The History

2003 textile and furniture plants in southwest Virginia were closing. The economy in the region was looking bleak. The City of Galax alone lost more than 1,200 jobs in a short period of time due to an economic shift from yesterday’s industrial and agricultural economies to the present day’s creative economy. The reality of growing unemployment in a distressed regional economy stimulated the need for economic diversification.

A bright idea bloomed from the passion of the gifted artistic Appalachian people to create an outlet for art education and to pass on their rich heritage to the future generations. The concept, Chestnut Creek School of the Arts (CCSA), grew out of the birth of the Crossroads Institute, a small-business incubator, as an answer to the area’s large artisan base and the public’s demand for classes in the arts and crafts. Armed with examples of how the arts play a role in the economic health of a community, government officials from the City of Galax and the Arts Council of the Twin Counties formed a steering committee to develop CCSA., January 2003.

The objectives of the project were to support regional economic development; encourage activities that diversify the economic base; enhance entrepreneurial activities; develop a highly skilled, competitive workforce; and provide training and technical assistance to citizens engaged in economic development. Specifically, CCSA was conceived as the vehicle through which the community could develop a creative economy based on their assets, both human and natural. By creating packages that include classes with all that this area has to offer, the school not only builds upon community development and collaboration, but it also focuses the appeal to visiting and vacationing families of this very culturally and geographically rich area.

A feasibility study, done in November 2004, made possible by an initial grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, revealed that a number of area artisans travel internationally to teach. If we were able to tap into this talent, this study confirmed that we could attract out-of-towners and stimulate the local economy. Local artisan teacher’s salaries, 60% of the class fees, would remain in the local economy. Room and board from students and their significant others would stimulate the local economy. A sampling of classes offered in 2005 proved a huge success, with students as far away as Gainesville, FL, Bethesda, MD, Boone, NC and Martinsville, Radford and Laurel Fork, VA. The original premise had been proven correct.

Based on the results of this feasibility study, CCSA, as project of the City of Galax, was awarded $300,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). This grant award was matched by a local anonymous donor dollar for dollar. When a historic building in the heart of town became available, the owner agreed to sell it below market value for the purpose of converting it into an arts school. As the project was being designed, the City of Galax explored and elected to make use of historic tax credits in order to close the gap between grant dollars available for construction and the actual construction costs. With funding now available and a new home for the school decided, two full-time positions were created, an executive director and assistant director, both employees of the City of Galax.


Main Campus

The original building was designed by H.M. Miller, an architect in Roanoke who is responsible for many of the large buildings in Southwest Virginia. It was placed on National Register of Historic Places in 2002 as part of the commercial historic district in downtown Galax.
The bank housed other offices, including Sen. S. Floyd Landreth’s law office. Landreth also served as the bank president. The lettering on the translucent glass door of his law office on the second floor has been preserved.
In the 1950s, Intermountain Telephone Company had offices there, and the Virginia State Police was headquartered on the second floor during the 1960s.
The basement housed a barbershop for African-Americans.
In 1961, First National Bank underwent massive renovations. Additional walls were created, the wooden windows were removed and replaced, and 150 safety deposit boxes were added to the bank’s vault. The original white, green and pink marble tile in the lobby was covered with white and pink tile. Sadly, the tile couldn’t be saved In the 2009 renovation because the newer tile from the 1961 renovation was glued to the original marble tiles.
The first floor was made of solid concrete, and the original plaster and moldings were maintained in the 2009 renovation.
In 1961, the front door was inset 10 feet, which created a side door exterior entrance to the top level offices, and a security gate was added to prevent break-ins.
The vault in the lobby contains a cannonball safe, which is considered burglar proof. These safes generally weigh between 3,500-7,000 pounds and contain a triple-clock lock system; they cost $10,000-$500,000. The size and cost of the Galax safe is unknown. Because of the time lock, no one could get into the safe until the time expired. Even today, the safe is still unable to be unlocked. When the bank obtained the cannonball safe, it couldn’t be moved into the bank for several days, so it sat outside the bank with money in it. Today the safe still sits inside of the vault.
Plans are for the vault to be used as a shop to sell art and crafts, as well as Galax memorabilia and souvenirs.
Most historic elements, including its handcrafted moldings, were preserved in the 2009 renovations. Renovations included replacing the roof, implementing a modern heating and cooling system and installing a new elevator.

The Gazette, Galax, Virginia, January 22-24, 2010, pp2A, 2B