the windows while we ran wild; the ring of the phone in the office; the ring of the bell signaling recess was about to begin or end; the feel of the small brown bars of soap and the roughness of the brown paper towels; the pretend chocolate factory out under the trees above the playground; the long steps that were perfect for playing Mother May I; Ms. Reeves, Ms. Carder, and the rest of the lady teachers sitting in their chairs under the trees while the kids played; the hiss of the radiators; watching Ralph and Maggie finish up the cleaning so that Ralph could drive a bus load of kids home; the wide window sills that always held books, papers, plants, and sometimes praying mantis; the endless games of tag; the laughter; and the learning.
Stecoah Valley Center is a great place to visit if you live close enough: go see the historic building, go visit the Art Gallery, go listen to great music, go eat good food in the School House Cafe, and go take a class and learn more about the heritage and culture of the area. Be sure to jump over to their website and poke around-they even have an online gallery.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Jimmy Gardner
    September 8, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Just curious, does anyone know when the school was built ? I stopped by there last week while on a motorcycle trip and admired the beautiful building, but I couldn’t locate a date.

  • Reply
    Nina Chastain
    May 20, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Tipper , your memories of the old Mar tins Creek School brought back so many memories to me although I didn’t attend school there . I could almost see the school through those pictures of the Stecoah Center and remembered that distinct smell. Hope Pap is doing better . So very sorry this has happened to him , but we know he has a lot of will power and will get over this with the Lord’s help .

  • Reply
    May 13, 2015 at 1:20 am

    Tipper: You had me at the varnished hardwood floors….

  • Reply
    Patti Tappel
    May 12, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    What a beautiful old school. Wish we could come. Hopefully you all will be performing some where close when we get to Brasstown the end of June.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 12, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    What a wonderful story of your time at Stecoah…..
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    May 12, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    I just love these Old Schools. They closed the School I attended and My Father attended, it still stands but no more kids playing and laughing, just seems to fall apart little by little. The Old School My Wife and I attended no longer stands it was torn down and the property was sold.. If I think hard enough I can still smell the halls and the books.. We didn’t get air conditioning until a few years before I graduated, the huge ceiling fans was all we had for years.. The old furnace would sometimes break down and they’d turn the buses around and carry us home because it would be to cold in the rooms for us.. Wow those were the days.. I wished we lived closer and could attend your event, but you all are in my thoughts…Have fun..

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    May 12, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Tipper, You’ve waxed eloquent again as you tell about Stecoa School and Community Center, and advance best-wishes to the Blind Pig Gang as you perform there May 16! How we all remember sights, sounds, smells, and deep-set recollections of our early schooling. My Choestoe was a two-room schoolhouse, but a place I loved and that I returned to my first year of teaching to commandeer all seven grades in one of the rooms because the student population had dropped so from 1936 when I entered as a first grader until 1949 when I entered as a first-year teacher! In the same place! The building still smelled as I remembered it from 1936-1943! Now it has been preserved (I’m so grateful), and (I’m still awed by this) named the Ethelene Dyer Jones Choestoe School and Community Center! It still has good uses, and I’m grateful!

  • Reply
    May 12, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    “Wow”, such a vivid recollection
    of times gone by. I was impressed
    at the passion in your words…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 12, 2015 at 11:18 am

    I like the picture of you seated in the childs desk. Did Chitter happen to try one on? If she did she might have commented how odd it felt. We had those when I was in school and they were all just like that. Right Handed! The few of us from the sinister side had to reach across to write. Alas, we had to yield to majority rule and learn to compensate.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 12, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Tipper–I wonder if others were struck by a couple of things in the photo of Stecoah School brother Don provided. First is the “home-grown” flag pole. Less obvious but appealing to me is the school bell.
    Swain High School had a similar bell, known as the “Ridge Ringer,” that was put in place in 1957 or thereabouts by either the Student Council or National Honor Society. I was one of the students involved in getting the donated native stone which was used in the structure supporting the bell. I assume, but don’t know for sure, that it was moved when the new high school was built along the Road to Nowhere (the road has another name like Lakeshore Drive or something similar), but to everyone locally it’s either the Road to Nowhere or the “New Road” (never mind the fact it’s been there for many decades).
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 12, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Stecoah School and community lost an icon on 28 March 2015 when Chester Crisp passed at age of 88. Chester was a WWII Vet. who served as an educator, Basketball Coach and Principal at Stecoah and Mountain View Schools for many years.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    May 12, 2015 at 9:32 am

    When I coached basketball for Andrews High School in 1966-67 we played Stecoah in basketball. I believe Chester Crisp was the principal, and also the coach. They soon after they closed the school. Glad to hear it is now the Stecoah Valley Center. I’ll have to visit it, perhaps this summer.

  • Reply
    May 12, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Oh, I just love those floors. While I wasn’t there, from the looks of the pictures I could smell the beauty of its oldness. What a great memory for you. Thanks for sharing its history and current uses.

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    May 12, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Though my first impression of the Center was not as personal as yours, it was every bit as intense. We entered through the front door so my first view of the auditorium was from backstage. I was so struck by its charm and my instinct told me the acoustics would be awesome, so I stepped to the middle of the stage as if I was at the Grand Ol’ Opry and sang, “Hallelujah, Thine the Glory, Hallelujah, Amen, Hallelujah, Thine the Glory, Revive Us Again….Hallelujaaaah!” The acoustics were even better than I imagined.

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    May 12, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Tipper, you nailed it! I have been to the Stecoah school and had the same experience. My Daddy and his sister attended school there for a few years. My Daddy played the fiddle and my Aunt Roberta played the banjo. They would perform on that stage sometimes. Thank you for having the same memories that I did at Martins Creek.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 12, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Took me back also but to a more distant place. My elementary was a WPA building of native sandstone. The floors were strip oak and the halls had the wainscoting and chair rail. From time to time the floors would be sprinkled with colored sawdust; red or green, soaked in some kind of oil. Perhaps linseed or cotton seed. The smell was distinctive and were I to smell it again I’d be transported back there in a heartbeat.
    It sits abandoned and forlorn now. Too much change and much of it in the wrong direction.
    Thanks for the memory and the knowledge that at least one has been saved.

  • Reply
    May 12, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Isn’t it funny how even just a little smell of something can take us back. I love it when that happens.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 12, 2015 at 7:22 am

    Tipper, that looks exactly like every elementary school of it’s time. It looks just like the ones I attended. Well, actually, it looks like the ones in rural areas. The bigger towns had block/brick with lots of louvered aluminum windows.
    The schools must have used the same cleaning products because they all smelled alike.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 12, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Tipper–Very nice piece and Stecoah–the school and the little valley community–is a special place. It evokes fond memories for me as well, although they differ in nature from yours.
    I played on the Swain High basketball team during my high school years and in those days Stecoah School offered an education for grades 1-12. They had a basketball team and I have grand recollections of traveling down old Highway 28 to play games at the school.
    It remains a really lovely place and folks who known far more about such things than I do tell me the acoustics in the auditorium are exceptional. In fact, when the executive director of SEOPA, Lisa Snuggs, and I were doing a pre-conference inspection of various venues, she simply couldn’t resist standing on the stage and belting out a few lines of song. The sound worked its way around the room and off the walls in a magical fashion that brought a big smile to her face.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    May 12, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Here’s a photo of the Stecoah school taken by TVA in the early 1940s:

  • Leave a Reply