History of the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center
Mary B. Kilgore, while she was a student at Shaw University, envisioned creating a place for African Americans to gather for community meetings and social events. Upon her return to Brevard, she initially presented her vision to a group at Bethel Baptist Church. The idea was greeted with enthusiasm and on June 8, 1942, the first Community Center in Rosenwald opened at the church. It offered a children’s nursery, daily craft activities for 6-12 year olds and sports activities for teens.
Mrs. Kilgore placed an article in the local newspaper, which pointed out the true need for a community center facility. The article received a generous response from both black and white citizens and before the project was completed, this community endeavor had been turned into a joint town and county effort.
Mary C. Jenkins, Mrs. Ralph Ramsey and an organization of Methodist women played an important role in helping create the building that would belong to the community and serve as a their center. Mrs. Jenkins was the widow of Frank Jenkins who started Brevard Lumber Company, a business the Jenkins family owned for nearly 100 years. On August 24, 1944, she sold approximately ½ acre of land on Carver Street to the trustees of the Brevard Community Center for $85 to be used to erect a “Community Center for the colored people of the Town of Brevard.” The two ladies continued their fundraising efforts to help reach the $3,000 needed to complete the project.
The November 18, 1945 edition of The Transylvania Times reported a $10 donation from M.B. Witmer of Montgomery, AL, living in New York, who stated “…we have been too slow in recognizing our responsibility along this line…” An editorial urged the community to help raise the funds “to establish a recreational building” and “to designate a colored residential section because it has outgrown the small area in which it is restricted.” The newspaper also noted on November 13 that a Song Festival at Bethel Baptist Church had raised $1,625 for the Center. A $25 donation was given by Beulah Zachary of Brevard, the creator of the TV show Kukla, Fran and Ollie. She was later killed in an airplane crash in New York.
Construction was begun in September 1947 but additional funds were needed, so it lost momentum until the formation of the Transylvania Community Council, chaired by Cornelius Hunt, got the project back on track. In 1952 a Founders’ Day Opening was held for the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center. Rockefeller Kilgore, son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kilgore, Sr. and husband of Mary, served as business manager. In addition, he sponsored a rock and roll band known as the famous Tams, which performed around Brevard and as far away as Virginia.
The Center operated under a Community Center Board with Cornelius Hunt as President and the following members: Edward Killian; James C. Wulpi, a retire VP of American airlines; Freeman Daugherty; Arthur Hefner, Jr; D.C. Hall; Victor Betsill; Mary B. Kilgore.
It included a library with Ms. Kilgore serving as the first librarian. By May 1953, it had received 400 books, a community-wide expression of support. She had taken courses in Library Science from Ruth Bernard, the County Librarian, of Andrews, NC. Boy and Girl Scouts, the Merry Hearts Social Club and the Children’s Play House were among the clubs that met in this new facility. A variety of parties, dinners and dances were regular events. A craft workshop in the basement was set-up to teach carpentry skills to young men and in the summer of 1953, the Happyland Nursery and kindergarten was started to help working mothers.
A swimming pool was built in 1958 but they struggled to meet regulations and stay open. In 1974, the pool was repaired and the County took over its operation for a short time, at which point it closed.
The Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club of Transylvania County got a part of its start at the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center, operating there until it moved to its present location on Gallimore Road. Updates and modifications were made to the building prior to their occupancy. The Center closed in 2008 because of code and regulation issues.
Members of the Rosenwald community have advocated for a renovated Center for years. A new Board of Directors was formed and the MCJCC Historical Rehabilitation Project was created for the purpose of seeking volunteers and donations to aid in upkeep and repair of the building. They also felt that it was important to establish a solid foundation for positive community programming that included education, health and social services and other assistance to those in need. It was time to paint a new picture of Rosenwald and no longer be considered one of the worst sections of Transylvania County.
Efforts were made to begin improvements despite the fact that a professional assessment stated that the cost of construction of a new building and the renovation of the existing one were very similar. The Board was totally dedicated to making something happen and appeared before Brevard City Council to request $20,000 in funding to support asbestos removal. It was this event that sparked the beginning of a partnership between the City and the MCJCC Board of Directors.
In 2018, the current MCJCC Board of Directors voted to grant the building and property to the City of Brevard in exchange for the construction of a new community center. The City MCJCC Task Force met for over 3 years working on property access, designing and siting the building and locating parking. A preliminary price was developed to confirm that the project is in line with budget expectations. That has led to the bidding process with construction following. The old building was burned down earlier in preparation for construction. Meanwhile, the MCJCC Board has spent time defining the rules and regulations for the building, designing programs that will meet the organizational mission and working to raise the funds necessary to outfit the Center in a way that will be functional, safe and accessible. After facing numerous survey and legal difficulties, the project is now nearing completion. The people of Rosenwald had a dream that one day The Center would become an historical museum. Well that day has arrived and the new building will host a Cultural Center where citizens from all over can come and learn a bit of African American history, Rosenwald style.