The Vardy Community Historic District is located along Blackwater Road in Hancock County near the Lee County, Virginia border.
The Vardy Community has a very colorful past and a rich history. So much so that the entire area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. At that time Vardy had just eight residents remaining.
In the early 19th century, the early Melungeon settler Vardeman “Vardy” Collins born in 1764 received a grant for a large plot of land in the Newman’s Ridge area. It included the land on which the Vardy school and church would be located. In subsequent decades, his descendants developed his namesake community along Blackwater Creek. In 1834, the Tennessee Constitutional Convention restricted the rights of free people of color, including Melungeons, depriving them of the right to vote, which they had had since the state was established in 1796. . Such racial discrimination contributed to the Melungeons of Newman’s Ridge maintaining a closed, endogamous community.
Presbyterians were active in Vardy by the late 19th century, when itinerant Presbyterian ministers Christopher Humble and H.P. Cory were conducting sporadic services in the Blackwater Valley. In 1892, the Presbyterian Church’s Holston Presbytery decided to establish a mission school at Vardy, and the Presbyterian Women’s Board of Missions appointed Annie Miller and Maggie Axtell as missionaries to the community. Batey Collins (a grandson of Vardeman) and his wife Cynthia donated several acres of land for the mission school and church, and other locals donated lumber and helped with construction. The Vardy Mission School, which initially held classes in a crude log structure (no longer standing), was the first to offer the state-mandated 1st-grade through 8th-grade curriculum to children living in the valley. The Vardy Presbyterian Church was completed in 1899, and a new frame schoolhouse was completed in 1902. The school closed in 1973 and services were held at the church until 1980.
In 1910, Mary Rankin, a Scottish missionary and Columbia graduate, arrived in Vardy. For more than three decades, she served as a teacher and nurse. Rankin taught prenatal and postnatal childcare to local mothers and fought malnutrition in the valley. Between 1920 and 1952, the Vardy mission thrived under the leadership of Chester F. Leonard and his wife, Josephine. A new three-story schoolhouse, powered by a Delco generator, was completed in 1929.
Upon completion of the new schoolhouse, the Vardy Mission School became known as the Vardy Community School.A series of interim ministers succeeded Leonard.
Following the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), ruling that segregated schools were unconstitutional, the Presbyterian Church sold the Vardy school to Hancock County in 1955 and it became part of the public school system. Classes continued at the school until 1973, and services continued at the Vardy Presbyterian Church until 1980.
Until recently the collapsed remains of the 3 story Vardy School could be seen from the road but I was through this area last week and the site has now been cleaned and there only remains the plaque in the courtyard of the church recognizing the history of Vardy Community School.