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The Wake Forest Historical Association is hosting a free public forum “After the Move” on Sunday, November 3rd from 3-5pm at the museum.
Fall semester 1956 was the first time the college students didn’t come back to the Town of Wake Forest. After ten years of preparation, school administrators had hired crews to haul everything to Winston-Salem. It happened over the summer.
All at once, Wake Forest College had a new home.
The buildings were still here, but the population was gone. In its place was the small, early contingent of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary–a group that had taken over classroom space in 1951 and now assumed ownership of the entire campus. They were wonderful, but there weren’t very many of them.
It took some time for the reality to sink in.
Some people who remember this event still call it “The Great Removal.”
The move left the town reeling. When some student reporters came back a few months later to see how the community was faring, their findings filled three pages of the February 11, 1957 edition of the Old Gold & Black.
The biggest visible changes were to the buildings and grounds.
The Seminary had brought 300 truckloads of topsoil to level the 25 acres inside the rock wall, all part of an effort to revitalize the aging campus. But everyone’s nerves were raw, leading Seminary President S.L. Stealey to say, “Every time we touched a rose bush or a piece of shrubbery, someone howled. This campus is well-loved.”
The Heck-Williams Library was dismantled, leaving only its rear wing and a row of steel book racks. The renovation would add reading rooms and administration offices.
Lea Laboratory, deemed the most architecturally beautiful building on campus, was preserved. Its exterior stayed the same, while its interior was remodeled. A new book store, lounge, and soda shop replaced the original lab rooms.
Two buildings that had ranked among the college’s busiest were too rundown to be of use to the Seminary.
Alumni Hall, which stood where the Jacumin-Simpson Missions Building is today, and the Colonial Club athletic dorm, across from the Community House, were soon demolished.
It also became apparent that Seminary students were very different from the young men and women who’d attended Wake Forest College. Simmons Dormitory at the southeast corner of North Main Street, which had once been fraternity row, became married student housing.
The old Powers Store at the southwest corner of North Main Street changed from the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity to the student-run Stevens Book Shop.
All across town, everyone felt deep grief and loss. Businesses were closing. The post office was empty. South White Street looked abandoned.
Townsfolk found themselves nostalgic for the once-dreaded five o’clock rush of students flooding out of the two movie theaters and hurrying to the local restaurants for supper.
As one resident said, “It wasn’t just the first pang of not having the college here anymore. It is an ache that continues to gnaw at our hearts. And nothing seems to relieve it.”
The emotional pain was bad, but the prickly issue of creating an entirely new economy was worse. One editorial writer noticed the town moving in the right direction.
“Wake Forest is far from dead. The citizens met the challenge admirably. They worked more feverishly in civic organizations, they sought to attract new residents and new industry. Rather than wait for what the future might bring, they determined to do something about it.”
Of course, that was just the first step on a decades-long road.
Also of course, the only local business that continued to thrive was Shorty’s.
“Business really isn’t too bad,” Shorty Joyner said. “The preachers even shoot a game of pool in the back now and then.”
Evidently the restaurant no longer carried some racy magazines that were popular with students but inappropriate for seminarians. Otherwise, things stayed the same.
And there were hints of good things to come.
A shiny new sign hung over the sidewalk at Shorty’s, letting folks know that it was here to stay.
(With images from the museum collection and a panel discussion led by Executive Director Ed Morris, this event explores firsthand accounts of what life was like as our town struggled to forge a new identity. The forum will be held at the Wake Forest Historical Museum at 414 N. Main Street on Sunday, November 3rd from 3-5pm. There is no cost to attend and there will be refreshments afterwards. Everyone’s welcome and we’d love to see you here! For questions please call 919-556-2911 or email assistant director Jennifer Smart at firstname.lastname@example.org.)