The Elkin City Schools will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Elkin Graded School on Oct. 23.
The celebration will begin at 10:30 a.m. in Elkin High School’s Dixon Auditorium when the school system’s middle and high school students will gather with special guests and community members who wish to attend. As part of the program, Elkin historian Jason Couch will be displaying actual architectural drawings from the engineering and building of the school.
Kathi Burcham Heron, the granddaughter of the late architect, John Bartlett Burcham, who designed Elkin Graded School, will share her perspective on its importance to the community. Heron lives in Virginia.
Couch said she and some of her family members were cleaning out their mother’s basement when they found a copy of Burcham’s original plans for the school. “They gave those to me to preserve and take care of because they knew I would keep them,” he said. “We’re going to have a couple of pages from those original plans on display for people to look at.
“It’s a basic set of plans,” Couch said. “You could rebuild the building from them if you desired to do so.”
Couch said Burcham also designed Royall Drug and the Liberty Tobacco Warehouse, both well-known buildings in downtown Elkin.
As part of the 100th anniversary celebration, Couch will be presenting a slide presentation of photos documenting the Elkin Graded School through the 1970s, when it was torn down. “I’m trying to present a good overview of the history of that facility and the time period during which it was used,” he said.
Also planned for display at the celebration are: a Class of 1942 50th reunion photo, Class of 1939 graduation program, Class of 1947 group photo, a 1938 certificate of promotion, a 1940 perfect attendance certificate and a 1921 Elkin High School diploma, the oldest Couch has ever seen.
When Burcham’s family members related their desire to put up a plaque at the site of the Elkin Graded School cupola, the last remaining structure, with the date of construction and his name as architect on it, Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe decided to schedule it as part of a 100th anniversary celebration of the first school.
The cupola, with the original bell inside, was moved from the middle of the Elkin Elementary School playground to its present location along Virginia Road where the playground is now. “It looks a lot nicer now than it did then,” Couch said.
People oftentimes use the cupola as a backdrop for photos. In the 1980s, he said it was used as a backdrop for senior pictures.
Although the area around the Elkin Graded School cupola is well maintained, Couch said, “The average person walking by might not know what it is and where it came from.”
During the morning program in Dixon Auditorium, Elkin High School Student Council President Anna Taylor will share her thoughts on “100 years of educational progress and historical events.”
From its opening in 1915 until 1936, Elkin Graded School was the only school in town and included grades one through 11. The 12th grade was not added to North Carolina’s public schools until the 1940s. Elkin High School’s first 12th-grade class to graduate was in 1947.
Bledsoe said he has always tried to carry on the themes and traditions of the Elkin City Schools. “We’re all proud of our academic excellence and the pride that we have not only in our current schools,” he said, “but in the people who have walked the halls and been part of the school system.”
The Elkin Graded School tradition “is a way for us to help students better understand the historical perspective of Elkin City Schools,” he said, “and why our grandparents and our aunts and uncles are so proud of their time in our school district.”
When talking recently with students at all three grade levels, Bledsoe said he asked them about the importance of the cupola. “A lot of them had not thought about that bell tower being a part of a former school building,” he said, “so here again, it re-emphasized to me how we don’t need to lose the tradition of the people who went through our school district and our schools.”
The cornerstones of Elkin Graded School were preserved in the brick wall of Elkin Elementary School.
Couch said many Elkin residents have memories of going to the Elkin Graded School. “My dad (Donald) went to school there and thousands of other people around here,” he said. “I’ve got pictures of every decade showing the various classes. You can see how kids dressed and how things have changed over time.
“The Elkin City Schools are near and dear to me.”
The old Elkin High School became the second school in the system when it opened for students in 1936. After it was torn down in 2009, the current high school was built on the same site.
Schools in Elkin were part of the Surry County School System until 1947, when the town created its own school district.
The Oct. 23 100th anniversary celebration will move from Dixon Auditorium to Elkin Elementary at 1 p.m. with school officials unveiling the plaque on the bell tower, which will list Burcham as architect and the names of the school’s first board of trustees members under the caption, “The 100th Anniversary Celebration of Elkin Graded School.”
Elkin Elementary administrators, staff, teachers and students will participate in the afternoon celebration.
Bledsoe encouraged anyone who attended Elkin Graded School who would like to share photographs, memories and/or be part of the 100th celebration to contact Noelle Wolfe, executive assistant to the superintendent, at 336-835-3135. “She can also arrange for them to participate or visit some of the classrooms and talk about Elkin Graded School on a more personal basis,” he said.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 336-258-4035.