North Carolina Education - Randolph County

Year County Established

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Randolph County


Sometime in the early to mid-1830s, John Brown built a one-room log schoolhouse on his property in Randolph County. Teachers worked by subscription at the school until Brantley York was hired in 1838. In the summer of that year, York and members of the community constructed a larger schoolhouse. So popular was the new school that there were sixty-nine (69) pupils enrolled for the inaugural session. In 1839, York proposed to establish a permanent academy that would be supported by an educational society. The group, composed largely of local Methodists and Quakers, raised money to fund a new facility. York, with a nod to the joint venture, named the school as the Union Institute Academy. As other educational opportunities opened for Quaker children, the members of that sect began to withdraw from Union and the school was primarily a Methodist one by the time it was incorporated in 1841.

Braxton Craven, then nineteen years old, began the 1841-1842 school year at the academy as a student. His abilities were such that he was soon hired as an assistant teacher. When York resigned during the year to accept a position elsewhere, Craven was selected to be the next principal of Union Institute Academy. Under Craven, attendance at the academy increased sharply. When he learned that there were boys from the community who could not attend school due to farm work, Craven opened a free night school. In 1848, he instituted an innovative teacher training program. In 1851, Union Institute was incorporated as Normal College, dedicated to the education of teachers for the state’s common schools. Normal College was re-incorporated the following year, with the charter accepted by the trustees in 1853. This time, the college received funding from the state and was empowered to grant other, more general, college degrees. Courses of study offered in the 1850s included preparatory, classical collegiate, and English.

In 1856, Normal College established an official affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, not having garnered sufficient state support. The college, no longer emphasizing teacher training, expanded its liberal arts curriculum. One of the trustees, R. T. Heflin, suggested that the college’s name be changed to Caswell, in honor of Governor Richard Caswell, a Revolutionary War hero and devout Methodist. However, when the charter was amended in 1859, the institution was renamed Trinity College, in honor of the school of the same name at Cambridge, England. Braxton Craven was named first president of the nascent Trinity. Craven resigned his post, effective January 1, 1864, amid controversy in the Methodist Conference. W. T. Gannaway led Trinity through the close of the American Civil War, but in April of 1865, with General W. T. Hardee’s troops camped on the grounds, Trinity suspended operation. In October of 1865, Braxton Craven was returned by unanimous vote to the college presidency and he re-opened the school in January of 1866. Craven remained at Trinity until his death in November of 1882.

John F. Crowell, an enthusiastic twenty-nine year-old Yankee, was appointed president of Trinity in 1887. The early years of his presidency were marked by financial shortcomings and pleas for support. Considering his options and hoping to stir interest in an endowment, Crowell entertained the idea of moving Trinity to a more urban area. In 1889, Raleigh leaders offered Crowell a plot of land (now part of North Carolina State University) and pledged $35,000 for a building. Although the Methodist Conference voted to approve the Raleigh move, in early 1890, Methodist ministers in Durham met secretly in Durham with Washington Duke and secured an $85,000 pledge to move Trinity to their community. Julian S. Carr, a long-time friend of the college, offered to donate a site that he owned on the western edge of town. In 1891 the North Carolina General Assembly enacted a new charter for Trinity College “at or near the town of Durham.” The college opened at its new location on September 1, 1892.

In 1924, James B. Duke designated $40 million to establish the Duke Endowment. The annual income of the trust fund was to be disbursed among institutions in the Carolinas, principally hospitals, orphanages, the Methodist Church, three colleges, and a university that was intended to be built around Trinity College. For the proposed university, Duke donated an additional $19 million for rehabilitation of Durham’s Trinity campus and construction a new campus. Aware of the opportunity to establish a new identity, President William Preston Few recommended that the school be called Duke University. James B. Duke approved with the stipulation that the name be a memorial to his father and family.

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

Duke University began as a small, rural school in Randolph County. First known as Brown’s Schoolhouse, the school grew and in 1838 was re-organized by local families as Union Institute under principal Brantley York. The institute received its charter in 1841 and was again re-organized in 1851 as a normal school to train teachers and, the following year, the General Assembly authorized the institution to grant degrees. In 1859, the name of the school was changed to Trinity College after the Methodist Church became involved in operating the school. It continued to prosper with the first masters degree awarded in 1877 and the first female graduates receiving degrees the following year. In 1887, John Crowell became president and under his guidance the school was transformed from a rural college to an urban campus in the town of Durham. Crowell persuaded the trustees that a move to an urban setting would encourage greater enrollment. To promote the move, land in Durham was donated by Julian S. Carr and Washington Duke. The latter initiated the first of a series of donations, laying the groundwork for future collaboration between his family and the institution.

Two years after the move to Durham in 1892, John Kilgo became president. Kilgo nurtured Washington Duke’s affinity for the school and his desire to fund the needs of the urban campus. Over the next few years, Duke contributed heavily to the school. The school emerged as one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the south, priding itself on allowing open debate and discussion on sensitive topics, inviting speakers such as Booker T. Washington to campus and supporting controversial professors. By 1924, the trustees had decided to transform the college into a university. William Few, who became president of Trinity College in 1910, facilitated the change from a college into a complex research university, helped by the financial support of the Duke family. In 1924, James B. Duke established the Duke Endowment to benefit the university. During the creation of the endowment and restructuring of the school, it was decided that Trinity College should be re-named Duke University in honor of Washington Duke. Quickly following on its new name and financial stability, the new university began a building campaign, laying the first cornerstone of its Gothic style campus in 1928. The first buildings were occupied in 1930 and the chapel was first used for baccalaureate services in 1932.

As Trinity College grew, it developed its own identity, using Yale blue as its color, honoring a past president’s alma mater. The school’s “Blue Devil” mascot was chosen by the school newspaper in 1922 as an homage to a regiment of French troops during World War I. The mascot and school colors are still maintained by the University.

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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