The brick building that is the heart of Moss Hill School has lasted a hundred years. The memories that surfaced during the school’s centennial celebration Saturday seem made of the same sturdy stuff.
For Roland “Buddy” Davis, Class of ’56, sitting in school’s auditorium took him back to his days as a rambunctious teenager. “This is where I sat in a class they called study hall. It was really just a gab fest; but it’s right across the hall from the principal’s office, so if we started raising Cain he could hear us.”
Susan Raynor, Class of ’60, could sum up her school years in one word: fun. “I played basketball and I was in the band. Back then, we had a good band and a good basketball team.”
Ruby Alphin, Class of ’43, stitched together flashes of memory like squares of a treasured quilt – a Model T school bus with canvas curtains, a gym with a tin roof and dirt basketball court, a lunchroom where a bowl of soup cost a nickel, her graduating class of 13, all girls except for a single boy.
“It was during the war when a lot of them had gone off,” she said.
At 92 years old, Ruby Alphin is not the oldest living alumnus of Moss Hill School, but on Saturday she was oldest at the centennial celebration. There, she was honored for her longevity and for the connection she provides to one of the most historic public school buildings in the state.
In continuous use since 1917, the building that is now the heart of Moss Hill Elementary School has been expanded and remodeled several times, as the school itself has changed from an all-grades school for a small rural area to a school for LCPS’s youngest students in southwestern Lenoir County.
“At one time it was just one building,” Raynor remembered. “It had an upstairs and downstairs. Mostly the high school was upstairs and the grammar school was downstairs.”
She reminisced under the shade trees of a neighbor’s yard, where she sat with friends watching the parade move past on NC 55. Former Moss Hill principals rode by in convertibles, a Boy Scout troop marched along followed by cheerleaders from South Lenoir High and fire trucks from Sandy Bottom and Seven Springs.
At the head of the parade, the car transporting Ruby Alphin arrived first at the school. She moved to the front row of chairs arranged in rows before a stage set up behind a newer wing of the school. There was a time, Alphin said, when “the moss was all over the trees” and the hill that gave the place its name was more pronounced and “that road wasn’t paved.”
On the stage, principal Stacy Cauley opened the official centennial program, part of which included a review of the school’s history by Wendy Sutton, the longest tenured teacher. The timeline overlaid a point of pride to which Alphin had alluded minutes earlier.
Construction of the school 100 years ago – when the communities of Sandy Bottom, Bland and Byrd came together in the name of education – constituted a dramatic sign of progress and cemented the school’s place as the focal point of this rural area.
“My aunt taught in a one-room school house,” Alphin said. “My sister went to school in a one-room school house.”
Alphin went to school in a building just eight years old and, from start to finish, went to school with “just about” the same set of classmates.
“I took French and I was fascinated with it,” she said. “And English, of course. We had an English teacher that was tough. She was tough but she was good, and I thank God for that.”
The original Moss Hill School offered her a good education and its modernized descendant is doing the same for its students, she thinks. “I think it’s a good school. I think children are taught as individuals and they get a good start. That’s the basic to it.”
Back in the auditorium, where he sat with Judy, Class of ’57 and his wife of 54 years, Buddy Davis remembered how he got his start as a mechanical engineer.
“Delilah Whitfield taught us most of our math, especially our multiplication tables,” he said. “She had one of these new fangled things – you’d think it was electronic but it was manual – and it would spin one wheel, then spin the other wheel, and when she clicked it, it was a different multiplication problem. And you had to answer it. You had to get it right then or else you turned red for the class.”
Davis must have gotten more right than wrong since he had a career building ships in Newport News, Va. Now he and Judy live in Midlothian, Va., and get back to the farm they keep in Moss Hill “every second or third weekend.” The made a point of getting back on Saturday.
“We heard about it and we put it on the calendar to be down here,” Davis said.
“We have lifelong friends here,” said his wife.
A group on a student-led tour of the building came into the auditorium and a woman in the group recognized Buddy Davis. “Your mother was my music teacher,” she said.
“She taught music here for 60 years,” said Davis, and the history of a brick-and-mortar building that has lasted a century once again became the history of successive generations that walked its halls.
Judy Davis turned to an observer and said, “This is the best part.”