The museum is now open with new health and safety procedures like free timed tickets and required cloth face masks.
Many Wake Foresters have heard the stories. Back in the fogs of time, this place on the corner of Pine and Wingate was the town school. And in this case the rumors are absolutely true!
It took some research to verify the story–possibly because the building’s usefulness as a schoolhouse was quite short-lived. But as we dipped into historical records including newspapers, periodicals, tax documents, and deeds, a timeline began to take shape.
The structure went up in 1908, apparently built for education. The evidence suggests its original use was classroom space and it was called the Wake Forest Graded School.
Its location on Pine Street is clearly identified on the town’s 1915 Sanborn Map.
Although there isn’t a lot of information available about the early schoolhouse, what we’ve learned is intriguing.
For instance, the drinking spigot in the hallway cracked one winter during a hard freeze and the students returned from Christmas break to find a layer of ice coating the floor in the hall and three classrooms.
I. Beverly Lake, Sr., the North Carolina Supreme Court Justice who was born in Wake Forest in 1906 and attended the school beginning in fifth grade, described the incident to The Wake Weekly.
“(The school principal) started down the hall, slid on the ice, and into the classroom on his rear end…. To do my arithmetic, I skated to the blackboard.”
Of course, local leaders considered such conditions unsuitable for a college town and, just eight years after the school was built, its board of trustees took out a full page ad in the Old Gold & Black practically begging people to consider a $25,000 bond issue to build something bigger and better.
Apparently they were done with bad plumbing and outhouses.
“We need a building that is better lighted, better heated, and with better sanitary arrangements than what we now have. Our teachers could do their work better and children could do better with better conveniences. As it is, many rather delicate children are kept at home by the parents or get sick and have to stay out of school. With better sanitary arrangements the school would be as healthy as the home. It is impossible to have these arrangements in the present buildings.”
In fact, the present buildings the writers were referring to–the main school and a secondary, smaller cottage across the way–had already been patched and repaired multiple times.
Wake Forest College Professor Robert Bruce White was a member of the school board and shared his thoughts in a 1942 issue of the college magazine.
“When I came to Wake Forest, the public school was in about the sorriest fix I ever saw. They were holding classes in a little three-room building above where Groves Stadium (today’s Trentini Stadium) is now. I was used to good schools. So I got elected to the school committee. Two of the members didn’t want a new school–two of them did. But we finally got the thing through and the Legislature approved our bond issue.”
By the fall of 1919, a contractor was hired and the little schoolhouse was on its way out. Although construction took longer than expected, Wake Forest’s new and improved school–at South Main and Sycamore–was fully operational by the early 1920s.
It’s not clear what happened to the wooden schoolhouse immediately afterwards, though records show it remained the property of Wake County until 1944 when it was sold to a private owner. It has spent much of the time since as rental units.
For a while it fell on hard times.
Fortunately, the current owners, Eric and Keri Rush, have renovated, painted, and restored the old Wake Forest Graded School until it now ranks as one of the town’s loveliest historic properties.
So we’re happy to share this history.
And we’re equally happy the Wake Forest Graded School is finally getting some well-deserved admiration.
(Thank you to Eric and Keri Rush for ca. 1940s photographs of the property.)