1901: Wesley Chapel Elementary
More than 111 years ago, before it was even thought of as a town, the village of Wesley Chapel made history with the first rural graded school in North Carolina. James Price, a state lawmaker, introduced a bill that established Wesley Chapel High School on March 7, 1901.
Price and his cousin Henry Lawson Price were named as founding members of the Wesley Chapel school district board of trustees, the group who would sell what was known at the time as the old Davis property on Price Mill Road, leading to the construction of the school.
According to documents on file at the Monroe branch of the Union County library, local residents donated lumber and their time to build the school. While it was called a high school, it housed students ages 5 to 21. Often, the records say, the older students helped teach.
The school housed three classrooms, one each for primary, intermediate and high school subjects. There was also a large room for assemblies.
“At Wesley Chapel, in Sandy Ridge township, the people have voted in a special tax, erected a $1,500 house and will maintain a rural graded school, the first in the state,” says a publication from 1902 called “Sketches of Union County”. It highlighted some of the different buildings being constructed in the county at the time.
The school’s first principal, Bruce Craven, was hired Jan. 16, 1902 for four months. During that time, he made $30 a month.
Later on in 1911, the school was sold to the Union County Board of Education for $1,000. In 1931, the state took over managing and financing all public schools. Two years later, the Wesley Chapel school district merged with the Union County school system.
In 1922, Wesley Chapel residents voted for a 50 cent tax increase, per $100 of property value, along with $20,000 in school bonds to build a two story building on the school’s site. That brick building went up in 1923 and had 10 classrooms, an auditorium, a library and a laboratory. In 1939, an additional four-room annex was added, just south of the high school. Construction at the time was performed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal work relief program started to help give jobs to those out of work, thanks to the Great Depression.
The buildings would stand until Jan. 26, 1951, when a fire destroyed the two story schoolhouse and damaged the annex. High school classes were held in the agriculture education building, even sometimes in the Methodist church next door. Wesley Chapel would serve as the only high school in the area until Sun Valley High was built in 1961. In 1952, a one story schoolhouse was built, which is still in operation today as part of Wesley Chapel Elementary.
To memorialize the original building, there are two stone obelisks, each 10 feet tall, sitting at the entrance to the elementary school on Potter Road South. Both were created in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. On the right obelisk, there is a plaque that states when the original high school was authorized.
Continuing the tradition
For first year principal Wendy Gravely, her first memory of Wesley Chapel Elementary comes from nine years ago.
“When I first moved to Union County, I rode by the school on the way to another locationand thought about how much character the building displayed,” Gravely said. “It is beautiful.”
Several traditions have survived throughout the years, Gravely said. That includes a yearly Spelling Bee for third, fourth and fifth grades, a yearly Holiday Shoppe and an annual Spring Fling Thing, a carnival-type program run by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization. New traditions include An Authors as Mentors program, where each teacher schedules time for parents to come in and work as reading mentors, sharing books of their choice. Also the school holds a Young Author’s Day, where an author comes in to spend the day with staff and students.