The Memorial Industrial School Archives is the subject of our April collection spotlight created for you by digitization intern Corrine.
Today’s Forsyth County-ites might be familiar with the sprawling green expanse of Horizons Park in the northeastern section of the county with its disc-golf course, dog park, and hiking trails. They may also know about Horizons Residential Care Center and its work with people with developmental disabilities. Together, the properties make up an area of about 500 acres in Rural Hall. What residents might not realize is the historical significance behind the Horizons property and the road it flanks on either side – Memorial Industrial School Road. The road’s namesake, Memorial Industrial School, was one of two public orphanages for black children in North Carolina in the early 20th century and operated on the Rural Hall campus from the 1920s through the 1970s.
The catalyst for what eventually became the Memorial Industrial School originally grew out of the black community in the Belview/Waughtown area of the city. Seeing a need for a place for orphaned children, the community came together and formed the Colored Baptist Orphanage in 1905. Due to a combination of a 1924 fire, declining facilities, and financial issues, operations were eventually taken over by a coalition of various Winston-Salem civic clubs, collectively called the Winston-Salem Community Chest. The Rural Hall-area campus opened in 1928 and was built on land donated by W.N. Reynolds, with donations for construction of the dormitories coming from the Reynolds and Gray families. The orphanage also received an annual contribution from The Duke Endowment’s Hospital and Orphan Section.
The North Carolina Room has a significant collection of administrative records from the Memorial Industrial School, from as early as 1924 through 1972 when the orphanage ceased operations. Among the records are longtime Board President Roy C. Haberkern’s correspondence to donors and other affiliates, inventory and supplies lists, gradebooks, budget records, audit reports, newspaper clippings, and copies of the orphanage’s annual application to the Duke Endowment. The applications provide an interesting snapshot of year-to-year operations and include such information as the numbers and ages of the boys and girls who resided there; activities; lists of teachers, administrators, and board members; equipment that was used on the property; and even the number of gallons of milk the children consumed each year.
Admittedly, the collection does not give us much of the children’s perspective on their experience at the Memorial Industrial School. However, at least two people have based works on the orphanage. Dr. English Bradshaw, who lived 12 of the first 14 years of his life at Memorial Industrial School, has written several books, including one based on his experiences at the orphanage. A play, Horizons Memorial, written by playwright Samm-Art Williams and presented by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company (NCBRC) in 2013, tells the history of the Memorial Industrial School property partly through the eyes of the children who lived there. It was commissioned for the 40th anniversary of Horizons Residential Care Center.
Materials from this collection have been digitized as part of an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant received by the North Carolina Room by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. Digitized items include Duke Endowment applications from the 1920s through the 1960s, which allow for comparisons of the Memorial Industrial School’s operations across the decades. Other items from this collection available on the Digital Heritage Center website include commencement and special events programs, floorplans from what appears to be renovations to the dormitories from the 1960s, and auction posters from the sale of the former Colored Baptist Orphanage property. Visit digitalnc.org, find the Forsyth County Public Library on the contributors page, and choose “Memorabilia” to browse items from the Memorial Industrial School and other collections.
Memorial markers have been placed by the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission at the site of the original Colored Baptist Orphanage and at the Memorial Industrial School, in 2005 and 2013, respectively. Earlier this year, Forsyth County commissioners also stated their support for the Goler Community Development Corporation’s nomination of the Memorial Industrial School site for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.