North Carolina Education - New Hanover County

Year County Established

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New Hanover County

In 1783, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act - Chapter XXIV - naming and authorizing trustees to build and manage the new Innis Academy in the Wilmington District. The trustees also "shall appoint annually out of their own body a president, secretary, and treasurer of the corporation."
In 1788, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act - Chapter XXXIX - naming new trustees because many of the original trustees "being dead or left the state, and the remainder being a bare majority being too much dispersed to meet with convenience at any one place, the said act cannot be carried into effect," for Innis Academy in the Wilmington District.
In 1789, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act - Chapter XVIII - which included a correction to the previous Act of 1788; "it was intended that the number of Trustees might be augmented so as not to exceed thirty nor to be under twenty, but by an omission in the engrosser of the bill or otherwise, although a certain number is intended to be referred to, that number does not appear in the Act."

The New England-based American Missionary Association (AMA) was founded in 1846 by the Congregational Church and was dedicated to promoting anti-slavery feeling North and South. Among its early leaders were Lewis Tappan and George Whipple. In the postwar era the AMA became the most active and successful of the many benevolent societies helping former slaves adjust to life as freedmen. The group’s particular emphasis during Reconstruction was on the establishment of schools and churches for blacks in the South.

The first AMA-sponsored day schools for North Carolina freedmen opened in two New Bern churches in July of 1863, followed soon thereafter by ones in Morehead City, Washington, Plymouth, and on Roanoke Island. Sites increased rapidly after the close of the war. By 1865, in Wilmington alone, eight (8) teachers were holding schools in four churches, with up to three hundred (300) students in each school. In 1868, these classes were combined in a new building erected with funds from the AMA and from a Mr. Williston of Northampton, Massachusetts. In years thereafter, the school was known by several names, variously Williston Academy, Wilmington Normal School, and New Hampshire Memorial Institute. It was renamed in 1883 to honor a second benefactor, James J. H. Gregory of Marblehead, Massachusetts, who paid for the enlargement of the earlier frame building, a new three-story brick teachers’s home, and a brick church.

AMA schools helped form the basis for the public school system in North Carolina. The AMA and the Wilmington School Board joined forces in 1869. However, as late as 1908, the AMA still provided most of the annual expenses of $5,000 for the Gregory Normal Institute. In that year, Gregory had 281 students and ten (10) teachers. Classes were held at the original site until 1921. The original classroom building and teachers’ home have been demolished. The church remains active as Gregory Congregational. Today, an elementary public school a few blocks away is known as the Gregory School.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


In May of 1947, New Hanover County approved establishment of a junior college around Bluethenthal Field. Technical courses in aeronautics, electricity, and construction were taught at the airfield site, while academic classes were held at New Hanover High School. Wilmington College officially opened on September 4, 1947; the majority of its 238 students were war veterans. In 1948, the college was accredited and began using limited space in the Isaac Bear Building, across the street from the high school.

In 1957, the state legislature passed the Community College Act, providing a plan for organization and operation of community colleges in North Carolina. The following year, New Hanover County voted to place Wilmington College under the new Act, thereby making the growing institution part of the state system of higher education. Physical expansion was the next priority, and a new campus site was selected on NC 132 (College Road). A groundbreaking ceremony was held there on April 1, 1960, with Governor Luther Hodges presiding. In July of 1963, by an Act of the North Carolina General Assembly, the institution became a senior college, offering for the first time a four-year curriculum and the bachelor’s degree. Six years later, the school was absorbed into the State’s university system. On July 1, 1969, Wilmington College became the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The old Isaac Bear Elementary School since has been demolished.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


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