Program to focus on local history of Trinity College
Visually, it’s hard to miss the gazebo that stands in the heart of Trinity — adjacent to Braxton Craven Middle School — housing an old school bell.
From a historical standpoint, though, there’s so much more to the old bell than meets the eye. Those familiar with the city’s history know the bell used to sit in front of historic Trinity College, the old educational institution that eventually moved to Durham and became Duke University.
That history will be the focus of a program Wednesday at the High Point Museum, when Trinity historian Dan Warren will present “The History of Trinity College” during the monthly meeting of the High Point Museum Guild.
Admission is free and open to the public.
“This is the birthplace of Trinity College, the forerunner of the now world-famous Duke University,” Warren says of his hometown.
Warren, a High Point businessman who lives in Trinity, will trace the roots of education in Trinity, beginning with a crude, one-room log schoolhouse — known as Brown’s Schoolhouse — that was built in 1837. That ultimately gave way to Union Institute Academy, a school organized through a collaboration of area Quakers and Methodists, which in turn was rechartered in 1851 as Normal College, the first state-accredited teacher college.
“I have the only known existing teacher certificate from Normal College,” Warren says, adding that he’ll have the certificate with him for his presentation Wednesday. “A distant family member gave it to me. Duke didn’t even know they existed until I gave them a copy of this one.”
In 1853, a three-story brick building was constructed on the property now occupied by Braxton Craven Middle School now stands. Six years later, the Methodist Church took formal control of the school and rechartered it as Trinity College, in honor of a school of the same name in England. The school moved to Durham in 1892 and was reorganized as Duke University in 1924; Trinity College became the undergraduate college for men.
As part of his presentation, Warren will discuss a variety of facts and trivia about Trinity College. For example:
•After the Methodist Church took control of the school in 1859, Methodist ministerial students received a free education there.
•To maintain the school’s moral reputation, the 1859 charter forbade the presence of “any tippling-house establishment or place for the sale of wine” or “any public billiard table at which games of chance ... may be played” within two miles of the college.
•In May 1861, about a month after the start of the Civil War, the Trinity Guard was established on the campus. Its intent was to put down any disturbances in Randolph, Davidson and Guilford counties, but the other purpose was to try to keep the college boys from leaving school and joining the Confederate Army.
•In 1869, the community of Trinity College incorporated. After the college moved to Durham, the town changed its name to Trinity to develop its own identity.
•On Thanksgiving Day, 1888, the newly formed football team at Trinity College defeated the University of North Carolina, 16-0. The game, played on the state fairgrounds in Raleigh, was the first formal football game played in the South. Trinity also sponsored a baseball team that began play the following year.
•One professor who went with the school to Durham was William Howell Pegram. One of his sons, George Braxton Pegram, graduated from Trinity College and came back to serve as principal of Trinity High School in 1898. He later taught at Columbia University, and in the 1930s he was hand-picked by Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve on a committee researching the possible use of atomic energy in warfare. The first nuclear test — on July 16, 1945, at Los Alamos, N.M. — was dubbed Trinity, and Warren thinks Pegram had something to do with that.
“That’s my theory, and I’ve proposed it to the folks at Los Alamos,” he says. “It’s not written where they got the name, but he was on the committee. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence.”
As for that bell showcased in Trinity’s gazebo, it used to sit on the lawn in front of Trinity College. It made the trip to Durham, but was returned to Trinity in 1981, when the gazebo was erected in honor of the city’s educational heritage.
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Want to go?
Trinity historian Dan Warren will present a program on the history of Trinity College at the monthly meeting of the High Point Museum Guild, which will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the High Point Museum, 1859 E. Lexington Ave.
Admission is free.
For more information, call the museum at 885-1859.