North Carolina Education - Robeson County

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Robeson County


In 1841, John Gilchrist, Jr. and others felt that the educational needs of the young ladies of the Robeson County area were not being filled. Their answer was the founding of Floral College, the first female college in the state to confer degrees. John had settled on a large plantation near Centre Church, just north of present-day Maxton and there he set aside property to house Floral College. The success of the college became his ruling passion. He devoted all of his energy and most of his resources to its building. He received great help from a wonderful Board of Trustees - Malcom Purcell, W.A. Sellers, Peter A. MacEachin, Dr. Angus D. McLean, Dr. John Malloy, Malcom Smith, and Daniel MacKinnon.

Found in the 1848 catalogue are the following staff: Rev. John R. McIntosh, Principal, Instructor in Chemistry, Natural Philosophy, Evidences of Christianity; Mrs. C.M. McIntosh, Drawing, Painting, Embroidery, Botany; Mr. John C. Sutherland, Mathematics, Intellectual Philosophy; Miss Elizabeth H. Jewett, Grammar, Geography, History and Rev. F.W. Plassman, Music, Vocal and Instrumental.

Floral College thrived until the beginning of the American Civil War, when it was forced to close for the duration. By 1872, things had turned for the worst. In the January 4, 1872 newspaper is found the following ad: On the 8th day of Feb'y next Floral College will be sold to the highest bidder, subject to a mortgage in favor of the heirs of the late Reuben King, the sale to take place on the premises. Also, at the same time and place, will be sold all furniture and fixtures belonging to the College; also all evidences of debt. Terms Cash. By the order of the stockholders, D.S. Morrison, J.D. McLean and J.M. McKinnon commissioners.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by Bess & Blake Tyner of Pembroke, NC. Click Here to read more.

In the late 1860s. Dr. Hector McLean opened Edenborough Medical College in the backwoods of what was then Robeson County, half a mile south of the present-day town of Raeford. Born to Scottish immigrants in 1818, Hector McLean graduated with a degree in medicine from the University of Louisville about 1840. At a time when medical doctors were scarce and medical schools even more rare, McLean developed an extensive medical and surgical practice. He owned a number of slaves who worked the 300-500 acres of cultivated land on his plantation, “Edenborough.” As early as 1850, McLean began training medical students; however, it was not until the 1860s that he constructed a building at “Edenborough” for the purpose of instructing of doctors. The North Carolina General Assembly officially chartered Edenborough Medical College in 1867 making it North Carolina’s first medical college.

There were no entrance requirements, with respect to age or previous education, for students interested in attending Edenborough Medical College. There were never more that eight students enrolled at one time. The building that housed the medical college was a two-story, 40 by 80 foot, frame building. Students lived on the second story and attended lectures in the four rooms on the lower floor. While the curriculum is not known, almost assuredly the students received training in dissection, practical pharmacy, and clinical medicine. Dr. McLean often invited other doctors to visit and teach, but he was the only full-time faculty member of the college.

In 1876, the Medical Society of North Carolina appointed a committee to investigate the operation of the school. In May of 1877, the committee advised the General Assembly to revoke the school’s charter because they did not consider Dr. McLean qualified to oversee all aspects of the students’ medical education as he had been doing for the past ten years as the school’s sole faculty member. However, Dr. McLean’s death on December 1, 1877, ended the operation of the school before its charter could be rescinded. For many years the building that housed the medical college was used as a cotton gin. In 1914, it was torn down for the use of its building materials. Two years after Dr. McLean’s death and the closing of Edenborough Medical College, the University of North Carolina opened its medical 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 his history of black Baptists in North Carolina, the Rev. J. A. Whitted wrote that the Thompson Institute in Lumberton “was of the greatest necessity in the section in which it was located,” further calling the school “another monument to the thrift and energy of the Negro Baptists of North Carolina.” Its sponsor organization, the Lumber River Baptist Association, had its own beginnings in 1877 in nearby Fair Bluff. Four years later the group had laid the groundwork for the school in Lumberton with the aim to teach reading, writing, and knowledge of the arts. At that time no public schools in the county served the black community.

The leader, and the namesake for the school, was Alexander H. Thompson. The beginnings were modest indeed. Most funding was received from area churches with a small appropriation annually from the Home Mission Society in New York. Thompson Institute was a boarding school which offered training for teachers and the first black high school in Robeson County accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. A. H. Thompson was succeeded by the Rev. J. Avery and, in 1912, by the Rev. William Henry Knuckles, a graduate of Shaw University, who remained there for thirty years. High school courses were added.

The end for the Thompson Institute was akin to that of other preparatory schools across North Carolina, as it was converted into a public school. Local Baptists operated Thompson Institute until 1942. The following year, they first leased, then sold, the buildings to the school board. The black and white schools in Robeson County merged in 1969. Today W. H. Knuckles Elementary School operates on the site of the former Thompson Institute.

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 1887, Rep. Hamilton C. McMillan of Robeson County introduced legislation in the General Assembly “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a school of high grade for teachers of the Croatan race in North Carolina.” Trustees were appointed and $500 was to be appropriated annually for two years for the school’s support. The legislation specifically referred to the planned school as the “Croatan Normal School.” According to the bill, only those over fifteen would be admitted and “all those who shall enjoy the privileges of said school shall previously obligate to teach the youth of the Croatan race for a stated period.” The act was ratified on March 7, 1887.

Since the appropriation provided only for the maintenance of the school and not for its construction, all materials and labor were donated by local people. A small tract west of Pembroke was acquired for the building. A two-story, unpainted, frame structure was completed in the fall of 1887 when the first class of fifteen enrolled. The Reverend W. L. Moore was the first principal and teacher.

In 1889, the North Carolina General Assembly raised the school’s annual appropriation to $1,000 where it remained for many years. In 1909, a new site for the school was purchased about 1-½ miles east in Pembroke and the legislature put up $3,000 for a new building. A large bell was moved from the old building to the new location. In time the institution grew to become what is today known at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The site of the original building is today an open field beside New Hope Church.

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

The institution long known as Pembroke State University had its beginnings as Croatan Normal School, established by the North Carolina General Assembly on March 7, 1887. Hamilton McMillan (1837-1916), who represented Robeson County in the North Carolina House of Representatives, introduced the legislation “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a school of high grade for teachers of the Croatan race in North Carolina.” The school moved to its present location in 1909. Once primarily an all-Indian school, associated with the Lumbee tribe, the university today serves a multi-racial student body.

Pembroke State University officially became part of the University of North Carolina on July 1, 1972, as a result of consolidation leading to the creation of a sixteen-campus system. The name change to University of North Carolina at Pembroke became official on July 1, 1996. Also in 1972, a campaign to save “Old Main,” the white-pillared centerpiece of the campus. The building, a symbol of Indian education and social progress, was restored in 1979. An arrowhead monument erected by J. Hampton Rich of Mocksville stands in front of the building, which remains a campus icon.

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

Founded in 1896, Flora MacDonald College was originally known as Red Springs College. An all-female institution operated by the Fayetteville Presbytery, the school’s name was changed to the Southern Presbyterian College and Conservatory of Music in 1903. Eleven years later, in recognition of the support of local citizens of Scottish descent and to honor Flora MacDonald, Scottish heroine who lived for five years nearby in the eighteenth century, the school changed its name to Flora MacDonald College.

The college expanded considerably in the post-World War II era, but in 1955, the Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina decided to merge the school with Peace College and Presbyterian Junior College into a single four-year co-educational institute. Six years later with the opening of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in nearby Laurinburg, Flora MacDonald College ceased to exist. The former campus was then sold to the Red Springs Development Corporation for $50,000.

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



Located in the town of Maxton, Carolina College was chartered by the North Carolina Methodist Conference in 1907. The effort to establish a school was spearheaded by Rev. S. E. Mercer and local pastor Euclid H. McWhorter. Money was raised through funds of the conference as well as local contributions. The college began operating in 1911 as a liberal arts school with an emphasis on spiritual development and education in the arts.

Rev. Mercer was the first president, but others held the position, including R. B. John and S. E. Green. The college operated until 1926, when it closed for financial reasons. There was also a shift of priorities in the Methodist Conference following the transformation of Trinity College into Duke University in 1924. The conference decided to concentrate its effort on the Durham university.

In 1927, the trustees of Elise Academy presented the idea of a establishing an affiliated junior college to the Fayetteville Presbytery. They combined their search with the Mecklenburg County Presbytery before deciding to pursue the purchase of the Carolina College campus. The Presbytery bought the campus in 1928. Rev. R. A. McLeod, former superintendent of Elise High School, became president of the teaching staff and the academy opened its doors on September 11, 1929.

Upon opening, the Elise Academy had 84 students. The junior college survived the Depression owing to frugal spending and local support. A challenge gift of $20,000 was donated to the school in 1939 by William Henry Belk of Charlotte and R. L. McLeod of Maxton. In 1939, the school established a Civilian Pilot Training Program with the Civil Aeronautics Authority. It became part of the War Training Service as World War II approached.

Elise Academy merged with Presbyterian Junior College in 1940. However, the college reached maximum enrollment numbers after World War II, with the student population reaching 503. The institution continued to operate until 1960, when it and Flora MacDonald College were merged by the Synod of North Carolina into the newly created St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College at nearby Laurinburg. Carolina Military Academy operated on the campus from 1962 until the main building burned in 1972.

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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