by J. T. Alderman, Superintendent Henderson Public Schools

I have made considerable effort to get information about the old time schools in the community. I have found no record or tradition of a school in this section prior to 1817. There had been good schools in Williamsboro many years before that time.

Dr. R. J. Gill gave me some facts as they came to him when a boy. Mrs. I. J. Young became interested in assisting me and has rendered valuable service in securing material for a sketch of the schools of long ago. Our esteemed townswoman, Mrs. Sallie E. Kerner, furnished much of the information about the old time schools. She is endowed with a wonderful memory and had the facts from her mother who lived here and was a student in the schools in the early part of last century. I wish to express my hearty thanks to these and others who aided me.

In 1817 Jesse J. Kelly, great grandfather of Miss Susan Kelly, taught in a grove where the station of the Southern Railway now stands. He was only sixteen years old at the time but "kept" a good school. Elizabeth Reavis, a six year old daughter of Lewis Reavis, attended this school. Elizabeth Reavis married Lewis Kittle and was the mother of Mrs. Kerner.

From 1818 to 1822 Miss Drucilla Macon boarded in the home of Lewis Reavis and taught a school for girls at Chalk Level; Elizabeth Reavis attended this school during those years. At the same time there was a school for boys at Chalk Level.

In 1823 Lewis Reavis taught a school in a small house near where Mr. A. J. Harris now lives. Lewis Reavis lived to the right, and a short distance beyond the colored cemetery. The old Rewis burying ground lies between the Rewis home and the colored cemetery. About 1825 Lewis Reavis built the house in front of the law building, and the Reavis family lived there many years. This was an old time tavern where many prominent men stopped on their trips north and south. Later it was occupied by Mr. J. W. Beck.

In 1825 Miss Caroline Ruffin of Norfolk taught in a building where the colored college has since been located. There was once a Methodist church there known as Rock Springs.

Thomas Reavis, a brother of Lewis, was educated by his father for a teacher. He taught in this vicinity during the years between 1830-1840.

The year 1838 was an important period because the Raleigh and Gaston Rail Road reached Chalk Level and the event was duly celebrated by the community. For a time this was the stopping place for travel. Chalk Level seems to have been quite a community center long before the advent of the Rail Road. There were several stores, an old time Inn or Tavern, blacksmith shops, a number of residences, and other utilities common to a country village. There were two schools, one for boys, and one for girls. Sentiment appeared to be unfavorable to coeducation in those days. Chalk Level was the stopping place for stage coaches passing on the muddy highway from Halifax to Hillsboro as well as for those passing from Raleigh to the north. Remains of these old roads can now be traced for miles. The large A. A. C. fertilizer plant is on a part of the old Chalk Level site.

By the latter part of 1838 the railroad had been completed two miles farther south and the contractors reported to the authorities that they had established a station one and a half miles west of Chalk Level. It is quite certain that substantial inducements caused the Railroad Co., to select the present site for a station.

Mrs. Kerner relates the following interesting facts concerning the naming of the new station: Lewis Reavis and Judge Henderson were great friends. It was decided to have a barbecue and picnic at Rock Spring and on that occasion to secure the consensus of opinion for a name for the place. Owing to the fact that Reavis had deeded ten acres to the Railroad some one proposed to give the place the name "Reavisville." Lewis Reavis himself moved that it be named Henderson, in honor of his friend, Judge Henderson. The motion was unanimously adopted. The time when this barbecue was given is still uncertain. Henderson is mentioned before 1837.

The new town, Henderson, received its charter in 1841. Some years later there was an amendment to the charter, the bill called for a circle with a radius of 1500 yards; the clerk made a slight mistake and wrote it 1500 miles.

January 24, 1843, the legislature incorporated the "Henderson Male Academy." The Academy grounds were just west of Mr. I. J. Young's residence in a grove of oaks. The trustees named in the incorporation were : John D. Hawkins, F. Hawkins, Wesley Young, D. E. Young, Triplett T. Estees, Alexander Butler, Protheus E. A. Jones, Dr. J. B. Debnam, William J. Andrews, E. P. Hughes and Alexander Nuttall.

Rev. R. H. Chapman was principal in 1843.

A State record shows that Wm. H. Bass and R. Macon taught in Henderson about that time.

A State record says that in 1848 the Henderson Male Academy was in a flourishing condition.

In 1848 Archibald Turner lived where Mr. J. T. Marrow lives now; he ran a saw mill where the John Watkins lumber house stands. Turner employed a number of teachers and had a school taught in a boarding house on the lot now occupied by the Sarah Elizabeth Hospital. One of his teachers was Miss Lizzie Candie from the north.

About the same time Miss Frances Arundell of Louisburg taught a private school for little children in Henderson.

In 1849 or 1850 Col. Protheus E. A. Jones, a lawyer, built a house on the site now occupied by our present Mayor, S. R. Chavasse, Across Chavasse avenue, in a beautiful grove, Col. Jones put up a large roomy school building. The grove has long since disappeared and the grounds are covered by residences. Col. Jones secured teachers from the north and while he did not teach himself, he conducted a most excellent school for girls. Some of his teachers were: Miss Martha Crandle, a Miss Harris from Connecticut, Misses Lizzie and Mary Grote from Vermont and a Miss Towsley. Perhaps Miss Frances Arundell taught in this school. She was a very popular teacher and her memory has been perpetuated in the names of children long after. The Jones family later moved to Raleigh.

About 1851 Prof. John J. Wyche took charge of the Henderson Male Academy. He was an unusually well prepared scholar and teacher. He taught eight languages as well as all branches of mathematics and the sciences of the day. He prepared a large number of young men for college.

It is understood that Dr. W. F. Tillett, Dean of Vanderbilt University, received his training under Wyche in Henderson. John Rewis and Prof. Turner M. Jones � afterward President of Warrenton and Louisburg Colleges for girls � were graduates of Randolph-Macon College. Another of Wyche's pupils was Lewis Butler of Arkansas who later became city attorney of St. Louis. Others were Col. A. B. Andrews, William Jones, Edmund Brodie and Henry G. Turner, a son of Archibald Turner named above. Turner went to Georgia and was a member of Congress from that state for twenty-four consecutive years.

The Bracy Military School was housed in the Henderson Male Academy one year about 1855. Bracy and his wife were popular and were fine musicians. They remained in Henderson only a short time.

"The Henderson Female Academy" was incorporated in 1855; the trustees were: James Stamper, Lewis Brodie, Ellis Young, Parry Wyche, Lewis Kittle and Thomas Blacknall. The academy building was located in a grove where Dr. W. W. Parker's dwelling is today; there was a central large room with two wings. The first teachers were Amanda Swain, Helen Swain, and Lizzie Timanus, all graduates of Patapsco college, Maryland. On the opening day of the school, Amanda Swain rang a new hand bell to call the girls in the first time; that bell is now in possession of Mrs. Kerner of our city. There were about seventy-five' girls in the school.

Two young ladies named Phipps, from Virginia, had charge of the Female Academy in 1858 and 1859.

In 1859 Daniel H. Christie of Virginia took charge of both schools the "Male Academy" and the "Female School." The schools were entirely separate having different faculties for each. Christie employed Gavin Lindsey to assist in the boys school. Christie was a military expert and drilled the boys every day.

The teachers for the girls were: Lavinia Gorse, Genevia O'Bryan, and Mrs. Christie. Miss O'Bryan of Oxford, was music teacher; Miss Gorse seems to have been a strong and valuable teacher, but having come from the north her sentiments in those strenuous times at the opening of the civil war were entirely with the north and against the south. Feeling became so bitter that she had to resign and go back to Schoharie, her home in New York. Both schools were very prosperous under the management of Col. Christie. He had a number of the advanced boys go to the girls academy to recite their language lessons to Miss Gorse. This created great rivalry between the boys and girls as each was determined, under the inspiration of Miss Gorse, to excel. One boy is still on record as having studied day and night determined that his sweet-heart should not beat him.

In the latter part of 1860 Christie left the schoolroom and assisted in organizing the Twenty-third N. C. Regiment. He was commissioned Major, but was later promoted to higher rank.

After Colonel Christie left the school, Miss Clara Scarboro, a young lady who had come from "up Hudson" in New York to teach at Pittsboro, N. C, came to Henderson and had charge of the girls' school. She stayed about two years in the work here; she boarded with Mrs. Kerner and they became intimate friends. Miss Polly Yancey assisted her with the music; Miss Martha Hicks also taught with her. As the war went on Miss Scarboro became very desirous to go back to her home in New York. At that time it was almost impossible to get through the lines as both armies were strictly guarding everywhere. There was a man, Elihu Burnett from New York, here very sick with consumption; he wanted to get back to his home before he should die; Miss Scarboro hoped to get through with him, but in this she failed. She then went back to Pittsboro and afterwards married a man in Pittsboro named Martin. She had seven daughters; one of them, Ella, married Mr. Frank Page, the excellent highavay supervisor of North Carolina.

About the close of the war Frederick and Charles Fetter took charge of the Henderson Male Academy; later they were joined by their father, Manuel Fetter. The Fetters were well known educators and drew patronage from other parts of the state. A number of prominent men received their academic training here with the Fetters. Such men as Judge Francis D. Winston were trained by the Fetters while in Henderson.

Capt. W. J. Robards taught awhile with the Fetters and then taught by himself.

In the fall of 1873 the Homers, Rev. Thomas, and his son, Prof. W. D. Horner, took charge of the Henderson Male Academy and for about twenty years made it one of the leading schools of North Carolina. The good that they accomplished in shaping the lives and character of the young men, as well as the unheralded services rendered freely for the needy and the less fortunate boys and girls in this community, will be revealed only when the final accounts shall be cast up. Samples of their work are found in the lives of such men as Rev. B. W. Spillman, D.D., Governor Locke Craig, Stephen B. Weeks, Judge H. A. Foushee, and many others. For some years the Horner school was a successful military institution.

About 1871 Mr. Len Henderson and daughter Fanny, had a school where Mr. A. J. Harris lives. Later C. G. Davenport opened a school for boys and girls in Henderson. In the early eighties G. D. Elsworth had a school about the crossing of Rowland and Rock Spring streets; he later moved to the western part of the town. In 1884 or 1885 he received an appointment to a position in Washington which he still holds.

Some years ago a number of the business men of the town desired to establish a school of high grade for girls here. They organized a company, secured subscriptions and built "The Henderson Female College." The board of managers elected Prof. J. M. Rhodes as first president of the college. He held the position less than two years when owing to some misunderstanding Rhodes resigned and went to Littleton.

Superintendent D. S. Allen taught for awhile about 1888. In 1889 W. V. Savage conducted the Male Academy but left in 1890 to enter the ministry. Mr. J. A, Gilmer had the school for some years; he left in 1899 and entered the ministry of the Presbyterian church.

This by no means gives a full account of the good men who taught in Henderson before the opening of the Graded Schools in 1899.

What shall we say of the women who for the last fifty years have endured the trials and hardships and have taught the children of the town when the odds were so strongly against them and their efforts. Beginning in the days of reconstruction when all seemed chaos they quietly trained the younger children for future citizenship and instilled into their young minds and hearts those principles of right living which have ripened into so many noble characters.

Not being familiar with the times in Henderson it will be impossible to mention these women as they deserve. We can mention only a few and hope this will be a stimulus to others to write a fuller testimony of our gratitude to them for their services.

Mrs. Mariah Parham and Mrs. W. D. Horner for long years conducted a school of excellent worth and many of our best women will always feel the stimulation they received under the tuition of these saintly women. Mrs. Parham has gone to her reward, Mrs. Horner is still with us going about doing good.

Mrs. Willis Rowland taught in the Louisburg College, some colleges in Virginia, then came to Henderson. Those who knew her speak in the highest terms of her and her work. Her school was in one end of the town while Mrs. Parham and Mrs. Horner were in another. Each school had about thirty-five girls, which was an excellent showing considering the conditions of the small town. These good women had a hard fight against the evil tendencies of the times, but with a strong determination they accomplished great things for many of the strong women who now shape the destinies of Henderson. Mrs. Rowland was an excellent teacher and had been called upon to train girls all the way through college. She has passed away, but her influence abides in the lives of many who cherish her memory. She and her sister, Mrs. Everett, conducted the school where W. B. Daniel now lives and on the opposite side of the street, now a vacant lot.

Miss Eugenia Thrower had a good school on Clark Street under the name "Maplehurst School;" she and Mrs. Pittman did the town a great service in training the children under their charge. Miss Mariah Duty conducted a school on Charles Street for years before the opening of the city schools. Many of the men remember her as a strong and efficient teacher of boys of those times. Mrs. Joe Harris was a teacher a long time in Henderson. Mrs. N. W. Garden taught the little public school. Mrs. Garden was one of the few who held the highest state certificates, as the records in Raleigh show. A bare mention is all that can be given to others; Miss Emma Hood, Mrs. Norwood, Mrs. Junius Daniel. Mrs. Daniel was later a member of the Board of Trustees of the city graded schools. There was a Mrs. Phillips who had a school on Garnet and Spring streets in 1865. Miss Partridge in early times had a school where the W. E. Gary family now lives.

Miss Elizabeth Colton taught with Prof. Gilmer for a while. She was a very highly educated young lady. After leaving Henderson she was for some years in the faculty of Meredith College at Raleigh.

After the Fair went down years ago, Mrs. Collins Parham and Mrs. Billy Cheatham taught in the old Floral Hall which was near where the stand pipe is now.

Mrs. Phillips, Misses Jennie and Fannie Buford conducted school in the Henderson Female College for awhile in the early nineties. They employed teachers from colleges in the north but they could not secure sufficient patronage to continue.

These are only a few of the host of excellent women who trained the children of the town in the private schools; others whose names are not known to the writer deserve honorable mention and he delegates this important and pleasant duty to some one familiar with the times.

The people of Henderson were dependent upon the dozen or more private schools for the education of the children. No criticism can be made against these schools as to the quality of the work; but there was no cooperation, no correlation or system, no systematic gradation, nothing to develop a town pride or regard for a finely developed system of schools.

The little free school down by the cemetery was held virtually in contempt, the people were averse to patronizing "free schools." Later a better public school building was put out on west Chestnut Street, but it did not fare much better.


The summer of 1899 found the citizens of Henderson deeply agitated on the school question. Every town of its size in the country had a system of graded schools; what was the trouble with Henderson? A mass meeting was called; the people were there; ways and means were discussed.

There was no money on hand available for this purpose. It was not within the jurisdiction of the county commissioners to levy an extra tax, besides it was too late as the meeting was held in August. Notwithstanding all obstacles a resolution was unanimously adopted to raise the money by private subscriptions and start the school. The meeting en masse elected a Board of Trustees to hold office until the legislature should make provision for the school. The trustees elected were: Rev. J. D. Hufham, D.D., D. Y. Cooper, C. A. Lewis, J. L. Curren, G. A. Rose, W. E. Gary, Dr. F. R. Harris, J. T. Elmore and J. B. Owen.

Later the trustees met and elected Dr. Hufham, chairman, G. A. Rose, secretary and J. B. Owen, treasurer. During the first two years the schools were in a large measure supported by money paid in by the citizens. J. T. Alderman was elected superintendent; six teachers were selected to take the grades. They were Lemme Jordan, Charlotte Young, Leona Curren, Birdie Watson, Fannie Alston, Mrs. N. W. Garden and Lila Tucker. The old Ford tobacco warehouse was purchased, remodeled and prepared for occupancy. Three hundred new single desks and other modern equipments were purchased. The schools opened October 30, 1899.

In order to preserve a history of the schools a great many items and incidents could be included in this sketch which would be interesting in after years. A cut of the first faculty including Amy Butler, who assisted that year, is presented.

The enrollment the first year was 365 with an average attendance of 225. The year 1900-1901 was about as the former, just a few more pupils enrolled and a higher average attendance. This year branch schools were established near the northern and the southern borders of the town. Mrs. Horner, Lucy Davis, Jessie Page and Amy Butler were added to the list of regular teachers.


The Legislature of 1901 prepared a charter for the Henderson Graded Schools which was adopted by popular vote of Henderson Township. The vote on adopting the charter was, 'For Schools," 456, "Against Schools," 10. Of those who voted against schools five were negroes.

Unfortunately the maximum special tax for the schools allowed was twenty cents on the hundred dollars worth of taxable property. On account of this limitation we have never been able to secure money enough to run the schools as we would like to have done; the efficiency of the schools has been continually hampered.


The first trustees, nine in number, were elected at a mass meeting of the people in Burwell Hall. The charter continued the plan of having nine trustees; at first the trustees were elected by the board as a self perpetuating body, later this was changed and they were elected by popular vote at the regular elections. Thirty-three good men and women have served as trustees of the schools. Their services have been freely given without fee or the hope of reward. Seven of the number have been called to meet their final rewards.

Twenty-four years we made great changes in the personnel in school boards, in fact, of the whole community. Your superintendent remains alone as the sole representative of the first organization of the schools in 1899, as not one of the original board is now connected with the schools as trustee.

Transcribed by Sheryl McClure
"Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Public Schools of Henderson, North Carolina, 1922-1923."
Published 1923 by Edwards and Broughton Printing Co., Raleigh

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