The History of Reynoldson Institute

Reynoldson, North Carolina

a note — This is the school my mother and her brother Beaurie Parker attended along with Lillie Smith, her future sister-in-law.  This was also their church.
Aunt Lillie’s graduation speech describes it all.

by Lillie Waff Smith 1916


“This is the forest primeval, but where are the hearts that beneath it Leaped like the roe when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman. Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodland, darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven. They are scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October seize them and whirl them aloft and sprinkle them far O’er the ocean.” Tradition only remains of the beginning of the old Reynoldson school. But you who love the old chimney carved by the hands of those gone before. And the school of your fathers and mothers, list to the traditions still sung by the few who know the circumstances.

The wayworn traveler of eighty years ago, now passing through this section would stop on the Church ground and stand aghast at the many changes that have been wrought. Where grew tall, graceful old pines in the churchyard now are young white maple trees. and behold! No longer the little old school house to the right. There our fathers sat and through the chinks of the building, watched dogs fight, and pigs run after their crumbs dropped at recess. But there is a large square, fenced in, full of cold stones and unmarked graves. “Where heaves the turf in many a heap each in his cell forever laid, the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” The forest to the right is now a large farm. The little country store on the left is a beautiful white residence. The old Masonic Hall, where the walking and thumping of the “giant” frightened some of our mothers, is now a white home. And that large building, about 300 yards in front, with its tall, silver gray columns, is nothing less than a school building. Beyond this on the right, is another dwelling, on inquiry he finds it to be a Baptist parsonage. Below this is an enormous three-story building, the first of the group to catch the beams of the rising sun. This is the dormitory where he goes at once and finds the change due to the erection of the school building, the history of which, according to tradition is as follows:

In the early fifties, a great thought wave for higher education swept over entire North Carolina. We see many places where it lodged in the minds of our forefathers. This thought wave had shaped a beautiful Baptist Institute at Murfreesboro, Hertford County, for the “Bright eyed girls” of North Carolina. The Chowan Association came to old Piney Grove Baptist Church, now known as Reynoldson, to hold its regular meeting. Here we see the thought shaping itself again through the influence of a bright-eyed brilliant man from England named Reynoldson, who preached the introductory sermon. He aroused the old patriotic citizens to see the great need of a school where their young men could prepare for college, universities and business life.

These men once aroused, never faltered in their efforts. “To the brave, who will not falter, there is no such word as” fail.” Still ever onward and upward, O’er the crags that are jagged and steep success-ward they toil, undaunted by the obstacles they meet.” They went down into their pockets and pulled out their hundred dollar bills. Many canvassed adjoining counties, a Baptist preacher named Delk, canvassed all Chowan County in his rounds to his churches. Mr. J. D. Goodman known as “Uncle Jet” gave as his part, ten acres of land. The site of the building, situated about three hundred yards in front of the church is on a hill beautifully sloping every way. Here for many years, the young pines had “made music of the wind” as it glided through their boughs. And cattle had quietly grazed from around their roots, and at night had been sheltered by their overhanging branches.
The new school was the topic of conversation as the citizens each Saturday afternoon gathered in “Uncle Jet’s” old store. Here those who had been “squeezing the Eagle” let go for they could not see such a building erected without contributing to it.
The board of trustees was elected, the presiding officer of which was the honorable Riddick Gatling, father and grandfather of some of Gates County’s most noted citizens. Possibly Dr. Wm. H. Lee, Messers John Willey, J.D.Goodman, and Rev. Edward Howell were members of this board; the exact board is not known. As soon as there were sufficient means the contract was given to Mr. Willis Parker for $1300.00. He was then the owner of the well-known Bear Garden Tract, so called because the Bears used it yearly as a trail from the Dismal Swamp to the huckleberry thicket on the Chowan River. In this tract of forest, the tallest, straightest pine trees ever grown on North Carolina soil stood, and each morning nodded and whispered a welcome to the sun as it turned on its daily course. Unmolested by thick undergrowth, one could wander for miles without a scratch and listen to the murmuring of the pines and learn the beauty of nature.

“The world found no fitter business” for this splendid tract than to turn its best trees into a magnificent school building for our young men. Within a few weeks, the forest rang with saw and ax. Then came “The swing paced oxen” and slowly but faithfully moved the tremendous logs through the woods to the whipsaw. There they were squared off and placed on a forked scaffold. One man above and one below with a saw 5 or 7 feet in length tapering from butt to a point would rip the logs into boards. All the dressing, tonguing, and grooving had to be done by hand making the work slow and tedious. But with the aid of the sons Tom, Ike, Jack, and Charlie, the work prospered. They cut the road South of the building, over which happy children skip to and from school. Mr. Charlie Parker hauled a first load of timber over it and dropped it where the building now stands.

The men who built the house were of the same mind as the old deacon about whom Holmes wrote in his “Wonderful One Horse Shay.” [quoted in full]

The building was completed in 1856, containing four large rooms. The two upstairs, being separated by rolling partitions, made a convenient auditorium. Only hindered by the two staircases, one above the other in the middle of the room, which obstructed the view and was very dangerous to those coming and going over them. The thirty windows were all handmade. No three windows fitted the same opening. Strong arms of men are required to raise and lower, surely not for the weaker womenfolk, because the weighty part is below and the light above. The six foot blinds are in one part, thus being so heavy they wring the hinges off swinging to and fro. Then came the old country problem of heating the building. First, they tried steam heat, but the water rose in the furnace that was under the building, Then a costly ditch was made to drain the water, but with no better success. They placed Heaters in one of the lower rooms with pipes running through the old register. This process set the building afire. Afterward, the present chimneys were built. The furniture was weighty, being handmade desks, a few of which remain yet.
In the fall of 1856, Prof. Jas. A. Delk, born in Gates County, long, lean and lank, opened the doors of the school. His salary is $1000.00, and his aids are the Professors, G. T. Morgan, and C. C. Rawls Young. Men came from Bertie, Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck and also adjoining counties of Virginia. Mr. J. D. Goodman opened a boarding house, which continued to be one of the best until the death of his wife. Messers Ed. W. Howell and Cobb bought twelve acres to the East of the school and built the dormitory, containing forty-five windows, 13 doors, three wide halls, and 12 rooms. Also, a store was built. Each year found the boarding house crowded.

Reynoldson Hotel – the dormitory
built in 1855 – burned 16 Oct 1938

While Mr. Delk taught, some of the boys discovered the well known Reynoldson Spring about three hundred yards back of the Church. Mr. Delk was seeing the prospect of a water system, had it analyzed and much to their joy found it contained the exact chemicals of excellent water.

Spring Shelter over the spring of mineral
water discovered in 1857 located 300 yards behind the church. 1916 photo.

Up to that time, there were only two post offices in Gates County, one at Sunbury and the other in Gatesville. An old man named Ballard, in a sulky driving a shaky old horse would make one trip a week from Suffolk to Gatesville, then to Sunbury and back to Suffolk. As soon as the school opened they placed a post-office in the store at the dormitory. Mr. Delk was one of the best scholars of his time. No Algebra problem puzzled him when brought to him. With his eyes twinkling, he would toss his head back, a toothpick held firmly between his teeth and a few strokes of his pen, would pass the example to the student, completed. Prof. Delk called the school “Chowan College” at first, with the expectation of getting the association to make it a college. The school reached its high water mark with eighty students. Prof. Delk then went to the association with high hopes, but they were crushed and left bleeding, for the organization was supporting two colleges already, and only wanted this school to furnish material for Wake Forest. The name became Reynoldson Male Academy. The old interest was gone, and the school rapidly declined and drifted into debt. At the end of four years, Mr. Delk resigned and accepted a position in Murfreesboro.

By this time, the school had gotten heavily into debt to Mr. Willy Riddick, who had been furnishing money with which to run it. Then the Association gave it up, and it passed into private hands. Just at this time, Jas. M. Taylor, a young man with “a face like the face of the morning,” stepped from the doors of Wake Forest College out on life’s highway. He accompanied his sister to the union meeting at Piney Grove Church, and here he met the trustees, who gladly elected him to take charge of the school.

The school flourished under his management. Then the dark war clouds hovered over the country, and the Reynoldson boys, laying aside slate and classes, formed the “Grey” and went forth to defend their own. Prof. Taylor watched with eager eyes each boy as he left his place. Not one knowing his thoughts until the day Gates County Regiment set forth from Gatesville to take its place in the ranks. Suddenly they saw their Professor at the head, in full uniform, the light of his face outshining that caused by the sun’s beams on the buttons of his uniform. He grasped the hand of his pupil J. J. Gatling and said “I could not let my boys get ahead of me.” Step by step, from a private in the ranks, followed by the redoubtable John J. Gatling, Prof. Taylor, reached the highest officer of a soldier. After the war, he was always known as Major Taylor. Many Reynoldson boys never returned.

Confederate soldier, John R. Langston,
son of Cherry Lee and Thomas Barnes Langston
died Feb. 1862

Their bones bleach on Northern and Southern soil, but their deeds of valor and heroism will live when the costly marble erected to their memory have moldered in the dust.

The war ended, and reconstruction began, Prof. Taylor, with the stain of powder on his brow, and his limp coat sleeve, returned to the school again. Wth the aid of an old pupil, Julius Howell, again carried on the work successfully. Until one morning, the sad news spread rapidly that Prof. Taylor was at the point of death. In the dormitory, on the second floor, in the front room on the North side, he quietly passed into “That world from which no traveler returns.” On the following day as the old school bell tolled its farewell, his remains, followed by his loved ones were carried to Sunbury and laid to rest.

Mr. John Cross was now the owner of the hotel and continued to take boarders. Mr. Julius Howell next took the reins of the school. He bought it from Mr. Riddick for $300.99 and set about repairing the damages caused by the war. He built A lattice in the South East room downstairs, for the remains of the $1000 laboratory and another for the Post Office.

Mr. Howell soon married Miss Ida Hinton. They remodeled the North West downstairs room into two living rooms on the left side and one on the right with a hall between; also hw built a kitchen on the West corner of the porch. During his stay here, a baby boy was born to him, which had diphtheria while young and died. Its remains were the first placed in Reynoldson Cemetery, probably in 1871. Mr. Howell taught four years, and then his salary being insufficient for his family, he sold to Mr. Tom Waff and went to Arkansas, where his fellow citizens highly honored him. Mr. and Mrs. Briton Edwards next moved into the school building and took boarders until they left a few years later for Georgia. Then Mr. and Mrs. Waff took the building.

Mr. Tom Waff, a young graduate of Wake Forest College, opened the school in September 1873. He admitted girls and changed the name to Reynoldson Institute. Those in the community unable to pay for their education were nevertheless permitted to receive the benefit of Mr. Waff’s instructions. Many of these are preachers today of great distinction. The oak trees in the yard were set out during his administrations. For fourteen years the work progressed, longer than under any other one control. A Wake Forest Professor said, “The students instructed by Mr. Waff at Reynoldson are more ready for college than those coming from any other school.” In 1876, his father Joseph T. Waff, purchased the hotel property from Mr. Cross, and moved his family here to help carry on the work.

Men who went from the old school have won a name and fame for Reynoldson that will last when the last board of the building has decayed into the dust of the earth. Among the number are Messers, R. L. Vassar, one of North Carolina’s foremost lawyers, Cecil Vann, a Virginia banker, the greatest that Virginia boasts. The manager of the Doctor’s Association about four years ago was asked “Who is the most intelligent Doctor who attended the association?” He quietly replied, “A small Doctor from Gates County, NC whom Bro. Taylor said was the smartest little boy in school, whose name is Oscar Lee, is the brightest and most learned Doctor, who attended the Southern Doctors Association. Willie Benbury Waff, a well known Baptist preacher of North Carolina, won a Latin Medal at Wake Forest. Also another Latin medal was won by C. A. Smith, who left the school, borrowed money and entered college, from which he graduated. And he became a professor. He died March 31, 1916, having been superintendent of his Sunday School for 30 years, Lieut. Gov. of SC four years and Governor a few days. He died president of four banks. Many others of the same kind have gone out, but time and space prevent their mention.

In 1887, the school was sold to Rev. W. B. Waff, who did all he could for it until he sold it in 1905 and went to Murfreesboro. The teachers who taught for him were: Prof. J. G. Mills, a great athlete; M. O. Carpenter, a Baptist preacher (who married Miss Claudia Waff); Willie Royal; J. W. Spence. And Misses Huntas Rawls, Mary Gatling, Alice Ferrell, Nannie Richardson, and Mattie Sykes.

The school was then sold to the county and run two years as a two teacher public school, with Miss Edith Freeman as the principle the first year, and Mrs. N. S. Dale, the next. Then it was made a grade school with Miss Lottie Mae Rice as principal. Then the county and state came together and placed a High School here. The partition making a hall between the North West rooms was torn down, also the old kitchen, and the porch again extended around the house. They painted and repaired the building, and purchased enough patented desks for all the rooms. The class of 1912 had the old staircase torn down, and a more convenient one built. Also, the hotel property was purchased for the school in 1909.

The purpose of the High School is to supplement the elementary in preparing the student for college life. It is a distinct institution of itself with an oversight of the work in the elementary school. The High School’s purpose is to help the pupil find himself, to become acquainted with his natural facilities of body, mind and heart. And to choose intelligently for himself the work for which these faculties fits him, to develop his brain power so he may be able to think for himself and work out his problems of life.

In the fall of 1909 Mrs. T. W. Costen opened the doors of Reynoldson High School, the management of which has been in her hands for the last seven years. It was first only a two year High School and sent out 21 graduates. In 1914 the third year was added, and in 1915 the fourth year. This class of 1916 being the first to go from the doors of the real High School. As yet, the school is too undeveloped not to be changed by changing principals. There has been a great effort by our principal to get the school Accredited, yet the credit is given to the head and not to the school. Reynoldson School is recognized as one of the first of the State, on account of the splendid work by our principal who has nursed and cradled it since infancy.

[Aunt Lily finished her speech by quoting from Longfellow’s “The Building of the Ship.”]

The Graduation Speech 21 April 1916.

Lillie Smith married 5 Jan 1921 T. Beaurie Parker of Gates.

Reynoldson remained a center of public education until 1924 when Mr. Doughtry Gatling for $500.00 bought the school. He dismantled The old building and used the materials to build a house in Gates.

Sources: “Pride of the Past, Hope for the Future 1827-1977, a history of Reynoldson Baptist Church” by Edith H. Freeman Seiling
“Family Records” as compiled by Emily Waff Bailey and Mary Elizabeth Waff Staples

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