north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      Sometime in the early to mid-1830s, John Brown built a one-room log schoolhouse on his property in Randolph County. Teachers worked by subscription at the school until Brantley York was hired in 1838. In the summer of that year, York and members of the community constructed a larger schoolhouse. So popular was the new school that there were sixty-nine pupils enrolled for the inaugural session. In 1839 York proposed to establish a permanent academy that would be supported by an educational society. The group, composed largely of local Methodists and Quakers, raised money to fund a new facility. York, with a nod to the joint venture, named the school Union Institute Academy. As other educational opportunities opened for Quaker children, the members of that sect began to withdraw from Union and the school was primarily a Methodist one by the time it was incorporated in 1841.

      Braxton Craven, then nineteen years old, began the 1841-1842 school year at the academy as a student. His abilities were such that he was soon hired as an assistant teacher. When York resigned during the year to accept a position elsewhere, Craven was selected to be the next principal of Union Institute Academy. Under Craven, attendance at the academy increased sharply. When he learned that there were boys from the community who could not attend school due to farm work, Craven opened a free night school. In 1848 he instituted an innovative teacher training program. In 1851, Union Institute was incorporated as Normal College, dedicated to the education of teachers for the state’s common schools. Normal College was reincorporated the following year, with the charter accepted by the trustees in 1853. This time, the college received funding from the state and was empowered to grant other, more general, college degrees. Courses of study offered in the 1850s included preparatory, classical collegiate, and English.

      In 1856 Normal College established an official affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, not having garnered sufficient state support. The college, no longer emphasizing teacher training, expanded its liberal arts curriculum. One of the trustees, R. T. Heflin, suggested that the college’s name be changed to Caswell, in honor of Governor Richard Caswell, a Revolutionary War hero and devout Methodist. However, when the charter was amended in 1859, the institution was renamed Trinity College, in honor of the school of the same name at Cambridge, England. Braxton Craven was named first president of the nascent Trinity. Craven resigned his post, effective January 1, 1864, amid controversy in the Methodist Conference. W. T. Gannaway led Trinity through the close of the Civil War, but in April 1865, with General W. T. Hardee’s troops camped on the grounds, Trinity suspended operation. In October 1865 Braxton Craven was returned by unanimous vote to the college presidency and he reopened the school in January 1866. Craven remained at Trinity until his death in November 1882.

      John F. Crowell, an enthusiastic twenty-nine year-old Yankee, was appointed president of Trinity in 1887. The early years of his presidency were marked by financial shortcomings and pleas for support. Considering his options and hoping to stir interest in an endowment, Crowell entertained the idea of moving Trinity to a more urban area. In 1889 Raleigh leaders offered Crowell a plot of land (now part of North Carolina State University) and pledged $35,000 for a building. Although the Methodist Conference voted to approve the Raleigh move, in early 1890, Methodist ministers in Durham met secretly in Durham with Washington Duke and secured an $85,000 pledge to move Trinity to their community. Julian S. Carr, a long-time friend of the college, offered to donate a site that he owned on the western edge of town. In 1891 the General Assembly enacted a new charter for Trinity College “at or near the town of Durham.” The college opened at its new location on September 1, 1892.

      In 1924 James B. Duke designated $40 million to establish the Duke Endowment. The annual income of the trust fund was to be disbursed among institutions in the Carolinas, principally hospitals, orphanages, the Methodist Church, three colleges, and a university that was intended to be built around Trinity College. For the proposed university, Duke donated an additional $19 million for rehabilitation of Durham’s Trinity campus and construction a new campus. Aware of the opportunity to establish a new identity, President William Preston Few recommended that the school be called Duke University. James B. Duke approved with the stipulation that the name be a memorial to his father and family.

Nora Campbell Chaffin, Trinity College, 1830-1892: The Beginnings of Duke University (1950)
Earl W. Porter, Trinity and Duke, 1892-1924 (1964)
Duke University website:
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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