The Lawrence School | Chatham County, NC | c. 1885
As early as the 1760s, a river crossing existed here along the banks of the Cape Fear River to connect travelers, traders, and settlers on the Pee Dee Trail. In 1775, a ferry was established here, which came to be called Avent Ferry after its operator, John Avent. Eventually, a small community grew here along the river, known as Corinth. As this river community grew, the need to educate children in the area was at the forefront of plans and eventually, a school was built here that would become the center of life in this quiet rural corner.
John Hinton Lawrence, Sr. [1842-1896]
It was nearby that John Hinton Lawrence was born in 1842. When he was 19 in July of 1862, John enlisted in Company G, 63rd Regiment of North Carolina’s 5th Calvary. According to his service records, he brought his horse along with him, which was valued at $130. He lost his horse in September of 1863 and waited until August 1864 when he was reimbursed $24.40 in order to buy a new horse. He remained in service to the Confederate States Army from his enlistment in 1862 until he was captured on April 1, 1865, at Five Forks, Virginia. On June 28, 1865, John Hinton Lawrence took the Oath of Allegiance to the Union and was released. One account mentioned that he walked back to Chatham County, NC with other soldiers from his former unit.
The John and Rosa Lawrence Family of Corinth
A few years after he returned from war, John H. Lawrence married a local girl named Anna Rosa Marks. Known to her family as ‘Rosa,’ she was the daughter of Richard and Eliza Marks, who were early settlers here also. As a man who intended to build a big family, John needed a proper home for his new bride and set out to build his homeplace on land in Corinth. He built this late Greek Revival cottage shortly after they married in 1870.
The couple established a farm and began building a family, beginning with their first son, Evander Vance ‘E.V. Lawrence, in 1875. Over the next 18 years, Rosa gave birth to and raised 10 Lawrence children here. With this many young children to raise, John’s motivation to open a school on his own property seems apparent.
The Lawrence School is Built
The first mention of a Lawrence School District appears in the Chatham County Board of Education minutes from 1885. Then in 1891, John H. Lawrence sells 1 1/20 acre to the Chatham County Board of Education for $15.00. The same year, he is appointed as a committeeman of the Lawrence School, located just down the road from his home.
The two-room schoolhouse, built sometime between 1885 and 1891 displayed handsome Victorian flourishes that were common in frame schoolhouses from that era. The design featured five bays crowded under a hip roof porch supported by four smooth Tuscan columns. Today, only one column still stands to support the collapsing porch roof. A decorative square cupola capped with a pyramid roof with a conical metal finial with diamond-shaped ventilators straddles the gable roof. This is where the school bell was likely kept that is now gone. The cupola is missing its siding, exposing the interior of the building- although the rest of the tin roof appears to be intact. On the southern (rear) elevation of the school, a shed roof addition increased the interior dimensions, which was eventually configured to include six rooms.
While it’s unclear if the school was built in 1885 or not, it was definitely completed by 1891, when John H. Lawrence deeded 1 1/20 acres of land and the Lawrence School building to the Chatham County Board of Education for $15.00. John served as a committeeman for the Lawrence School from 1891 until 1896 when he passed away and his in-law, G.W. Harrington, was appointed in his place.
What Was It Like At Lawrence School?
The Lawrence School operated from 1885-1919, and during that time, it was the focal point of the community. Unfortunately, the former students of the Lawrence School have all passed on, but luckily I was able to dig up some fascinating images and historic tidbits from the time that this building was at the center of so many lives.
Families of students had to pay per student per term to attend the Lawrence School and in 1893, the cost was $0.85 and by 1901, the cost was $1.30 per child. In 1902, the school term was 12 weeks and enrollment was $1.50 per child. Male teachers were paid a salary of $22.21 per month and female teachers were paid $19.49 per month. By 1903, the Lawrence School had 49 students and that year, its teachers were A.J. Rosser, R.E. Marks, and George E. Rives. The schoolhouse originally had two, then six rooms, all heated by a pot belly stove that one student would come to school early to start for the other children. In 1905, the school term was 11 weeks, and teacher, Hilda Holliday earned $118.28 for teaching the full term at The Lawrence School.
In 1910, local communities formed “betterment associations” to support public schools, and a betterment society was formed around the Lawrence School by Ms. Clara Lawrence and Mrs. S.W. Harrington. During their first event that year, they raised $31.46 for the school.
In 1911 (or 1912), students posed for this photograph on the steps of the Lawrence School. If you look closely, you will see that none of the students are wearing shoes. Also, notice that the building is unpainted. Do you see any other interesting details in this image?
In 1915, the Chatham Record Newspaper printed an announcement that the Lawrence School had just purchased an 18-inch globe for students to learn with. Imagine how exciting it must have been for students to visualize the world for the first time in this way! That same year, the school was ‘spruced up’ when the school was painted white and students posed on the steps of the school, seen below. You might notice the age range of students who were educated in the two rooms at The Lawrence School. Secondary education wasn’t available in this area until the late 1920s.
In 1916, students from The Lawrence School performed a play called “Mrs. Briggs of the Poultry Yard.” Ms. Olivia Harmon was the teacher during this term. That same year, students posed for the photo below while World War 1 was raging in Europe. The U.S. entered the war the following year, sending many of their older brothers off to fight.
In 1917, students from The Lawrence School competed in an Academic Bee nearby at Merry Oaks, some of them won medals for elocution and memorization. That same year, county commissioners decided to hold elections at Lawrence School for the purpose of an increase in taxes for school purposes.
The Lawrence School Closes
As the 1920s approached, the small community of Corinth was growing due to the development of 2 Carolina Power and Light electricity-generating plants, as well as from the railroads. It was decided that they had outgrown the Lawrence School and in 1919, the last class of students would attend school here as leaders in the Corinth community began to make plans for a new school. By 1921, the new school at Corinth had been completed. In 1925, The Lawrence School property was sold by the Chatham County Board of Education to E.V. Lawrence, John Hinton Lawrence’s son for $325.
In the early 1920s, Chatham’s Board of Education began to eliminate its many one-room schoolhouses, erecting larger, more modern buildings that could accommodate secondary education as well. By 1929, even the ‘new’ school at Corinth that had replaced The Lawrence School had become outdated and students were trucked (then later bussed) into the nearby communities of Brickhaven and Moncure.
Do You Have Memories of The Lawrence School to Share?
If you have any insights or stories that have been passed down about the Lawrence School or any of the students or teachers who attended school here, please reach out so I can add to the story! email@example.com
- “Yesterday in Southeastern Chatham County: Avent’s Ferry, Buckhorn, Martha’s Vineyard, Merry Oaks” by Martha Harrington, 1982.
- “The Avents and Their Kin of Avent Ferry” by Mamie Lee Avent Parker and Claude Hunter Moore, 1961.
- “The Architectural Heritage of Chatham County, North Carolina” pg. 235; by Rachel Osborn and Ruth Selden-Sturgill, 1991.
- “Buffalo Creek Chronicles, Vol. I” by Kathy Brooks Jones, 1984.
- Chatham County, NC Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 1774-1779; transcribed by Joe George.
- “Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916” by James Sprunt, 1916. F262.C2 East Carolina University Digital Collections.