Wake Forest Historical Museum

LOCATION: 414 N. Main Street Wake Forest, NC 27587 CONTACT: 919-556-2911

“Doctor” Tom Loses Home by Fire

On the afternoon of January 13, 1923, an out of control blaze destroyed the home of “Doctor” Tom Jeffries in the Wake Forest neighborhood now known as the East End.

Jeffries, born a slave in Virginia, migrated to Wake Forest after the Civil War and eventually took a job as a janitor and groundskeeper at the college. His partnership with Wake Forest College President Charles Taylor led him to build the famous rock wall and plant the grounds with shrubs, flowers, and towering magnolias.

Doctor Tom GroupBy 1923, Jeffries had worked on campus more than forty years. He was 76-years-old.

The fire was front page news.

Old Gold and Black

January 16, 1923

Fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the home of “Dr.” Tom Jeffries, highly beloved and respected janitor and college generalissimo for the past forty-five years.

“Dr.” Tom–the degree is honorary and was conferred by the students at least a generation ago–is known and honored by every Wake Forest man who has attended the college for two generations and, if his degree is considered, is probably the oldest living graduate. Standing among his household goods, which kind neighbors helped to save, he viewed the smoldering debris of his comfortable cottage with the fortitude of a true philosopher.

According to Jeffries, he was sitting down for lunch with his wife and a few friends when someone outside reported smoke from the roof. By the time he went out to investigate, the house was well on its way to being fully engulfed.

Although the local volunteer fire department arrived–helped by a neighborhood bucket brigade–the home was a total loss.

Later, Jeffries described a dream he’d had the night before the fire.

“I woke up in a dream and determined that I was going to hear some very distressing, hasty news in the morning…. (after waking up) I went in the office at the college and a red dog jumped up on my breast and I shoved him off. So then, when the house got on fire, I then determined that was the interpretation of my dream. The dog, of course, was the red fire.

I was a person that did not have much thought about a dream and would not let my wife tell one ’til after sunup. But after this I decided there was virtue in a dream.”

Friends from town and college rallied to help Jeffries recover from the disaster. Doctor J.H. Gorrell, chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, began gathering contributions to rebuild the home. No follow-up articles describe the success of this effort, but it’s clear the relationship between Jeffries and Wake Forest continued to stay strong.

When “Doctor” Tom died four-years later–on July 4, 1927–his funeral was held in the College Chapel with professors serving as honorary pall bearers.

One comment on ““Doctor” Tom Loses Home by Fire

  1. Sherrill Brinkley
    January 13, 2016

    Another great story. Wouldn’t we all like to have known Dr. Tom?

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This entry was posted on January 13, 2016 by in East End and tagged , , , .

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Atlas Ray, owner of a legendary store in the Harricanes, was among those remembered at the WFHA program on country stores. Just received several reels of 16mm film. Looks like 1950s home movies of the Demon Deacs in the Billy Barnes days!!! From the April 1961 Wake Forest phone book... instructions on how to use a dial telephone, how to dial a number, how to interpret ringing and busy signals, and what to do on a party line. Anyone else remember those days? This amazing photo from Sanford Bailey shows just HALF of the folks at the 1954 Powell Family Reunion!!!