The Currie-Lucas School | Pender County North Carolina | c. 1915
Constructed by the Pender County School Board in 1915, and at the time, sat at the center of town.
As I researched to write up the history of the small town that once existed here, I came across a wonderfully written post from the Pender County Department of Planning.
Their writing, accompanied by my photos are below.
To get the point across, Letendre draws a big ‘Y’ on a piece of paper. Back during World War II there weren’t as many roads around that area. Basically, you had Carolina Beach Road, which came from downtown and curved toward Carolina Beach. Then there was Piner Road, which intersected right at that curve, creating a junction. Right in the nook of that ‘Y’ is where his aunt and uncle built their gas station, where you could fill up and also buy packs of nabs and beer. “They brought the monkeys in there I think as an attraction to bring in the customers,” Letendre says. The store opened around 1939 and stayed open through the mid-1940s. During this time, Fort Fisher was re-opened by the army as an anti-aircraft training facility and hundreds of soldiers and Marines were passing by the little gas station. The monkeys were a curiosity and the soldiers would often stop to look at them.
Letendre’s aunt Dina had great big monkeys and little monkeys. The monkeys were cute and the soldiers were mischievous.
Eventually, the soldiers started handing the monkeys a bottle or two of beer that they’d buy. “It might have been funny to them, but monkeys are a lot like us,” Letendre says. “Some of them get really mean. Those little ones, I think, got really mean.”
Once the monkeys had learned to carry the beer, they moved on to throwing it at the soldiers. “They hurt too many men, I reckon,” Letendre says, and his aunt had to find them a new home. So while the monkeys moved, the name Monkey Junction will be there forever.
When the railroad began crisscrossing Southeastern North Carolina, many stops along the way developed into towns. It was one of those ‘if you build it, they will come’ situations. So when the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad came to Pender County in the early part of the 1800s, it wasn’t long before a little town called Currie (pronounced like the Indian spice) came to be.
Unlike many of the train stops named for towns in Europe or generic geographical features, this one was named in honor of John H. Currie, director of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad. The original route for this railroad line ran from Wilmington to Mount Airy with a branch from Fayetteville to Bennettsville, S.C.
According to the North Carolina Gazetteer, Currie was settled about 1888. Records at the Pender County Museum tell a story of how this little town rose right along with the railroads, and later securing a good sized-population with stores and big farms.
But expansion wasn’t to last. The CF & YV railroad’s decline was due to overgrowth. It had cost too much to build the railway into Wilmington, and on top of that, a financial depression hit in 1893. Eventually, little pieces of the railway were bought and sold by other railroad companies.
Currie’s lifeblood was lost in 1971 when the tracks were removed. Its growth stifled along with the other towns along that stretch of track: Mintz, Parkersburg, Garland, Tomahawk, Kerr, Ivanhoe and Atkinson, where one of the old depots survives.
Today, Currie sits along N.C. Hwy. 210 and is known for being the area of a famous battle at Moore’s Creek National Battlefield, the site of a fight between American colonists and the British. It was at this site in which the early settlers managed to beat back the Redcoats and became a rallying cry for independence from England.
“While much of Currie’s history is difficult to discover, many aspects of what the community once was is reflective in the town and residents today. As recorded by local residents in 1994, Currie has always been known as a small town community with a strong agrarian past filled with spirited and cooperative residents. Long term residents have noted that the Currie community was, and is, marked by its people and values . Farmsteads were settled in the Currie area as early as 1735.
One of the first residents of the area was Elizabeth Moore, whose homestead along Moore’s Creek was the site of the first Revolutionary War Battle in North Carolina in 1764 . Later descendants of Elizabeth Moore constructed the two story, plantation style, Bell House in 1864, which still remains today. Currie was officially named in 1888 by John H. Currie, Director of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway, who was visiting the town with plans to expand a rail line from Fayetteville to Wilmington.
Over the next two years, the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway from Mount Airy to Wilmington was completed along with the construction of a depot in Currie. Similar to other smaller towns located along the line, Currie sprang to life. In early 1890, visitors to the Currie community reported that the town was booming with the construction of six homes and plans for the construction of two more. Local farmers were able to profit from the rail line by providing freight including blueberries, strawberries, radishes, timber, and pulpwood.
The Currie population continued to grow with the railroad which resulted in large farms, stores, and a post office. The depot, located in eastern Currie, spurred development along the rail line, including Walker’s General Store. Located across from the depot, the store sold canned goods, meat, farming supplies, hardware, and shoes.
In 1915, the Pender County School Board constructed the Lucas School for $1,200 (pictured above). The location of the Lucas School and the pristine Bell House became known as the center of town. Also, in the early 1920’s the Currie Rosenwald School was constructed in the community for $1,900. This school was part of thousands constructed across the nation in rural communities and is one of ten in existence in Pender County.
Currie continued to function as a successful agrarian community up until the twentieth century, even with the financial hardships the railway was facing due to over expansion. In 1899, faced with bankruptcy, the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway was sold to Atlantic Coast Line. During the mid-twentieth century, with a struggling rail line and the national Great Depression, Currie was not able to grow into a prosperous community.
Maps recorded in the County’s Register of Deeds office in 1940 showed future plans for Currie with the creation of 214 buildable lots for homes and businesses. However, efforts to develop these properties never materialized. Additionally, in 1949, Atlantic Sea Coast Line successfully petitioned the State Utilities Commission to close the depot in Currie. Both Currie and Wilmington residents and businesses provided notice opposing this request.
Following the closing of the depot, the rail line was sold to Seaboard Coast Line in 1967. Immediately, many sections of the rail line, including a section from Roseboro to Wilmington, were abandoned as unprofitable. In 1971, against resident’s wishes and support, the Seaboard Coast Line pulled up the remaining rail line. Because the town’s agrarian economy was based on the rail line, Currie was negatively affected and struggled to develop. Local businesses that once lined Brinson Road, including Walker’s General Store, closed and fell into a state of decay. Other local operations, including the Black River Sawmill located on Borough Road and the abandoned train depot, were destroyed.
Following the removal of the rail lines in Currie, the town did not see significant population or economic growth and remained as a very rural community. Still, during this time, Currie residents remained involved with the community and took part in local festivals including the Pender County Centennial Festival in 1975 at Moores Creek National Battlefield4 . Small town values, community involvement, and cooperation are characteristics that have described the town for decades and are still present today.
Read the full Pender County Development Report Here