North Carolina Education - Rockingham County

Year County Established

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Rockingham County


It has long been known that the first public school in the state of North Carolina opened in Rockingham County on January 20, 1840. That fact is cited in several textbooks. Less well known is the basis for this claim and especially difficult to determine is where that school was located in the county. The Common Law of 1839 authorized counties to hold elections in which voters might vote for or against taxes for public schools. In elections in late 1839, sixty-one (61) of sixty-eight (68) counties voted to support school taxes. The remaining seven counties soon followed course. By 1846, every county had at least one public school.

Notice of the opening of the Rockingham school appeared on February 1, 1840, in the Greensborough Patriot and was reprinted the same month in the Raleigh Standard. The article indicated that the “first free school in Rockingham County went into operation on the 20th of January 1840.” Further, it stated that “this is probably the first free school commenced in the State.” The story did not specify the location of the school but did indicate that the county had been divided up into districts with houses to be completed and schools in operation in each “in a short time.”

Tradition has it that the first school was located in the present Williamsburg community in the southeastern part of Rockingham County. Some accounts even refer to the “Williamsburg School.” Since the community was known by other names as late as 1960, the reference appears to be ill-founded. However, support may be found for the claim that the general vicinity was the site of an early school. Deeds drafted in April and December of 1840 transferred ownership of one acre from local parties to the Literary Fund for the “advancement of education and promotion of common schools.” The tracts were in the general area of Hogan’s Creek north of the Williamsburg community. It is impossible, with the available documentation, to fix precisely the location of the first school cited in the newspaper account but local tradition strongly supports the general vicinity of the site.

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


Many of the earliest settlers in Piedmont North Carolina belonged to the Presbyterian Church. The Orange Presbytery, led by Hugh McAden, established the earliest Presbyterian Churches on record in the colony. Speedwell is widely believed to be the oldest congregation in what became Rockingham County, and also among the earliest in the colony. Although the exact date of establishment remains a mystery, local historians consider 1757 as the first year of service. The current structure is the second incarnation of Speedwell, erected in 1844.

The Orange Presbytery, established by missionary Hugh McAden (c.1720-1781), flourished in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, creating six permanent churches among unorganized Presbyterians. The church received itinerant ministers until 1793, when Rev. James McCready assumed leadership of the congregation, a position he relinquished three years later. Other notable ministers include David Caldwell, William Thompson, and Eli W. Carruthers. In 1844, the original structure on the corner of Main and Gilmore Streets in Reidsville was razed, and a new structure was built on the same lot.

The church served as a community school throughout the American Civil War, and after the war, Speedwell experienced a surge in membership under the leadership of Cornelius Miller. The church cemetery contains several gravestones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and reflects the historical tradition to which Speedwell Church lays claim.

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


After World War II, and with industrial expansion in North Carolina, the need developed rapidly for technical and vocational training. Under the administrations of Governors Luther Hodges and Terry Sanford, a statewide system of community colleges took root, first as a system of seven Industrial Education Centers. The State legislature laid the groundwork in June of 1957 with the appropriation of a half million dollars.

The original seven (7) Industrial Education Centers opened in Burlington, Durham, Goldsboro, Jamestown, Wilmington, Wilson, and Leaksville (present-day Eden). Sites were selected by the State Board of Education, chaired by Dallas Herring, based on consideration of pressing needs.

Leaksville was the home county of Governor Hodges and Fieldcrest Mills, his former employer. Under its original name, Marshall Fields and Company, the Rockingham County company, in 1919, pioneered technical training for its employees. In 1937, the company turned the vocational building, known as Nantucket Mill, and equipment over to the Leaksville school system which, during the summer of 1957, transferred the training to a new vocational building on the campus of Morehead High School.

Thus, Leaksville, in Rockingham County, was well-positioned to host the first Industrial Education Center in North Carolina, beginning in May of 1958. Other cities, beginning with Jamestown, where an old sanatorium was rehabilitated for the purpose, were not far behind. Twenty (20) Industrial Education Centers were operating in 1963, when they formed the core of the new North Carolina Community College system.

The original center remained in operation at Morehead High School until 1966 when Rockingham Community College opened in nearby Wentworth. The community college system today is fifty-eight (58) campuses strong and serves 800,000 North Carolinians each year.

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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