The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina
|Newton Academy Cemetery - History and Trusteeship|
The first settlers came into what became Buncombe County in 1783, settling in the Azalea section, near Oteen. Within a short time, the settlement had spread into the region near present day Biltmore. In the mid 1790's, Asheville was chartered as a town by the legislature and there were several hundred permanent residents in the immediate area. One Robert Henry began a school on a site known as "Union Hill," later to become known as the Newton Academy site. In 1797 Mr. Henry resigned to begin the practice of law.
George Newton, a 32 year old Presbyterian minister, who had recently arrived from Rutherford County, was appointed teacher to succeed Mr. Henry. In addition to the school, the site was also the location of the first Presbyterian church in Asheville, continuing to serve in that capacity until the new church on Church Street was constructed in 1841. Newton continued to serve both church and school for seventeen years.
On July 11, 1803, William Foster, Jr., sometimes known as William Foster, III, or William Forster, conveyed approximately eight acres of land in Buncombe County "including an old schoolhouse with a new one and a frame dwelling house, a spring, etc." to himself and sixteen other people as trustees. The deed provided that they "... and their successors in office forever" hold the property, "For the further maintenance of the Gospel and teaching a Latin and English school or either as may be thought most proper by a majority of the .. Trustees or their successors in office legally appointed."
This school, in 1805, formally became Union Hill Academy. Despite some early setbacks, the school prospered and provided an education over the next hundred years for thousands of children, including many of the leaders of Western North Carolina and of the state. Among these were David L. Swain who became President of the University of North Carolina as well as governor and B. F. Perry, who became governor of South Carolina.
In 1809, the name of the school was changed to "Newton Academy" in honor of the school's headmaster. However, George Newton resigned in 1814 and moved to Shelbyville, Tennessee, where he was named principal of Dickinson Academy and a minister of the Presbyterian Church.
Although never referred to in the early documents but clearly a part of the church and school was what was probably the first cemetery
in the Asheville community. This cemetery occupies the high ground at the south end of the Newton School property and is slightly over two acres in size. The date of the first burial is unknown. The earliest inscription now visible on stones in the cemetery is 1818 and the last such inscription bears the date 1928. Of particular interest to this area are the graves of James McConnell Smith, the first child born to colonial settlers west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Colonel Daniel Smith, a Revolutionary War soldier, George Swain, father of Governor David L. Swain, twenty-eight Confederate soldiers, five Union soldiers and William Foster and many members of his family and descendents. Many other graves are unmarked. By 1907 no school was being conducted at Newton Academy. One effort was made which proved unsuccessful and in 1911 the trustees leased the property to the School Committee of The City of Asheville for a period of ten years upon the condition that the lessee " keep a graded school going in said Newton Academy."
Again, no success, and in 1921 the then trustees leased the land for a term of seventy-five years to the City of Asheville upon the condition that the City construct a school on the property to be known as the Newton Academy Public School for the City of Asheville. Among the conditions in the resolution was the requirement that the City erect a fence around the cemetery and maintain it. The city did both and an elementary school opened there in 1922 and continued in operation for 60 years. In 1984, the entire property was released by the City and the School Board back to the trustees of Newton Academy. The trustees in January, 1984 had a fine mess on their hands. Like trustees in previous years, the found themselves with a school property and no school, no one to run a school, no funds with which to run a school and no knowledge of how to run a school even if they did have funds.
Several alternatives were considered but things were complicated by federal laws dealing with charitable foundations and obligations placed on trustees in connection with that law.
After a couple years of evaluation and soul-searching, the trustees decided to approach the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina with a proposal that the entire property would be given to the Foundation on the condition that the Foundation separate the cemetery from the school property and maintain the cemetery in perpetuity. The rest of the property could be sold and proceeds used first to refurbish and then maintain the cemetery and, second, for educational
purposes consistent with the original trust. The Community Foundation generally agreed to the gift and the conditions. Because of the unique nature of the trust, it became apparent that court approval of the entire arrangement would be required. Following a rather protracted proceeding, the entire matter was finally concluded by a judgment entered December 20, 1989, following which the trustees on January 26, 1990 formally conveyed the entire Newton Academy property to the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.
In compliance with the court order, the property was advertised to be sold at public auction. The sale was conducted on April 12, 1990, at which time Memorial Mission Hospital, the only bidder, offered the sum of $689,000 for the school portion of the property. Shortly thereafter the sale was concluded at that figure. Court costs and other fees relating to the sale were deducted from the proceeds, then a required sum of $75,000 was set aside as a permanent cemetery maintenance endowment. Other, expenditures were made to refurbish the cemetery, leaving about $500,000 which has been used to establish a scholarship fund to be administered by the Community Foundation to benefit high school students throughout Western North Carolina.
The benefits from this entire transaction are numerous, foremost being that a historic site will be forever preserved and maintained, and that through the establishment of the Foster-Stevens Scholarship Fund, many deserving students from Western North Carolina will be able to further their, education, full filling the wishes of the original trustees of the Stevens Family Trust. The Community Foundation is grateful to the most recent trustees for trusting us with carrying out these wishes and intends to administer the endowments accordingly.