By Kelly Hargett
Education would prove to be an important part of Kernersville’s history. According to Michael Marshall and Jerry Taylor, in their book, Kernersville: The First 125 Years, a small private school was erected in 1840 by Joseph Kerner’s sons, John F. and Phillip Kerner, for their children. By 1855, well before Kernersville was even recognized as town, a female academy had been established by William P. Henley, who had acquired the inn at the Crossroads that had been owned by Joseph Kerner. The school likely stayed in operation for a few years, but by 1857, a coeducational school was erected and named the Kernersville Academy. These schools were not like the public schools we know today, and students had to pay a tuition and fees to attend. The building that was built to house this school was originally located where S&R Motor Company stands today, and a marker is located there for those interested in seeing it.
It is interesting to note that while many schools were closing during the Civil War, the Kernersville Academy continued to operate, according to Marshall and Taylor. It was not until 1905 that the State of North Carolina passed a law that created a free public school in Kernersville. The Kernersville Academy remained in operation until the free public school was opened. Due to a fire, the new public school even operated briefly out of the old Kernersville Academy building. Trustees for the school purchased two acres of land on East Mountain Street near where Town Hall and the Kernersville Chamber of Commerce sits today. In 1906, the new public-school building was completed. It was built in brick with arched windows marking the front of the building. The structure featured a cupola that housed a bell that was previously used by the Kernersville Academy.
The building operated for almost twenty years. Sadly, on the last day of 1925, during the Christmas recess, the handsome building caught fire. To this day, it is a mystery how the building would have caught fire, since school was not in session, and no one was inside the building. Once the fire was put out, citizens were surely sad to see that there was no way to use what remained of the building. This forced all 550 students to be sent to neighboring schools. According to Marshall and Taylor, citizens at the time of the fire speculated on the cause of the fire, with some believing that it was started on purposes and believing they knew who might have started it. However, those names and motives have been lost to time.
The town would eventually recover from the fire, and a new school was completed in 1927 on land purchased on West Mountain Street, where Kernersville Elementary sits today.
*Excerpt from Haunted Kernersville
If you are interested in learning more Kernersville History, the Museum is open Tuesday through Friday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. You can pick up your own copy of Haunted Kernersville inside the Museum or visit our website at www.KernersvilleMuseum.org/shopmuseum.