Former Hazelwood school may get a facelift

By Mary Ann Enloe | May 12, 2014
Photo by: Mountaineer file photo

The old Hazelwood Elementary School is going global if Folkmoot USA board of directors can raise the money.

When the new Hazelwood Elementary School on Plott Creek opened several years ago, Haywood County commissioners let Folkmoot USA use the old one on Virginia Avenue in the Hazelwood community of Waynesville as its headquarters. Recently the commissioners voted to give the decades old building to Folkmoot. Part of the building dates to 1923.

With that gift comes responsibility.

"We need $350,000 right now to get it ready for the festival in July," said architect Joe Sam Queen, member emeritus of the Folkmoot board. "We'll secure a $125,000 revolving construction loan, and we'll ask for donations for the rest. That will stabilize the building for this year's festival. Then we have a decade to work on the big vision."

The big vision is a completely updated year-round community center in the 40,000 sq. ft. facility. Queen estimates the cost of the renovation at $3 million to $4 million. His preliminary sketches will be ready in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile a steering committee made up of former Hazelwood Elementary teachers, community leaders, industrialists and others met Tuesday to talk about the ambitious undertaking.

Ideas floated easily in Mrs. Duvall's 1950s third-grade room near the cafeteria. Former HES music teacher Libba Feichter mentioned the often-used sloping auditorium, home to such sell-out productions as the Hazelwood Boosters Club's womanless weddings and the Lions Club's minstrel shows in black-face, long before folks realized how unkind that portrayal was.

As one of its first steps in repurposing the building into a year-round multi-purpose venue, Folkmoot has removed auditorium seating and leveled the floor.

An idea that garnered immediate endorsement Tuesday was Queen's suggestion of a reunion.

"Let's get people back in here who used to know and love this school," he said.

Committee member Larry Leatherwood, a former HES alumnus who became the school's longtime principal, quickly agreed.

"Everybody in this community had ties to this school," he said. "Their ties aren't with Folkmoot. Their ties are with this building."

Leatherwood's father, Lawrence Leatherwood, was Hazelwood Elementary's principal in the '40s and '50s.

Lawrence Leatherwood taught sixth grade in addition to working as principal. He hand-picked his class every year, filling his room with 30 students who had top grades and no discipline problems. Often after receiving their assignments, Leatherwood's students had to be left unsupervised while he stepped across the wide, oiled hallway to attend to his principal's duties.

When Larry Leatherwood was asked Tuesday if he had ever been punished by being sent out back to work on the 'rock pile' during recess, he responded dryly, "No, but more than once I was put on Dad's lunchtime paper-pick-up brigade."

That's the kind of stories Folkmoot executive director Karen Babcock wants to hear. In a recent interview, Babcock bubbled with enthusiasm as she talked about the opportunities Folkmoot has to contribute to Hazelwood community history.

"We need a village and this is a village," said Babcock. "It is the heart of Hazelwood and we want to make it the core of Folkmoot's expanding rings to the rest of the world."

Folkmoot's board wants community input. "Folkmoot uses the facility two weeks out of the year. We need to make it available for use all year. We need ideas about those uses." A nominal fee would be charged to cover expenses, but "...not an arm and a leg," said Folkmoot Board Chairman Rose Johnson.

Hazelwood Elementary School counts among its alumni international bankers, successful Nashville songwriters and performers, preachers, lawyers, medical professionals, industrialists, politicians, world renowned storyteller Donald Davis and most of all, the thousands of men and women who made the wheels of Hazelwood's factories turn in the days when the little town's tax base was the strongest in the county.

Folkmoot's two-week festival brings millions of dollars into Haywood County's economy and a knowledge of international culture that is priceless. "Folkmoot is the gift that keeps on giving," said Feichter.

The steering committee is unanimous: Folkmoot USA now has the opportunity to expand the heart of Hazelwood across the globe. Partnerships will make that happen, starting with those who care about the old school. "Hundreds of thousands of people were influenced by this school," said Leatherwood. "Their families are going to want to be a part of this historic challenge."

Groups are signing on now to spruce up classrooms in time for the 2014 festival and its invited entertainers from Taiwan, Turkey, Trinidad, Colombia, Russia, Romania, and Hawaii USA, with special performances from Appalachian and Eastern Band of Cherokee cultures. More volunteer workers are needed. Go to for information.

And send your old Hazelwood Elementary School stories, photographs and ideas to or P.O.Box 658, Waynesville, NC 28786. Follow Folkmoot on