There is no such thing as a dull day in the North Carolina Room at the Central Library, partly because history is always a changing target, subject to new discoveries which happen every day. Just when you think you know, you discover that you do not.

Heather Fearnbach, who is an architectural historian, has been working feverishly for several years on a project to catalog the historical architecture within the city of Winston-Salem. When it is done, it will become an essential guide, freely available to all, to our built environment. She is closing in on the end. Last week she sent this e-mail to Molly Rawls and I:

Fam and Molly,

I’m finally in the process of pulling all of the photographs together for the manuscript and attempting to verify a few last facts.  I was hoping that you might have more information about the following structure.  The materials in the survey file and newspaper articles illustrate a different building than the one on page 143 of Fam’s book, and I have no way to determine what is accurate.

Any assistance that you might provide would be much appreciated.

What she is referring to is this page from my 1977 book on Winston-Salem (as always, click on the image for a readable version):

1stSchoolMyBook
When my book was published, I had confidence that all of the information on the page was correct, confirmed by more than one source. So when Heather asked, I set out to confirm my original information, only to find that it conflicted with “the materials in the survey file and newspaper articles”, although the only image on Digital Forsyth, which showed a building on Green Street, was at best inconclusive.

So I began to dig around in a number of publications and other sources. It quickly became obvious that at the founding of Forsyth County in 1849 there was an existing “public school”, apparently built in 1847, on the new lot #1 in what would become the town of Winston.

But there was no source confirming what that building actually looked like. Here is the “Green Street” picture, which is clearly not the one in my picture.

GreenStreet1984
None of the sources that I found could confirm or deny my original conclusion. So I finally, reluctantly, resorted to our huge vertical file, which over half a century has become extremely difficult to use simply because of its size and the varying interpretations over the years of what belonged where.

I should have had more confidence in the recent effort by our brilliant assistant Janice Safewright to organize this ungainly collection, because as soon as I delved into the file headed “Education, Winston-Salem, History” I found everything that I needed to know. Here is what I learned:

As the 50th anniversary of the founding of Forsyth County approached, Adelaide Fries, the daughter of John William and Agnes de Schweinitz Fries and an early Salem College graduate, began writing the first county history. Although she was only in her early twenties, the book (of course we have copies), published a year early in 1898, remains one of the best accounts of our early history.

ForsCoDeed12May1849

In her book, Fries discussed the original deed for what would become the town of Winston

And she created a drawing of the original town plan, which clearly shows the location of the 1847 schoolhouse:

1849FriesDrawing

But the drawing does not show us the location of the schoolhouse on the 200 x 100 lot. For that, we must look at the 1885 Sanborn Insurance map. By this time, it had just become a private residence, superceded by the Winston Graded School on Fourth Street:

1stSch1885Sanb

The first schoolhouse is seen in yellow at the northwest corner of First and Liberty Streets.

Some sources say that the building had been moved in the mid 1880s to make way for the Brown & Williamson tobacco factory. They are incorrect on both counts. The building was still there in 1890, but was soon moved to make way for new construction, as shown on the 1891 Birdseye view of Winston and Salem:

Gilmer1891

Some sources say that that is the Brown & Williamson tobacco factory, but a look at the 1895 Sanborn Insurance maps tells us that that is not the case.

Gilmer1895

The building occupying the former schoolhouse lot is identified as belonging to “J.L. Gilmer”, which should be “J.E. Gilmer”, five stories with basement, leased for storage by the Fries Cotton Mill and the T.L. Vaughn and the Brown & Williamson tobacco company. The Gilmer building would later be acquired by Brown & Williamson.

In 1984, Sentinel reporter Bill East interviewed Virginia Criner, who told him that her great-grandfather, John Wesley Stevens, who had been a student at Winston’s first school, bought the original building around 1890 and moved it to a lot near the Winston Graded School, where it was rented out as a residence to a number of people over the years.

In another interview, Sadie Smith, who grew up on Pond/Green Street in the early 1900s, told East that the building had been moved twice, first to a lot facing on the Shallowford Road. At that point Pond/Green Street only extended one block south from Fourth Street. When it was decided that the new Green Street should go through to Shallowford/First Street, the old schoolhouse was in the middle of the right of way, so was moved again to align with the Green Street extension. Makes sense to me. I think that the 1891 Birdseye View shows the former schoolhouse at this location:

PondSt1891

In 1916, the senior class at Winston High School decided to commemorate the original public school with a plaque which was mounted on the Brown & Williamson building. In 1970, urban renewal decreed that the Brown & Williamson building be demolished. The plaque was rescued.

Plaque1970

In 1984, a local company acquired the old schoolhouse property with the intention of demolishing it to build a new business center. Upon being informed of the historic nature of the property, they agreed to donate the building to the operators of the Dixie Classic fairground. The building was first stripped to its original log structure.

Stripped1984

Then it was disassembled, all of the parts being coded, and later reassembled at the Dixie Classic fairground.

Fairgrounds1990

This is the result:

1stSchoolFairgrounds

Go see it right now!

So what about that page from my original book? Well, I found the true story there as well. That picture was of a school in Salem that was probably founded much earlier than the Winston school, near the intersection of Academy and Elm Streets. Elm is now known as Factory Row. The school stood north of Academy Street, between Factory Row and the strollway.

SchoolLocMap

SchoolMapImage
It may have been a school for little children established by the Salem Moravian congregation, but was more likely a private school established by Eliza Kremer for older students. Someday we might find more evidence to tell us what it was.

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