NELSON HERITAGE CENTER
The History of Nelson Heritage Center
“A Community Coming Together”
On December 14, 1956, land was purchased from Millson B. Gornto and Dora Gleason Gornto, husband and wife, by the County School Board of Nelson County to build Nelson Memorial High School, a new high school to educate the Black Students of Nelson County. This was Nelson County’s last effort to not integrate the school system by building a new school for African American students under the philosophy of separate but equal. The African American community pressured the School Board for a brick facility which included facilities previously unavailable to African Americans such as a gymnasium, cafeteria, dedicated band and chorus rooms.
Nelson Memorial High School opened in 1960 with its first graduating class in June 1961. It served as the only high school for African American students in Nelson County until 1966 when freedom-of-choice was instituted and some African American students transferred to Nelson High School which was the school exclusively for white students. In school year 1968/1969 all the school in Nelson were fully integrated. All high school students attended Nelson High School and Nelson Memorial was made a junior high school and then a middle school until May 2003 when it was closed as a school.
A group of concern African American citizens of Nelson organized under the name of “The Millennium Group” with the goal of acquiring the former Nelson Memorial High Shchool/Nelson Middle School for use as a community center. This became a reality in June 2004 in a packed, standing room only Nelson County Board of Supervisors meeting when it was agreed to lease the facility to the Millennium Group establishing the facility as a community center. The Millennium Group was granted 501c tax-exempt status in April 2004.
In August of 2013, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors approved deeding the property which had formerly been the Nelson Memorial High School/Nelson Middle School to the Millennium Group.
Today the Millennium Group owns the Nelson Heritage Center Community Center as long as it remains a community center. Accordingly, the Millennium Group is responsible for all upkeep and repairs of the Center.
Activities of the Nelson Heritage Center:
Operational Gymnasium: The County rented the gymnasium for use by the youth and adult basketball program prior to condemning the gym.
The computer technology lab has multiple uses. In addition to classes that are taught for our senior, the lab is also used extensively for registering participants for the Food Bank. Special thanks to the
Dave Matthews Band of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (CACF) for two grants that made it possible to upgrade hard/software. The University of Virginia also donated refurbished
IMACs to the computer lab as well.
Community groups use the Center for meetings, training and programs.
• Dr. Martin Luther King Celebrations
• Youth Group meetings
• High School students dances
• Adult dances
• Senior Citizen dances
• Easter Egg Hunts
Community softball games
• Senior citizens dinners
Othello Wilson Documentary
• Youth Empowerment Workshop
• Speakers like Dr. Lynn Rainville speaking on
“How to Locate and Protect Historic African
Dinners and banquets are hosted at the Center frequently to include:
• Weddings and receptions
• Family Reunions
• Soul Food Dinners
• Anniversary celebrations
• Fish Fry
• Community Breakfasts
Fun and board and card games in conference rooms and gym when in use
Gym (project currently working on) would serve as a place for exercise and fitness programs and for recreational games for the youth. The Gym will be shared with the county’s Recreation Department
and Public School System.
For our seniors 80 plus – MG partnered with Nelson County Oral History Project to sponsor a Luncheon recognizing our seniors 80 years old and older. Interviews and other materials regarding our
seniors are on display at the Heritage Center located in the Oral History Center Room.
February 2013 unveiled our Integration of Nelson County Public School System Exhibit. This permanent exhibit can be viewed in the Library conference room at the Nelson County Heritage Center.
There are excerpts of over 25 interviews of former students, teachers and administrators on DVD which can be viewed and/or purchased.
Wall of Recognition – over 80 names have been placed on the wall: former students, instructors, churches, friends and organizations. The Wall is located in our main entrance
Partnerships of NHC:
• Rockfish Baptist Association (RBA)
• Unity-in-Community (UIC)
• Blue Ridge Food Bank
• NHC Food Pantry
• Nelson County Historical Society
• Ministers, Deacons, Deaconesses, and Layman Union (MDDLU)
• Established a Computer Lab
• Cleaned out all the debris and trash that was left in the facility
• Replaced carpet in the hallway
• Painted the auditorium and classrooms
• Improved window treatment to some of the rooms
• Established the Oral History Room
• Made the kitchen operational
• Put central air and heat in the auditorium
• Replaced tiles
• Establishment of a Child Care Center at the Center
• Working with the County to utilize the gym for youth activities again
• Provide a safe and secure place for senior citizens to exercise