PROVIDING A SENSE OF PLACE:
The Campus of St. Genevieve
by Patricia Anderson
CAMPUS AND BUILDINGS
In 1910, after outgrowing their first two homes on Starnes Avenue and North Main Street, the nuns of Hillside Convent School acquired 18 acres and Victoria Inn on Victoria Road. Through the years, building programs increased the campus facilities; of the early buildings, only the auditorium, erected in 1936, stands today as part of the A-B Tech campus.
The 80-room Victoria Inn was erected in 1889 by Alexander Garrett and his son, Robert U. Garrett, in the small town of Victoria, before it was incorporated into the City of Asheville.
Situated grandly on the highest point between Asheville and Biltmore, the inn provided a splendid and commanding view of downtown to the north, Beaucatcher Ridge to the east, the Biltmore Estate to the south, and Pisgah and the Smokies to the west. In the far left corner of the building stood a tower, the highest peak of the building, which included a large barrel-like structure once used to hold 30,000 gallons of water for emergency use during droughts. At the very top of the tower was a circular room enclosed by 16 windows, giving the viewer a wide panorama of Asheville and the surrounding countryside.
The wide, wrap-around porch of Victoria Inn welcomed visitors with rocking chairs for relaxation; Mother Margaret Potts writes, “Victoria Inn was a gracious building. It was warm and hospitable… a welcoming place.” When St. Genevieve moved into the inn in 1910, this porch occasionally provided classroom space in mild weather; rooms on the main floor became a lobby, dining rooms, auditorium and study hall, and classrooms for the high school. On the ground floor, a large gym and additional classrooms served the high school as well as the growing grammar school. On the upper levels, rooms offered art and music opportunities, and numerous bedrooms housed Sisters and the boarding students. The Sisters and students creatively used the room atop the tower for Halloween parties.
As enrollment in the four departments (academy, college and secretarial school, girls’ grammar school, Gibbons Hall) grew from 22 students in 1908 to 500 in the ‘60s, the campus expanded to provide space for classes, physical education activities, dormitories for boarding girls, dining, and a residence for the nuns.
Lorin Hall was constructed in 1922 and served as a classroom building and dormitory for 100 college and academy students. The four-story brick building featured a tapestry pattern across the front. Strapped for finances, the Sisters completed only the first two floors, creating a library, parlor, office, study hall, assembly rooms, classrooms, and a sun porch. Twenty additional bedrooms on the second floor expanded the boarding capacity of the school beyond the number in the inn. The third and fourth floors of Lorin Hall were completed in 1950 with every modern convenience installed to enlarge dormitories for the academy. The academy moved classrooms, home economics and science laboratories and recreation rooms into Lorin Hall in 1955. Originally referred to simply as the college building, Lorin Hall was later named for Rev. Mother Marie Louise Lorin, who had been Mother Superior of the convent during its construction.
In the early 1930s, when the Order determined the need for an auditorium, the Stuart sisters, Helen and Willye, originally of Augusta, GA, came to the rescue. After graduating from St. Genevieve in 1915, the first recorded commencement exercises for the school, Helen married Dr. Charles Hensley in 1917 and remained in Asheville; Willye returned to Augusta, where she married Willis Irvin. Irvin was a noted and talented architect known regionally as the designer of elegant rural estates in the early-to-mid-twentieth century, particularly in South Carolina and Georgia. With her daughters Stuart, SGP ’36, and Ruth1, SGP ’38, enrolled in the Academy, Helen was eager to support the Sisters’ dream of adding an auditorium to the school. At her request, her brother-in-law designed the impressive auditorium, which was completed in 1936. As functional ornamentation on the massive double oak doors, Irvin commissioned extended hammered forged iron hinges, featuring the initials HS and WS to commemorate the Stuart family, Helen and Willye, and their devotion to St. Genevieve.
The first St. Genevieve graduation was held in the auditorium in 1937. For fifty-one years the gym/auditorium hosted innumerable athletic events, assemblies, graduations, visiting lecturers, student dances, carnivals, plays and programs. Alumni, their families, and faculty have fond memories of the many competitions and performances held in the building.
After World War II, the school was able to convert the auditorium into a gymnasium to stretch its role. Students had raised money by winning a cash prize for scrap iron collected during the war. Investing their winnings, the Sisters held onto the money several years before using it to add basketball goals and marking the floor for basketball, shuffleboard, and volleyball courts. Too small to permit a regulation-size basketball court, the court, whose boundary lines were mere inches from the brick walls, became affectionately known as “the matchbox” to later generations of athletes, who used the sub-standard size to their advantage against opponents.
1Ruth Hensley married Dr. Josh Camblos and raised three children in Asheville. Their son, Josh, Jr., attended Gibbons Hall in the late ‘50s. Their daughter Stuart graduated from SGP Academy in 1966, a third generation graduate; Margaret completed ninth grade at St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall in 1975.
The acquisition of the adjoining Memminger estate in 1949 added classroom space and 14 acres to St. Genevieve’s campus; the brick-and-stucco 14-room home housed the School for Secretaries and Gibbons Hall School for Boys. The original home became Deplanck Hall in honor of the school’s founder; there the office of the headmaster, classrooms for eighth grade, and space for showers and locker rooms were located. In the adjoining carriage house, classes for grades 4-7 were held. On the top floor, the headmaster and his family lived in a spacious apartment.
In 1957, Gibbons Hall added a building for grades 1 – 3, later named Pinto Hall, in memory of former Headmaster Dan Pinto.
As Victoria Inn fell into disrepair, in 1959 St. Genevieve led a drive to raise $200,000 for a new classroom building and a new residence for the Sisters. Construction of Madonna Hall and Sharry Hall, named in honor of Rev. Mother Agnes Sharry, was completed in 1962. The latter included modern grammar school classrooms, offices and faculty room; the central cafeteria; the chapel and chaplain’s quarters; high school science laboratories; and a central library. As Sharry Hall opened for the 1961-62 school year, all classes moved from Victoria Inn to the new building. Madonna Hall, the convent for the Sisters, was completed in the spring of 1962. Connecting Sharry and Madonna halls was a long, enclosed corridor, which the Sisters amusingly nicknamed the Hyphen; over time, they shortened it to the “Hy.” Some lay faculty and students thought the name was “high,” because it sloped uphill to the “sacred” convent.
ATHLETIC FIELDS AND COURTS
Ever conscious of the need for physical education both outdoors and in, from the outset, the Sisters utilized the outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts and playground on the grounds of Victoria Inn. In the early ‘50s, new hard-surface tennis courts were built behind Lorin Hall. The Sisters created a large playing field for Gibbons Hall, making abundant space for football and baseball games and for the annual Field Day each spring.
A new field for girls was created on north-facing property below the site of the inn; funds raised by the Mothers’ Guild through raffle sales erected a seven-tiered concrete-block stadium that hugged the hillside at this field. Beside Pinto Hall a large playground, named for athletic director Marguerite Kimberly Carter, offered ample space for the primary boys and Prep girls to enjoy physical activities. In 1978, the playground was updated with new equipment. In 1974, the school converted the large parking lot - on the old Victoria Inn site - to an expansive athletic field in the heart of the campus.
END OF AN ERA
For 77 years, St. Genevieve enriched and expanded the property originally home to Victoria Inn; over time, most of the buildings have disappeared from the landscape. The inn was razed in the early ‘60s to make way for additional parking at the auditorium; later, the site became a large athletic field. As the Order moved into Madonna Hall in the spring of 1962, the once-elegant, gracious Victoria Inn stood completely abandoned, soon to be the victim of the wrecking ball. The demolition of Victoria Inn proved to be an emotional moment for Sisters and former students alike. When the tower was first pulled down, one student noted, “…that tower… stood for serenity, for peace, security… It was a little tower of strength and courage.” Mother Potts comforted her, saying, “I feel like a part of us has come down. It was such a prominent part of St. Genevieve. It was high and straight and it had been very useful.” Mother Potts records that the inn was so well built that it proved difficult to raze.
As the peripheral properties were sold, beloved and familiar edifices vanished. In 1972, Lorin Hall and surrounding land gave way to a modern, efficient medical office building and Hillhaven Nursing Center, and the Gibbons Hall property was sold to an orthopedic practice. After the remaining part of the campus was sold to A-B Tech, Sharry Hall provided classroom space until 2012, when the college began steps to erect a new building on the site. Sharry and Madonna halls were demolished in October 2013.
Pinto Hall, now called the Poplar, provides classroom space for the college’s program in Early Childhood Education; the adjacent playground remains. The auditorium, dubbed the Ivy by the college, became home to the school’s Decorative Finishes and Restoration program until the program ended in 2011. As part of the Tech campus, the Ivy building is the sole survivor of the historical St. Genevieve buildings.Back To Top