Citizens in Franklin County’s Epsom community made a strong commitment during the 1920s and 1930s to providing quality educational facilities for white children. Like the people in other county school districts, they took advantage of new funding opportunities, agreed to pay higher taxes for construction of a new school, and operated a strong parent-teacher organization.
After World War I, existing schools in North Carolina were inadequate for the rapidly expanding number of children who needed to be educated. The General Assembly and the Department of Public Instruction took steps to address this need. Legislators in the early 1920s authorized the sale of millions of dollars in state bonds, the proceeds of which could be loaned to counties for school construction. Superintendent of Public Instruction Eugene Clyde Brooks led efforts to establish a six-month school term, strengthen certification requirements for school personnel, consolidate rural schools, and build larger, up-to-date facilities.
In Franklin County, Edward Leigh Best (1886-1940), the schools superintendent, vigorously carried out these policies. Beginning in 1923, he oversaw the construction of seven new high schools and the consolidation of several elementary schools.
The citizens of the Epsom community took steps in 1925 and 1926 to improve their school facilities. Given the community’s location on the border between Franklin and Vance counties, the local school had been administered by the trustees of a special joint charter district. In the fall of 1925, the trustees of the Epsom School District petitioned the Franklin County Board of Education to take control of that portion of the school property lying in Franklin County, and the request was granted. Vance County officials received the same petition. In January 1926 the Franklin County Board of Education established a special school taxing district for Epsom and petitioned the Franklin County Commissioners to order an election in this district for the purpose of asking citizens whether $30,000 in bonds should be issued for construction of a new school; a separate election would decide whether people of the district would be willing to pay a special tax of not more than 30 cents per 100 dollars of property valuation, to pay off the debt. Voters approved both questions on February 9 by a vote of 147 to 0. The Franklin County Board of Education then purchased nearly fifteen acres of land from Mr. and Mrs. G. T. Dickie for the new school.
By early April, the prospect of a new school at Epsom, as well as one at Gold Sand, generated considerable interest. The Franklin County Board of Education met on April 6 to open bids for construction of the buildings. They awarded the contract for both schools to J. W. Hudson, Jr. With plumbing and heating costs, the board anticipated spending approximately $46,000 for the facility in Epsom.
When the Epsom school opened later in 1926, the Epsom Parent-Teacher Association worked hard to address needs not covered by the money that had been borrowed for construction. According to an article in the April 1, 1932, edition of The Franklin Times, the association was organized in September 1926 “in an old dilapidated wooden structure for a school building with Mrs. W. G. Kearney as president and Mrs. W. P. Wilson as vice-president... In a short time the association was meeting in a beautiful new brick building, beautiful but bare of everything.” Soon the group established a library and secured a velvet curtain and other accessories for the auditorium. Landscaping overseen by the association garnered “a prize for being the second best in the State.” Under the guidance of the principal, J. A. Woodward, the association provided electric bells, globes, maps, an encyclopedia, two pianos, and playground equipment.
The school became a focal point of civic pride. Cuttings from plants and shrubs were rooted and distributed to area homeowners. The P.T.A. helped to sponsor the Epsom Community Fair. As noted in The Franklin Times, the association fostered a “beautiful community spirit” that reflected the “love each parent feels for our school.”
Published in The Franklin Times on March 3, 2016.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.