Mt. Hermon Academy in Brevard was originally intended to be an all-girls boarding school, with plans to add boys’ dormitories and programs that never came to fruition. The school was slated to open in January of 1910 and was a frontrunner for what would become the Rosenwald School. The Johnstones built a large house next to the school property, intended for their own use and to house boarders. In a September 4, 1910 advertisement in the Asheville Citizen-Times, it’s mentioned that the school has a physician on adjacent property, which likely refers to Dr. Johnstone.
The couple seems to have lost a child during this time. Cooper’s Cemetery, where most of the Johnstone family rests, includes a small grave for “Baby Brother Johnstone” marked with both a birth and death date of October 1, 1910. Their next child James Hill Johnstone Jr., or “Jimmy”, was born in August 1912. Though details are unclear, Dr. Johnstone died in 1912, leaving Wilkie with two small children to raise on her own on her teacher’s salary of $35 per month.
Mt. Hermon Academy didn’t last much longer beyond the death of Dr. Johnstone. Emily Prudden’s health began to deteriorate, and this was the last boarding school she opened. It seems logical that the absence of these two important people may have led to the school’s closing in 1913. A December 5, 1913 Transylvania Times article includes an ad listing the Mt. Hermon property for sale.
The transformation from the Mt. Hermon Academy to the Rosenwald School is somewhat unclear in historical records, though it seems that the African American schools operating during this time must have reached student capacity, due to the fact that Wilkie Johnstone was hosting school classes in her home in 1917, as evidenced by published expenditures of the Board of Education reimbursing her for rent for these spaces.
Wilkie Johnstone taught for 56 years of her life at these early schools, as well as at the Rosenwald School that was later built in Transylvania County. Her impact on education in the African American community cannot be denied, as evidenced by the fact that her daughter Coragreene went on to become a university professor, as well as with the numerous students who remember her. She passed away on February 1, 1958 and is buried in Cooper’s Cemetery, alongside members of her family.
This article is the conclusion of the series. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library and by Wilkie Johnstone’s granddaughter Jonalyn Crite. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.