Prominent Historical Places and Persons of Louisburg

Louisburg College: A Legacy of 220 Years

Louisburg College had its beginning in the period that witnessed the emergence of America as an independent nation, the birth of the Methodist Church in America, and the establishment of Franklin County, North Carolina, and the town of Louisburg. Having evolved from three earlier institutions, Franklin Male Academy, Louisburg Female Academy, and Louisburg Female College, Louisburg College is the oldest chartered two-year, church-related, co-educational college in the nation.

Franklin Male Academy

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The roots of Louisburg College trace back to the early years of the town of Louisburg, the county seat of Franklin County. Founded in 1779, during the American Revolution, the county was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin and the town in honor of King Louis XVI of France. When Louisburg was surveyed, a public commons was set aside on the highest point of ground. This town commons, which became famous for its oak grove, is today the campus of Louisburg College.

The first educational institution to appear on the east side of the commons was Franklin Academy. On December 4, 1786, Senator Henry Hill of Franklin County introduced "An Act to Erect and Establish an Academy in the County of Franklin." The bill was enacted into law on January 6, 1787, thereby providing Franklin Academy with its first charter.

Among the academy trustees named by the charter were some of the county's most prominent civic leaders and planters; one trustee, The Reverend John King, had been a participant in the first Annual Conference of the Methodist Church held at Louisburg in 1785. No records have been located regarding the first academy project; in 1802, a second charter was issued for Franklin Academy.

Franklin Male Academy opened on January 1, 1805, under the able direction of Yale graduate Matthew Dickinson, who was qualified to teach more than twenty subjects, including five languages. The varied curriculum available to students included such subjects as English grammar, geography, Latin, Greek, algebra, surveying, and astronomy. The first examinations were held on July 2, 1805, when students were examined before a large audience of trustees and parents.

Franklin Male Academy prospered in its early years and soon had an enrollment of ninety students, including some twenty young men who were dissatisfied with the policies of the University of North Carolina. Among the academy's more notable principals were John B. Bobbitt (1816-1820, 1832-1844), Charles Applewhite Hill (1828), and Matthew S. Davis (1856-1880). In 1905 the male academy property was conveyed to the trustees of the Louisburg public schools. The two-story frame academy building still stands and serves as a reminder of the beginning of educational opportunities in the town of Louisburg.

Louisburg Female Academy

The second stage in the evolution of Louisburg College began on December 27, 1814, when the state legislature ratified an act chartering the Louisburg Female Academy. The charter named twelve trustees, some of whom already served on the board of trustees for Franklin Male Academy.

By August 1815, Louisburg Female Academy was operating under the guidance of Harriet Partridge, "a lady from Massachusetts, eminently qualified." Subjects taught at the new female academy included reading, writing, English grammar, arithmetic, geography, painting, drawing, embroidery, piano, and dancing. Harriet Partridge, who became Mrs. John Bobbitt, served as principal from 1815-1820 and 1832-1842.

From 1843-1856, Asher H. Ray and his wife Jane Curtis Ray were highly successful as principals of the female academy, which in the 1850s was called Louisburg Female Seminary. Among the courses offered by the seminary were history, botany, algebra, rhetoric, chemistry, geology, logic, French, Latin, Greek, guitar, and calisthenics. The respected reputation of the seminary contributed to a movement to establish a female college.

Louisburg Female College

The third stage of the evolution of Louisburg College began in January 1855, when the state legislature authorized the transfer of property by the trustees of Louisburg Female Academy to the directors of Louisburg Female College Company. The female academy building was moved south of its original location and utilized as a college annex until destroyed by fire in 1927. A four-story, fifty-room brick Greek revival building for the female college was constructed in 1857 on the west campus where the female academy building had formerly stood. Old Main is still in use today as the administrative building of Louisburg College.

In August 1857, Louisburg College opened under the management of Professor James P. Nelson. There was a primary department, as well as a college department. Some course offerings were French, Spanish, Italian, piano, guitar, drawing, painting, and needlework. The female college continued to operate during the Civil War under presidents C.C. Andrews (1860-1861) and James Southgate, Jr. (1862-1865). After the war, about 500 Union soldiers camped in the college and male academy groves during May and June of 1865.

During the administration of Dr. Turner Myrick Jones (1866-1868), former president of Greensboro Female College, enrollment grew to 133 students. The regular college course in 1867 included such courses as English grammar, mythology, geography, botany, physiology, trigonometry, Latin, French, and "Evidence of Christianity."

After the College opened and closed several times during the 1870s and 1880s, S.D. Bagley became president in 1889. Matthew S. Davis, who had previously served twenty-five years as principal of the male academy, became president of the female college in 1896 and held the office until his death in 1906. He was succeeded by his daughter, Mary Davis Allen (Mrs. Ivey Allen), who was president until 1917.

Louisburg College

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At the beginning of the twentieth century, a number of significant changes took place. The institution became known as Louisburg College, and the college became officially linked to the Methodist Church. Washington Duke, Durham philanthropist, had acquired ownership of the college property in the 1890s; after his death, his son Benjamin N. Duke presented the property (1907-1909) to the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church.

Other changes in the early twentieth century included the erection of the three-story Davis Building, named in memory of Matthew S. Davis, and the reorganization of the college into an institution with junior college rating (1914-1915). The Sea Gift and Neithean Literary Societies were very active during this time contributing books to the college library, sponsoring special lectures, and publishing the college paper.

During the presidency of Arthur D. Mohn in the 1920s, Louisburg College experienced a period of building expansion. The West Wing of Main Building, the Pattie Julia Wright Dormitory, and the Franklin County Building were constructed. Unfortunately, a disastrous fire gutted Main Building and the new West Wing in 1928. Closely following the fire came the Great Depression, and the college was burdened with debt and a shrinking enrollment.

The Reverend Armour David Wilcox, former minister of the Louisburg Methodist Church, served as president of the college from 1931 to 1937. Louisburg College became co-educational in 1931, and student enrollment immediately increased. By the end of World War II, institutional debts had been paid. Walter Patten served as president from 1939-1947 and Samuel M. Holton from 1947-1955. In 1952, Louisburg College was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

In 1956, a planning committee of the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church recommended the establishment of two co-educational senior colleges and the merger of Louisburg College into one of the institutions. The college alumni and the citizens of Franklin County joined to oppose the merger. A "Keep Louisburg at Home" campaign emphasized the depth of local support for the junior college. The Conference decided, in response to this endeavor, to retain Louisburg College as an accredited junior college.

A period of revitalization and growth occurred during the administration of president Cecil W. Robbins (1955-1974). Student enrollment, faculty size, budget, and physical plant were significantly increased and improved. In 1961, the college purchased the Mills High School property on the east side of Main Street (formerly the Franklin Male Academy property); the Mills Building was remodeled to serve as the college auditorium-classroom building. During the Robbins administration, four dormitories, a library, a cafeteria and a student center were constructed.

From 1975 to 1992, Dr. J. Allen Norris, Jr. served as college president. The Board of Trustees initiated the Third Century Campaign in 1980. The $4.2 million goal of the first phase of the campaign was surpassed, resulting in the construction of the E. Hoover Taft, Jr. Classroom Building. Through the generosity of the United Methodist Men of the Raleigh District, the Clifton L. Benson Chapel and Religious Life Center was opened in 1986. A new auditorium and theater complex was also constructed.

During the 1986-87 school year, Louisburg College held a Bicentennial Celebration in recognition of its unique two-hundred-year heritage. The first college flag was designed and displayed during the celebration, and the first published history of the college, Louisburg College Echoes, was issued in 1988.

Dr. C. Edward Brown, Jr. served as interim president in 1992, and Dr. Ronald I. May was president of Louisburg College from January 1993 through May 1998. Dr. Brown again assumed the interim presidency in June 1998. Dr. Rosemary Gillett-Karam became the twenty-fourth president of Louisburg College in December of 1998. Dr. Reginald Ponder assumed the presidency in 2002. In July 2007, Dr. J. Michael Clyburn became the twenty-sixth president of Louisburg College.


Green Hill Place

Green Hill Place in Louisburg is associated with the birth of the Methodism in North Carolina. The house was built during the 1760s, and was known to Methodists as a landmark of the North Carolina circuit, the course of travel a pastor would follow in preaching throughout the state. The first Annual Methodist Episcopal Conference took place at Green Hill’s House on April 20, 1785.

Colonel Green Hill was a leading figure in the religious, martial, and political spheres of North Carolina life. From 1774 through 1779, Hill represented Bute County in various capacities, serving in the colonial Assembly in 1774 and the Second Provincial Congress in 1775. He also served as a Bute County magistrate beginning in January 1777.

Hill was active in the Methodist church, serving as a pastor in his community. It was in this capacity that he served as an Army chaplain in 1781. In 1785, Hill hosted Bishop Francis Asbury and representatives from Virginia, North and South Carolina in the first Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held at the his house in 1785. Eleven years later Hill moved to Tennessee where he died at his home on Liberty Hill, a structure that closely resembles his house in North Carolina.

Built in the tradition of plantation style homes, the Green Hill House was renovated in 1988, but retains several features from the original design, such as brick chimneys and a tapered porch.

References:
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003)
General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church, “Green Hill House” online at http://www.gcah.org/Heritage_Landmarks/Green.htm .
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 134-135—sketch of Green Hill Jr. by E. T. Malone, Jr.
W.L. Grissom, History of Methodism in North Carolina, From 1772 to the Present Time, Vol.1 (1905). Thomas Neil Ivy, Green Hill (n.d.).

Thomas K. Bickett

Thomas K. Bickett was the first North Carolina governor to reach the office by way of a statewide party primary, fell the task of leading the state through World War I. The “War Governor” (one of several Tar Heel Chief Executives to share that nickname) was born on February 28, 1869, in Monroe to druggist Thomas Winchester Bickett and his wife, the former Mary Covington. His father died when young Bickett was thirteen years old. Educated in the public schools of Monroe and at Wake Forest College, where he graduated in 1890, Bickett himself taught in public schools in Marion and Winston-Salem before studying law at the University of North Carolina in 1892. The following year he was admitted to the bar and in 1895, after working briefly in Monroe and Danbury, he moved to Louisburg, where he joined an already successful practice. In 1898 he married Fannie Yarborough of Louisburg; only one of their three children survived infancy.

In 1906 Bickett was elected to represent Franklin County in the state House. In his single term he made his mark as the sponsor of the “Bickett Bill,” which set aside a half-million dollars to fund land purchases and building construction to facilitate care for the mentally handicapped. At the Democratic convention in Charlotte in 1908 Bickett drew acclaim for his speech nominating Ashley Horne for governor and was himself nominated for attorney general. In his two four-year terms in that office, Bickett successfully defended the state’s interests in almost 400 cases before the state Supreme Court and five cases before the United States Supreme Court, including a boundary dispute with Tennessee. In the 1916 Democratic primary for governor, the first held since the enactment of the primary law the previous year, Bickett defeated Elijah L. Daughtridge and in the fall defeated Republican Frank A. Linney.

Three months after Bickett’s inauguration the United States entered World War I. An exceptional orator, the Governor delivered speeches to lift spirits, sell Liberty bonds, and lead the war effort in North Carolina. In Ashe County in 1918 he took a direct role in solving a problem with local desertions. In his farewell address Bickett noted that 2,338 North Carolinians died in the war and stated that all of his achievements paled in comparison to the contribution of the 80,000 Tar Heels who had taken part in the conflict.

In his inaugural address in 1917 Bickett laid out a set of recommendations with attention given to moving farmers from tenancy to land ownership, to the importance of agricultural education, to the need for telephones in all rural homes, to an increase of the school term from four to six months, to the need for increased spending on public health, and to prison and hospital reform. Bickett’s initiatives met remarkable success with the legislature adopting forty of forty-eight proposals during his term.

The parole system was overhauled and the legislature, with the Governor’s endorsement, approved a $3 million bond program to permit expansion at state colleges and universities and increased funds for the charitable institutions. Tax reform measures modernized the state’s revenue structure. While not committed to an extensive program of road-building, Governor Bickett laid the groundwork for his successors by enlarging the duties of the State Highway Commission.

At the conclusion of his term in office Bickett set up law practice in Raleigh with Attorney General James S. Manning. On December 27, 1921, three weeks after he had attended the reception for Allied commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch in Monroe, the ex-governor suffered a stroke at his home in Raleigh and died the following day. His body lay in state in the Capitol before the funeral in Raleigh’s Christ Church and burial in Louisburg.

References:
R. D. W. Connor, ed., History of North Carolina: North Carolina Biography, IV (1919)
Sandra Sue Horton, “The Political Career of Thomas Walter Bickett” (M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina, 1965)
Santford Martin, comp., and R. B. House, ed., Public Letters and Papers of Thomas Walter Bickett, Governor of North Carolina, 1917-1921 (1923)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 149-151—sketch by Nathaniel F. MacGruder Proceedings of the Twenty-fourth Annual Session of the North Carolina Bar Association (1922)
(Raleigh) News and Observer, December 29, 1921 Robert Sobel and John Raimo, eds., Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, III (1978)
Mrs. Thomas W. Bickett Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh

Edwin Wiley Fuller

Edwin Wiley Fuller was a native of Louisburg, Edwin Wiley Fuller is best remembered for his novel Sea-Gift, in which he depicted student life at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. His Chapel Hill years commenced in 1864 but were interrupted by his father’s illness, which required his return home. Fuller completed his education at the University of Virginia, earning a degree in 1868. At Chapel Hill and in Charlottesville he published poetry. Back in Louisburg, he took over his father’s store and pursued his literary interests as a sideline.

Fuller’s first novel, Angel in the Cloud, appeared in 1871 and went through five editions by 1907. His novel Sea-Gift, which according to family tradition was written when he was eighteen, was published by E. J. Hale & Son in 1873. His works were widely read in his day. Sea-Gift is 348 pages long and takes its title from an incident described whereby a shipwreck off the North Carolina coast deposited the book’s heroine upon the beach. The “sea-gift” marries the other principal character, a former student at the University. Tales of romance and adventure ensue. The book in time was so popular among students at UNC that it was known at the “Freshman’s Bible.” In 1871 Fuller married Mary Elisabeth Malone and they had two daughters. He died at the age of twenty-eight.

References:
Edwin Wiley Fuller,Angel in the Cloud (1871) and Sea-Gift (1873)
Edwin Wiley Fuller Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill: http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/f/Fuller,Edwin_W.html
E.T. Malone Jr., “The University of North Carolina in Edwin Fuller's 1873 Novel, Sea-Gift,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1976): 288-302
Robert L. Flowers, “Edwin W. Fuller,” Trinity Archive (March 1896): 332-343
Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, VII, 107-110
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 248-249—sketch by E. T. Malone Jr.

John Williamson

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John Williamson was born into slavery in Georgia, John H. Williamson was brought to Louisburg by his widowed mother in 1858. Despite barriers to education, Williamson learned to read by the end of the Civil War and quickly became politically active. His first role was as a delegate to the state Freedmen’s Convention followed by appointment as Franklin County Registrar in 1867. Williamson eventually served six terms in the state legislature (1868-74, 1876-77, and 1887), more than any other nineteenth century African American. He served on his county Board of Education, as a Justice of the Peace, and as a delegate to Republican National Conventions in 1872, 1884, and 1888. While in office, Williamson advocated equal rights for blacks, proposing various legislative agendas to accomplish that goal. He also advocated the overall improvement of his race through education and personal improvement in order to earn a greater role in the political, economic, and social spheres.

Williamson recognized the power of the press and in 1881, the year he was elected Secretary to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, he founded The Banner, a paper dedicated to educational and industrial topics with the objective of promoting the Industrial Commission. With circulation across the state, The Banner was merged by Williamson with the Goldsboro Enterprise; he moved his printing operations to Raleigh in 1883. The Banner-Enterprise faltered and Williamson sold his shares to begin another, the Raleigh Gazette, in 1884. The Gazette became one of the state’s leading African American newspapers, sending its political, educational and industrial views statewide. The Gazette also saw growth in circulation to over 2,000, an impressive figure since most black papers had circulation numbers around 500. Counted as a friend by Josephus Daniels, Williamson was described as a man “pushing forward into new realms and bringing new conquests of glory” to his race.

The Person Place

Person Place

Standing beside Old Stage Road (N. Main St.), as the road rises northward from Massey’s Bridge at Tar River, is the Person Place. Located adjacent to Louisburg College, this unique and imposing structure has a long and varied history. Its origins can be traced to Pate Wills Milner, who deeded the land for the establishment of the Town of Louisburg. In 1779. Viewed from the road, its southern wing is a small Georgian structure circa 1789, and its larger Federal section is said to be constructed in about 1830.

Prior to passing into the hands of the Person family, no less than nine owners lived in, or were associated with, this beautiful home. The most outstanding early occupant was Matthew Dickenson, a Yankee scholar from Yale and Connecticut, who became the first headmaster of Franklin Academy (now Louisburg College). The house later passed into the hands of William Person Williams, a prominent land holder and member of both the House and Senate of North Carolina. Being perhaps the most influential politician in Franklin County during the 1820’s and 1830’s, he is thought to have constructed the Federal section of the house.

In 1858, Thomas Arrington Person, son of Presley C. Person and a relative of General Thomas Person of Revolutionary War fame, purchased the house, and the house acquired it name from this ownership. The property was eventually sold to Louisburg College in 1970.

Having been associated with persons of distinction and with Louisburg College, the Person Place has a significant place in Louisburg and Franklin County history. In its early history of both residence and tavern, many events of importance, including the overnight stay of Vice-President Aaron Burr and the ability of the structure to withstand the ravages of time and the vicissitudes of the Civil War.

Thanks to the efforts of the Person Place Society, this wonderful structure has been restored and is not only a focal point of local history and architecture, but also an available property to rent for lectures, seminars, or receptions. More information regarding the Person Place can be obtained at 919-496-3273.