(pictured above: The Neely School is moved to its new location.)
Deep in the woods of Neelytown in Rowan County, a few miles outside of China Grove, sat an old, dilapidated one-room school house that helped educate many of the older residents of the community.
That school house was birthed from a dream – one that will live on thanks to efforts being undertaken by the descendants of the school’s founder.
The Historic Neely School Foundation, Inc. moved the Neely School Friday morning, on what would have been the 142nd birthday of Julius Neely, who built it in 1908 with his wife Katie and his neighbors to provide a place to educate his own children and those in the surrounding area.
For 40 years, 28-35 students in grades one through seven were educated there each year.
“It was built by my grandfather right after the Civil War and after slavery ended,” said Mary Grissom, a Winston-Salem resident who serves as president and executive director of the Historic Neely School Foundation. “He did not like his children running around playing and not going to school, but there was no school to go to because of segregation. He decided that he would build a school for his children.”
Grissom said that Neely had enough land. He used some of his own 100 acres to erect the school. Initially, Neely’s white neighbor, Jim Corriher, offered his pack house for use as a school, but the space became too cramped, Grissom said. She said Neely’s neighbors helped him secure another building and eventually helped the Nellys build the school house that still stands today.
The decades have been relatively kind to the school, which has been designated a historic landmark.
“The roof is made out of tin and has protected the school. That is why the white oak has held up so long, at least that is what the carpenter said,” said Grissom, who was educated at the school with “See Mack Run” and “See Muff Run” books.
The foundation is planning to restore the school to its former glory. By relocating it from the wooded area to the better-travelled Neelytown Road, the family hopes the school – along with its rich history and the lofty plans for it – will garner more attention.
“We thought that people could not see it back there and if we are going to spend all that money on restoration we want people to see it,” Grissom said.
After the foundation restores the 106-year-old school, it plans to develop the 1.5 acre Neely family home site adjacent to the relocated school. Future plans include adding a playground, nature trial, picnic area and conference center to the site.
“We are going to open the area for school tours so we could show the children what it was like,” she said. “Anything that they want is provided now, but they do not know what it is like to learn when you don’t have anything there to learn but a blackboard and a few books? So we are hoping to have some mock classes to show the children what it was like then.”
The Historic Neely School Foundation, Inc. was established in 2010 by members of the Neely family, alumni of the school and the community to preserve the school, which was at risk of being destroyed.
Grissom said she hopes that by restoring the school house, the family will feel a sense of pride.
“I think that our children and our children’s children will have a lot of pride in what my granddad accomplished. I am hoping that they would want to succeed because he did and wanted us to,” she said. “I am hoping that they will say that they have a school, and it will make them want to continue to succeed themselves.”