GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — A former Piedmont prep school is getting renewed attention from state and federal organizations.
More than 1,000 Black students from the United States to Africa were educated at the Palmer Memorial Institute located in eastern Guilford County.
The campus was founded by Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown in 1902 and remained open until 1971. The school grounds, known as the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, is a recognized state historic site. It’s the only historic site in North Carolina named after a woman and the only one named after an African American.
Michelle Lanier is the division of state historic sites director. As she walked across campus, Lanier pointed out that the mission of the Palmer Memorial Institute still rings true today.
“Not only as a site of education but as a place of social justice, for voting rights,” Lanier said. “These are issues Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown was extremely passionate about.”
What the students learned at the Palmer Memorial Institute prepared them to excel in a segregated society. Part of that education happened in a building that can be easily overlooked.
“This was a gathering place where they practiced courtship, socializing, playing cards, having a time to relax but there was also business happening here,” Lanier said.
Lanier was talking about the Tea House. It’s a small green building where students also operated businesses.
They learned skills like budgeting and buying and selling supplies. The building is now in poor condition and off limits to the public. A National Park Service grant will soon highlight an aspect of the Palmer Memorial Institute people didn’t know about.
When the renovation is done, Lanier envisions an exhibit that guides visitors through student life. The Tea House project is especially important to Lanier.
“Two of my great, great aunts, grandfather spent time here, a cousin. This is a personal story. I am a Palmer heir,” Lanier said.
Updating the Tea House is just the beginning.
“There are so many powerful synergies that are on the horizon for this site. We are very excited,” Lanier said.
The historic site also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that will restore the teacher boarding house.
Additional improvements like landscaping and paths that connect the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum to nearby communities could also be in the future.
The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum is located at 6136 Burlington Road in Gibsonville. It’s open from Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.