UPDATE – CHANGE OF DATE: Due to Hurricane Florence, this Town of Wake Forest program has been rescheduled for Sunday, October 7th at 3pm. With a sharp focus on history, the Town of Wake Forest is restoring our community’s oldest African-American dwelling–turning it from what it became (photo above) back into a close replica of what it once was (illustration below).
Located on town property beside the Wake Forest Cemetery on North White Street, the home was rediscovered in 2008 during a Historic Buildings Survey aimed at identifying structures with significant historical importance. Back then the lot was wooded, congested with dense undergrowth, and the structure was virtually forgotten. But records confirmed it was the childhood home of Allen Young, one of the founders of the first private school for African-American children in Wake Forest.
Born in 1875, Allen Young was tutored as a young child by Wake Forest College professors and went on to graduate from Kittrell College and Shaw University. He returned to his hometown in 1905 to establish the Presbyterian Mission School for Colored Boys and Girls. Later renamed the Wake Forest Normal and Industrial School, the campus consisted of classrooms, a dormitory, an assembly hall, a library, and office space.
Enrollment grew steadily through the 1930s, topping out at more than 300 students, many of whom traveled from outside North Carolina to attend the institution.
But the need for a private school was slowly diminishing.
In 1926, the Wake Forest Graded Colored School began offering public education for local African-American children. Families held fundraisers and, along with support from the Rosenwald Fund to improve educational opportunities for African-American students in the South, Wake Forest’s northeast community financed construction of a high school that opened in 1939. The lower and upper grades together became the DuBois School, and their combined success led to lowered attendance for Allen Young. The Wake Forest Normal and Industrial School began to downsize and, by the time it closed in 1957, was operating primarily as a preschool and kindergarten. Young died the same year, at the age of 82.
The campus structures were rented out, torn down, or used as storage space until the last main building was finally demolished in June 1976 to make way for street improvements, pictured in this photograph from the archives of The Wake Weekly.
By this time, Allen Young’s daughter, Ailey Mae Young, was making enormous contributions to education and public service. The same year the building was bulldozed, Ailey Mae was honored with the Wake Forest Citizen of the Year Award as the first African-American and second woman to serve on the town’s Board of Commissioners.
Ailey Mae Young, who died in 1992, was named for her grandmother. This brings us back to the Ailey Young House.
When northeast Wake Forest was first settled by African-Americans freed after the Civil War, the house–which had been built by Wake Forest College Professor William Gaston Simmons as part of a small row of houses used as rental properties–became home to Ailey Ann and Henry Young. Recently married, they started a family and raised twelve children there–including son Allen Young. The street was known as Simmons Row, and it was only a short walk away from the North Brick House at the southeast corner of North Main Street, where Professor Simmons and his family lived.
This photograph of the Simmons family on their front porch shows the very large, stylistic, and stately North Brick. It was a home that fit quite well with the type of housing that traditionally has been the focus of preservation movements. But in this case, the North Brick House was torn down by Wake Forest College in 1936 to make way for a new dormitory, while the smaller and more modest Ailey Young House has survived.
In 1899, Mary Elizabeth Simmons, the widow of Professor Simmons, sold the lot and house to Ailey Young. The deed is in Ailey’s name, unusual for a period when business transactions were generally handled by men. What Ailey Young purchased was a typical “saddlebag” structure, with a central chimney and rooms on either side. The home is architecturally similar to earlier slave housing. As it was never substantially altered or moved, it can provide important information about what life was like for those who lived there.
Since the home’s rediscovery, the Town of Wake Forest has designated it a Local Historic Landmark and a restoration effort has begun. It has received new board-and-batten siding. Workers rebuilt the door and window frames. The interior stairs, wall sheathing, and ceiling joists were replaced. And evidence of a long-ago fire has been erased.
This is the history the Town of Wake Forest will share on Sunday, October 7, from 3-5 p.m. at a special program titled, “Exploring the Heritage of the Ailey Young House.” (Rescheduled from original date of Sunday, September 16 due to Hurricane Florence.) The event will be held at the Alston-Massenburg Center at 416 N. Taylor Street, and is the first in a new series of presentations on the history of the northeast area of Wake Forest.
Free and open to the public, the program will include a panel discussion and historical presentation, along with a new video screening of “The Ailey Young House – A Family Legacy, A Wake Forest Treasure,” produced by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and narrated by Ricardo Young, the great-great-grandson of Allen Young. The short film traces the history of the house and current restoration efforts.
Seating is limited, so preregistration is required. Visit the town’s official event page to sign up.
The committee planning the event is inviting anyone connected with the Wake Forest Normal and Industrial School to come share their stories. For more information, please contact Senior Planner Michelle Michael at 919-435-9516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.