Class of 68 donates outdoor classroom

Open House offers glimpse to the past

Area residents will have the opportunity to step back in time Saturday afternoon to witness and learn about an almost forgotten slice of Stokes County history as Avolene Badgett opens the doors to a newly restored Volunteer School.

The small school, located at Volunteer Road and Brims Grove Road, had operated from 1900-1937 with classes for first through eighth-grade students. The school is located just minutes from Pilot Mountain and can be accessed by taking Old Highway 52 to Volunteer Road.

Badgett will host an open house at the school on Saturday afternoon from noon until four. The event is free and will feature brown bag lunches and school snacks from the period.

Among Badgett’s items on display is a program from 1917 with the names of 48 students, including three from Badgett’s family.

It is that strong family connection which has driven Badgett to restore and help preserve the memory of the old school. Her mother, Lula Lynch, had attended the school as had Lynch’s 10 brothers and sisters. Badgett can still recall her family sitting and reminiscing about the fun and adventures they’d had at school and sometimes in going to and from school.

Badgett grew up on a nearby family farm. Eventually, a house was built where Volunteer School had stood, leaving Badgett and her mother to believe that the school building had been torn down and lost forever.

That belief continued for years, making the past three years a captivating story of unexpected discovery and restoration.

Three years ago, Badgett attended an auction in which the house that had been built on the location and the surrounding property was put up for sale. She recalls having no interest in buying but going as a show of support for the former owners and the auctioneer, all of whom were acquaintances.

The morning passed without her making a bid and in the afternoon, attention turned to the house and property. She recalls bids on the house being surprisingly small, prompting her to call her son, Eric Badgett, and tell him that she hated to see the house go so cheap. He encouraged her to make a bid. Following his advice, she offered what proved to be the winning bid and became the owner of the house and three surrounding acres of land.

“Í was surprised, and I had so many mixed emotions,” she recalled. “Something kept saying, ‘You got it!’ and I was excited but I didn’t know why. I didn’t even know why I’d bid.”

On the following Monday, Badgett received an unexpected call from Billy Sisk, a representative of the auction company.

“He asked if I knew that I’d bought a piece of Stokes County history,” Badgett said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he told me that R.J. Bennett (a community resident who had attended Volunteer School) had said I’d bought the old schoolhouse. He said they’d moved the school when the house was built and the old school building was being used as a pack house.”

“It was like the unanswered question had been answered,” Badgett continued. “This was my momma’s school house and all her brothers’ and sisters’, I knew I had to bring it back. I just wish she could have lived long enough to have known about all of this.”

The discovery prompted a flurry of activity that continues today.

Badgett paid to have the old school building moved nearby to a roadside location at the corner of Volunteer Road and Brim’s Grove Road. She then had it underpinned with rock.

While the original doors and windows were in surprisingly good shape, plenty of other work was needed. A fresh coat of paint went on while holes were patched and plenty of cleaning was done.

She spent enjoyable hours talking to R.J. Bennett, finding out about life in the school and details of how it looked during its prime years. She is quick to give Bennett, who passed away in December, credit for having played a major role in the renovation.

Next she contacted Mark Rodgers and Rodgers Builders to provide rough-sawed boards for the walls, just as Bennett remembered.

A search for the period-styled desks that Bennett remembered began at Hickory and went on to Newton, Huntersville, Winston-Salem, Rural Hall, and King. A teacher’s desk and a copper trash can were found in Welcome.

A wooden water bucket came from a Pilot Mountain vendor while Billy Sisk donated a dipper and a painting of an old school room for the wall. A pair of blackboards was found. Gradually, Badgett and Bennett’s vision of the school began to come to life.

Joe Bill Bennett, Pilot Mountain resident Wayne Smith and his sister, Audrey Smith Kirby, are three known surviving students of Volunteer School. After Badgett’s efforts began to take shape, Smith and Kirby came to visit the school.

“They couldn’t believe how much it looked the same, especially those walls,” Badgett said. “That made my day.”

Other touches from the era have been added, including a globe, a pot-belly stove, flags, learning charts and numerous school and children’s books, a spelling primer features words for grades 1-8 and a book used to teach arithmetic. At least one more class program will be on hand.

According to Badgett, the restoration project will be ongoing. After the large class of 1948, the one-room school was doubled in size and a second floor was added. While it was never used as a classroom, Badgett hopes to eventually incorporate the space to show changes in the school over the years.

She hopes others who learn of the project might donate other school room items. Featured is a display along one wall of framed 5” x 7” photos of former students. Twelve pictures are displayed but Badgett is hopeful that as others learn about the project the wall will continue to fill.

“Everyone is welcome on Saturday, but I’d especially like to see anyone who knew people who attended or had family that came here,” she said.

Badgett voiced appreciation to Vicky Butler, Bill Sisk, Eric Badgett and Mark Rodgers for the help they’ve provided during the restoration.

“It’s been a wonderful journey,” she said.

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