North Carolina Education - Rowan County

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Rowan County

In 1784, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act - Chapter XXIX - naming and authorizing new trustees to move Liberty Hall from Charlotte to Salisbury in Rowan County, and renaming it as the Salisbury Academy. Authorization included "building or purchasing suitable and convenient houses for the same, providing a philosophical apparatus and public library, and supporting and paying salaries to the president and such number of professors and tutors thereof as shall be necessary to instruct the students, and such as they shall be able to pay out of the funds that shall be in their hands."
In 1785, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act - Chapter XXXII - which established a new academy in Kinston, and additionally amended the previous Act (above) by adding three new trustees for the Salisbury Academy.
In 1789, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act - Chapter XXVII - to incorporate the Centre Benevolent Society, which included members in Rowan and Mecklenburg counties, that "come under a certain system of laws and regulations for the improvement of useful knowledge, for the encouragement of literature, to alleviate the distresses of the unfortunate, and to supply tho wants of the poor and indigent" in both counties.

The first wave of Moravians moved into Piedmont of North Carolina in 1753, a year after land was purchased in the area they called Wachovia. The first immigrants were men from Pennsylvania who established a village and prepared for future settlers, including women and children who arrived in 1754. Far from the only immigrants to the region, the Moravians from Pennsylvania developed close relationships with other recent immigrants, including Adam Spach, who moved to the area just outside of Wachovia in 1754. Spach and the Moravian community worked together in times of trouble, particularly when local Native Americans attacked their settlements.

Spach invited the Moravians to worship in his home and in 1758 a minister preached to a gathering of eight families there. That first service established what grew to be known as the Friedberg Congregation. The congregation had no permanent minister and services were held at sporadic intervals in its early years. The Spach family and their neighbors held services in their homes until 1769 when the first Friedberg meeting house was consecrated. A few years later the Friedberg Congregation was formally established by the Moravian Church and permanent ministers began to serve the congregation. As the community continued to grow with more immigrants arriving from Pennsylvania, Spach and his neighbors worked to establish a school house in the area, purchasing land for the school in 1773. The education received by the children reflected the church’s strong religious foundation and included rote learning of Bible passages in addition to mathematics for older students.

The meeting house at Friedberg has been through several changes. The next building consecrated for worship was completed in 1788 and a third was added in 1827. The structure competed in 1827 was used by the congregation into the twentieth century when it was removed for a newer, larger sanctuary that was dedicated in 1980. When first constructed, the Friedberg Church and School were in Rowan County, North Carolina. Today, Friedberg is in Davidson County, North Carolina - very close to the Forsyth County line.

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

In 1778, Presbyterian minister James Hall of Fourth Creek Meeting House organized Clio’s Nursery, a Presbyterian academy. While Hall participated in the American Revolution, the school was under the supervision of his brother-in-law James McEwen who died shortly after the appointment. After McEwen’s death, Francis Cummins, who later became a Presbyterian minister, was placed in charge.

Clio’s Nursery closed during the British invasion of South Carolina and North Carolina extending from May 1780 to August 1782, when it re-opened under the supervision of John Newton. The school’s last teacher was Charles Caldwell, who left the academy in 1787 to establish Crowfield Academy near Centre Presbyterian Church. The school closed shortly thereafter.

Although only open for nearly a decade, the school boasted an impressive list of alumni. Former students included George Campbell, who served as secretary of the treasury in the James Madison administration, and Moses Waddell, who became president of the University of Georgia. E. F. Rockwell wrote in 1858 that a Congressman, three judges, and eight ministers also were graduates.

All during its existence, Clio's Nursery was in Rowan County. If it were open today, it would exist in Iredell County.

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

As early as 1780, the Methodist Church began efforts to establish a church sponsored school in America similar to John Wesley’s school in England. Francis Asbury met with the Reverend John Dickins of Halifax County in June of that year and two local men had the honor of purchasing the first subscriptions. Their money, however, went to the formation of Cokesbury College, opened in Maryland in 1787. It would be about seven years before North Carolina’s Cokesbury School would open near the Yadkin River in what is now Davie County, then Rowan. It was the first Methodist-sponsored school in North Carolina. The name Cokesbury was a tribute to the first two Methodist Bishops in America, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, and has since been associated with Methodist education.

North Carolina’s Cokesbury School was organized by James Parks, an elder district preacher and teacher, and Hardy Jones, a wealthy church member who donated the land on which it was built. Asbury visited the school in 1794 and described it as “twenty feet square, two stories high, well set with doors and windows…it stands on a beautiful eminence, and overlooks the Lowlands, and river Yadkin.” The aesthetically pleasing location, however, was not a practical one since it was off the beaten path. The school was no longer listed in the Methodist Conference minutes in 1795. Local churchgoers who had attended sermons at the schoolhouse continued to do so. The congregation eventually became known as the Advance Methodist Church.

Much of what is known about the school comes from the commonplace book, or notebook, of George McClasky, a student there. The journal-like book was discovered in the personal papers of a local Methodist preacher. While the original was returned to the preacher’s family, copies were made for the Western North Carolina Conference Archives in Charlotte and the North Carolina State Archives. McClasky’s notes provide evidence of the curriculum and everyday life at the school, as well as important information as to the books available. McClasky’s father, John, was involved with the Methodist Book Concern and helped to supply the school and church with appropriate books.

This short-lived school existed in Rowan County, North Carolina. Today, it would be in Davie County.

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

The congregation at Prospect was formed on September 8, 1824, when the Concord Presbytery responded to a petition from Presbyterians living near the Iredell-Rowan county line (east of present Mooresville). Most of the petitioners had been members of Centre Church in southern Iredell. The congregation erected two log structures on land owned by Col. James Jamison. One building was called the “meeting house” and the other a “study house.” The buildings were located in an area now enclosed by the cemetery at Prospect Church. In February of 1825, Jamison gave five acres of land and both structures to the church.

In March of 1835, the idea for Davidson College was conceived as a result of a meeting of the Concord Presbytery at Prospect Church. At the home of Colonel Jamison (a church member), the Rev. Robert Hall Morrison and others discussed the organization of a school for liberal learning “preparatory to the gospel ministry.” The group outlined a set of resolutions (copied by Morrison) and presented them to the Presbytery. The resolutions were adopted, setting the foundation for what became Davidson College in 1837 (and Robert Hall Morrison became the institution’s first president).

By 1855, the congregation at Prospect Church had grown to three hundred 300 members. In 1856, the log church was replaced by a new frame structure with slave balconies on three sides. Prospect later became the mother church of Mooresville Presbyterian in 1875. The “study house” was in use until sometime after 1835; and Prospect Academy emerged soon after. Among the prominent teachers at the academy was Augustus Leazer (a grandson of Jamison’s, and a graduate of Davidson College). Leazer was elected a ruling elder of Prospect Church at the age of 24. He entered politics in the 1880s, serving in the state legislature and as Speaker of the House of Representatives. In 1885, Leazer played a prominent role in the legislation that established the Agricultural and Technical Arts College (now North Carolina State University) in Raleigh. The 1856 church building remained in use for nearly a century before a new brick structure was erected in 1951.

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 Setzer School in Rowan County offers a window into public school history in North Carolina. The one-room log structure was one of the early common schools that grew out of state public school legislation in 1839. The first public school in the state opened in Rockingham County on January 20, 1840.

Also in service by 1840, what became known as the Setzer School was in District No. 22 (the Setzer School District), two miles east of China Grove. John Eagle, Jacob Setzer, and W. C. Miller were elected school committeemen at a meeting at Setzer’s house in 1847. The school building measured approximately 24 by 21 feet, and was constructed with dovetailed oak logs. It stood on the property of the Probst family, but acquired its name from the Setzer family, whose members lived on the adjoining tract. The Setzers held a strong interest in schools and education. Both families (of German descent) had been in the area since the mid-1700s.

In the 1840s, students at Setzer studied spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic. By 1852, grammar and geography had been added to the curriculum. Composition, declamation, and algebra were added much later. The school served a small district that sometimes included more than one hundred (100) school-age children (usually less than half of whom attended classes). By the late 1850s, however, North Carolina’s common school system was among the best in the nation. A number-grading system of “1 to 5” was used to mark the progress of students, with “1” showing the highest merit and “5” the lowest. In the 1850s, the teachers themselves were graded by examining committees. Students of all ages attended class and received progress reports based on their respective levels of achievement. The school opened its doors for only a few months each year.

Before the American Civil War, the teachers’ salaries were roughly twenty dollars ($20) per month. Men made slightly more than women. The school operated only sporadically during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, and closed its doors permanently in 1892, after over fifty years of service. In 1961, the old schoolhouse was purchased from Brown Probst and his mother, Mrs. Willie B. Probst and was moved approximately eleven (11) miles to the grounds of Knox Junior High School. Restoration efforts were also begun that year. Today, the building falls under the auspices of Horizons Unlimited, a supplementary education center owned and operated by Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Davie County. The Setzer School is included among the facility’s 20,000 square feet of exhibit and classroom space.

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

Catawba College, the sixth oldest college in North Carolina was founded in Newton by Matthew L. McCorkle in 1851. Prior to its establishment, there was no institution of higher education in Catawba County. In 1834, the German Reformed Church in the area had created the Education Society in order to send young men to northern schools to be educated for the ministry. At an 1848 meeting, the Education Society was called upon to establish a college in their midst to train ministers. Members of the German Reformed Church and Newton merchants provided the land and capital for the school, leading to its opening in 1851.

As the first college west of the Catawba River, it attracted students from the western parts of North Carolina and South Carolina. The initial enrollment was thirty-eight (38) young men who, at first, met in an old academy building and the Grace Reformed Church. For the first few years, the school was unstable and there was some question if it would continue to operate. The 1858 arrival of Jacob C. Clapp, professor of modern languages, ensured its survival. He served as president from 1862 to 1900 and kept the college going through its hardest times. The American Civil War meant a lack of funds and students to attend the college, and for a time it became an academy, Catawba High School. To rebuild the reputation of the college, beginning in the summer of 1880, the school hosted the Newton Normal School. It was designed to enhance the knowledge of teachers living in the piedmont region, and it became the best-attended teaching institute in the area. Catawba High School regained its collegiate status in 1885 and became a co-educational institute in 1890.

Just after the turn of the century, Charles Mebane succeeded Clapp as the college president and under his direction the school began a series of expansion and remodeling. World War I and the 1921 recession, however, crippled its growth. Unable to recover, the college closed in 1923. Much to the displeasure of Newton citizens, the Reformed Church relocated the college to Salisbury, which had promised $50,000 to help with its establishment. Catawba College reopened in Rowan County in 1925.

In 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ, with whom the college is still affiliated. The campus has grown to twenty-eight (28) buildings on 276 acres. It also hosts a 189-acre ecological preserve, and is well known for its 300-acre wildlife refuge.

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


Livingstone College, now located in Salisbury, was incorporated in 1879 as a result of a conference of African-American ministers who sought to educate students in both academic and real world situations. The ministers, mostly from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, believed that a college was needed to prepare students to serve the black community. The first sessions at the new school, initially called Zion Wesley Institute, were held in the town of Concord, in neighboring Cabarrus County. The first classes were held in the parsonage of Bishop C. R. Harris, minister and educator. After the first tries at establishing the college in Concord, founders Dr. Joseph C. Price and Bishop James Walker Hood began to raise funds to acquire property and erect school buildings. The town of Salisbury donated $1,000 to the effort and invited the school to relocate closer to the county seat of Rowan County.

The school then relocated to a farm called Delta Grove just outside of Salisbury. The new forty-acre site had a single building in which to begin classes in 1882. Dr. Price, a native of Elizabeth City, was the college’s first president and established the school’s philosophy of educating the whole student: hands, head and heart. As a result, students received training in religious studies as well as hands-on skills such as brick masonry and construction. An example of the abilities of the students and staff in construction can be seen in the Andrew Carnegie Library, constructed by students who made the bricks and laid the walls under the instruction of teachers at the school.

In 1887, the North Carolina General Assembly granted the school its charter and authorized changing its name to Livingstone College, in honor of David Livingstone, well known philanthropist, Christian missionary, and explorer. In 1892, the school created a theological department, later upgraded to a school in 1904. Construction on seminary buildings commenced in 1906 and the theological program was named in honor of founder, Bishop Hood. The seminary was separated from the college in 2002. The sister institutions still receive funding and support from the A.M.E. Zion 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.


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