October 27, 2021
A ceremony was held on Monday, October 25 to mark the completion of the McCray School restoration, as well as to announce a second phase of improvements and additions to the historic one-room schoolhouse located in northern Alamance County.
Restoration of the McCray School began in early May. The restoration of the school was funded without using any tax dollars, as philanthropy – both in the form of monetary donations and donations of time – footed the bill instead.
The renovations were overseen by Dale Aaron, owner of Callands Historical Restoration, a 501c(3) nonprofit focused on restoring historic properties with an emphasis on maintaining a property’s originality.
During the celebration, it was announced that a second phase of renovations would be taking place on the McCray School property. This phase will involve the construction of an outdoor classroom, located behind the schoolhouse.
The school wouldn’t look brand new today if it weren’t for the dreams and work of Alamance Burlington School System (ABSS) Board of Education member Patsy Simpson and the late Janet Sellars, founder of Burlington’s African American Cultural Arts and History Center.
The restoration celebration on Monday marked a longtime dream come true for Simpson, as well as a chance to say thank you for the hard work of Aaron and all the volunteers and donors who made the project happen.
Multiple members of the Alamance County Board of Education, Board of County Commissioners, state legislative representatives and other organizations attended the celebration.
The ceremony opened with Simpson ringing the bell on the front porch of the schoolhouse, which was a traditional, daily practice when the school was in use.
“Hopefully, we will start a tradition with this bell, that is this school was built back when schools were segregated but this bell now symbolizes the future where the school will be open to students in ABSS of all races,” Simpson said.
Following Simpson, Melinda Freeman, former president of Burlington Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., presented ABSS with a check for $1,000 to go towards future improvements to the McCray School.
Aaron then gave remarks. First, he went through and thanked each group who spent time and or money to help restore the school.
Folks from Samet Corporation and the Budd Group, who both worked on the school during the summer attended, as well as several ABSS resource officers and Alamance County deputies and individuals from the Burlington Alamance Association of Realtors, who also put in work on the project.
Aaron thanked them all and explained the specific work each group did on the school to get it in the pristine condition it’s now in. He noted at least 55 people spent their time working to renovate the school.
Dr. Todd Thorpe, ABSS assistant superintendent, spoke next. Thorpe took the opportunity to thank Aaron for the direction and leadership he provided throughout the restoration process.
“If it wasn’t for his leadership, his ability to do this work, his ability to have friends that do this kind of work, his dedication, this ever would’ve happened,” Thorpe said. “I really want to say thank you, Mr. Dale Aaron, you were a key component in making all this happen.”
Thorpe then thanked Ernest Conner, who lives next door to the school and has kept a watchful eye on it for many years.
“Nobody knew, nobody paid him, very few people thanked him but he made sure this place was mowed, he made sure there were no vandals, he would come up if people showed up uninvited and that’s at all different hours of the day and night,” Thorpe said.
Aaron and Conner were presented with a gift from ABSS for the contributions toward the preservation and restoration of the McCray School.
Following that, Impact Alamance representatives took turns explaining the second phase of the school’s restoration. First up was the organization’s president, Tracey Grayzer.
Grayzer said Impact Alamance committed to becoming a “learning organization” during the pandemic, vowing to look at the areas where, as an organization, change and improvement was needed.
“When we say that our county is going to be the best place to live and thrive, what does that really mean, and for whom?” Grayzer said. “So, we had to start asking ourselves some different questions. If we really want that to be the case for everyone, we needed to think about different ways that we could work within our organization to advance that within our community.”
Helping turn the McCray School into a valuable educational resource where students can learn often forgotten, yet equally important, history was one way they could do that, Impact Alamance decided.
Marcy Green, vice president of Impact Alamance, then explained what phase two of the project will entail.
“There will be an outdoor area where special learning reflection will take place for students and community members,” Green said. “This will be a replica of the inside of the school [on the] outside, it’s going to be the exact square footage. That was the $50,000 investment that was approved by our board.”
Additionally, historical markers will be set up to identify the location, as well as tell the story of the school and provide facts about it. The markers will be paid for by Impact Alamance’s investment, too.
ABSS Board of Education Chair Allison Gant then spoke, thanking those who made the restoration possible and recalling when the school was first opened, 106 years ago.
“It makes me think about the joy and excitement that the children and families in this community must have felt back in 1915 when the brand new school was completed,” Gant said. “I expect that they gathered 106 years ago like we are here today to celebrate their accomplishments.”
Acting ABSS Superintendent Jeremy Teeters also took the opportunity to thank those who made the restoration happen. “I just thank you for everything you’ve done to try to bring that experiential education to our students now so they can have those memories and really learn to learn about our history,” he said.
The celebration was then ended, and guests were given the opportunity to tour the restored McCray School inside and out. More information on phase two of the restoration will be reported by the Mebane Enterprise as it is learned.