She’s selected her wedding dress designer, the photographer, even her neutral colors, with a touch of mustard yellow and dusty rose. All that’s left to secure is the venue, and Erin Frost knows exactly where she wants to marry Sean Eads.
“The Locust Hill School,” says the 29-year-old. “It’s big. It’s beautiful. The way the sun sets through the windows, the light at the end of the day will come through, but not cast a shadow. The first time we saw it, we fell in love with it.”
The couple didn’t just fall in love with the little, red brick building on Locust Hill Road; they spent the next six months figuring out how to buy it, and closed on the property in November. Frost, who once worked as an art teacher in Spartanburg, is now transforming this quaint schoolhouse, 15 miles north of downtown Greenville, into a premier wedding venue for her nuptials and others.
Some 6,600 cars a day zip down Locust Hill Road, which links Taylors to Travelers Rest. With its pointy white cupola, quaint front porch and arched transom window, the beguiling building stands out along the route’s cow-filled fields and sparse development. Only longtime locals recall the vibrant activity that once thrived inside the community landmark near Tigerville Road.
The two-story structure was built in 1923 and served as a schoolhouse for 41 years. Kindergartners through eighth-graders filled six classrooms, using warehouse-style windows for ventilation and pot-belly stoves for heat. The spacious second floor served as playground, auditorium and gathering spot, with neighbors roller skating across the tongue-and-groove oak floors on Saturday nights.
After closing in 1964, a succession of owners used the schoolhouse as a church and private residence, before it was abandoned for years. Only vandals visited the site, breaking glass window panes and pilfering old-wood beams. Then in 2013, Bill Stephens spotted the sagging roof peeking out from overgrown vegetation. He and his wife purchased the building and its surrounding 3.7 acres for $173,000, with plans to use it for his environmental engineering and science firm. His partner in the restoration: Greenville architect Rick Bynum.
“When you have an old facility, it takes a very special client, with a very special vision to preserve the space with a nod to its past,” Bynum says. “Bill Stephens had that.”
The engineer and the creative worked on renovating the 7,500-square-foot structure across two years, careful to retain the vintage aesthetics, yet meet modern codes.
“This was a poor, rural area,” Bynum says. “The original builders didn’t have extra money for ornate style. This was constructed with a utilitarian response, yet it was the heart of the community and we wanted to honor that. We kept the original floors and the center staircase. Upstairs, we reinforced and exposed the trusses to reveal a 25-foot-high cathedral ceiling.”
Once the project was complete, Stephens’ plans changed and he put the property on the market for $785,000. The owner passed away a short time later, and once again, the small schoolhouse sat vacant and forgotten, with Bynum’s drawings sitting in a corner — and that’s where Eads and Frost found them last February during their second visit.
The couple bought the building for just under $300,000, and with the help of two private investors, are turning it into a million-dollar wedding site called The School House Venue.
“We’ve already booked seven weddings, and another 15 couples are looking at it,” Frost says. “Ours will be the first, hopefully next July, if construction stays on schedule.”
Bynum is once again on the job, melding Frost’s and Eads’ needs with Stephens’ vision and the building’s history.
“They have such a passion,” the award-winning architect says. “It’s exciting to have a client who is so emotionally invested, and the community is too. We’re keeping things period-specific, and it’s very expressive with the juxtaposition of modern amenities against the original design. It’s a really cool look.”
When Frost left the classroom, she became a wedding photographer. Eads is a physical therapist who shoots wedding videos on weekends for their business: The Ten O Eight Co. The newly-engaged couple is using all they’ve learned at dozens of locations to make The School House Venue the perfect place for ceremonies, especially in regard to capturing images.
“The upstairs is going to be really beautiful with the cathedral ceilings,” Frost says. “We moved the original stage from 1923 to the other side of the room to capture the late afternoon lighting. It will be a huge focal point. The best part is we’re keeping the setting super clean and white. It’s a blank slate, so brides can add whatever trend they want. Mine will be Bohemian artesian, but another bride is planning lots of greenery and gold.”
Under the decorations, shiplap, roof outriggers, even faint lines of the old basketball court, all point to decades long passed.
“Our whole goal is to keep the integrity of the building,” Frost says. “We’ve collected old photos to create a timeline. There’s also the school bell that was made in 1885, and the bride and groom can ring the bell when they leave.”
While Frost guides the vision, Eads balances the books.
“We’ve always had a five-year business plan that included purchasing a venue,” says the husband-to-be. “When a friend told us about the Locust Hill School, it sped things up a little. During market research, we noticed once you get outside the city, all you see are barn-style events. We’ll be providing a boutique-style venue that is unique and has character, and is different from anything else on the market.”
Bynum is guiding upgrades to handle an occupancy load that has tripled from the original 100 students to 300 guests at weddings, as well as corporate and private events.
“Students used an outhouse,” he says. “So, we’ve installed indoor plumbing, an exterior, second staircase, a prep kitchen, and we’ve reinforced the auditorium upstairs. But across all of the new elements, we’ve remained faithful to the original style, even when adding a veranda out back that will be perfect for reception-goers.”
Although they are months away from opening, Frost and Eads are already receiving visitors at the property.
“Every time we are here, someone stops by who knows the place,” Eads says. “They are desperate to know we are not going to tear it down, and their eyes light up when they hear our plan and that we’re preserving it. Anytime you can keep something with so much character and memories, it’s so much more appreciated in the community.”
May it stand happily ever after.
Find out more: TheSchoolHouseVenue.com and TheTenOEightCo.com
All photos and renderings courtesy of Bynum Architecture LLC.: BynumArchitecture.com
The School House Venue
- 5495 Locust Hill Road, Travelers Rest, SC 29690
- $5,500 rental fee includes tables and chairs
- Special package pricing for facility rental, photography and video
On the project
- Bynum Architecture
- Davis Construction
- Campbell Engineering & Associates
- Royal Engineering
- Tharp Plumbing
- AM Mechanical
- Easley Electric
- Five toilets and sinks
- New railings and guardrails
- Water fountains
- Heating and air conditioning
- Sprinkler system
- Exterior stairs