Saturday’s celebration at Moss Hill Elementary School has been months in the planning but a century in the making. One of North Carolina’s most historic public school buildings is about to have its 100th birthday party.
The Moss Hill Centennial Alumni Celebration, which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the school on NC 55 West, is a combination of carnival, community festival, recognition ceremony and family reunion. From the one-mile fun run that kicks the day off to the parade that follows at 10 a.m. to the afternoon entertainment and building tours, the event calls attention not just to a school building that opened in 1917 but also to its place as the heart of Moss Hill.
“We want to make it like a reunion,” said Millicent Sanderson, a member of the school faculty who’s chairing the organizing committee. “I think alumni and former staff would enjoy socializing with everybody that’s around. We’re offering tours of the school, and I’ve heard alumni say they wanted to get back in there and see what this room or that room looks like.”
Alumni are also being encouraged to take part in the 10 a.m. parade, which will also feature firefighting equipment from the Sandy Bottom and Seven Springs departments and a convoy of classic cars. Alumni units can take about any form, according to Sanderson. “We’re trying to encourage anyone who came to school here to get something together,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy.” (Interested alumni should call the school at 252-569-5071.)
At a ceremony to be held after the parade, the oldest living alumni and former principals in attendance will be recognized and a program will recount the school building’s history.
Moss Hill School was “born” as a new brick building in 1917 after the consolidation of smaller schools in the communities of Sandy Bottom, Bland and Byrd. A second story was added in 1924, the same year the high school section of the school earned state accreditation and the year generally recognized as the beginning of the county’s modern public school system. The school was expanded again in 1950 and in 1978.
High school moved out in 1964 when consolidation formed South Lenoir High School and “junior high” students were shifted to Woodington in 1970. Sixth graders joined them in 1981, and Moss Hill took on its current identity as an elementary school, with grades kindergarten through fifth.
Most of the school’s classrooms are housed in a two-story addition attached to the 1917 building in 2009, when the 1950 and 1978 buildings were demolished. The original building itself was remodeled in 1997, but much of it – from fixtures to floors to an enormous auditorium – should bring back memories for alumni, no matter when they walked the halls.
“This is really home to me,” said Sanderson, who lives “a mile down the road.” She was a student at Moss Hill in the late 1970s and early 1980s, following in the footsteps of her family. “My parents went to school here – Mom and Dad graduated in 1957 – and both of my sisters and my husband went through sixth grade here. Both of my children attended Moss Hill.”
Connections that cross generations aren’t unusual for families who live in the Moss Hill area, including the family of current principal Stacy Cauley. “My own family has had several generations attend Moss Hill,” said Cauley, who once taught at the school. “Anyone who has been a part of Moss Hill School leaves with a sense of love and dedication that always lives in their heart. Once a Tiger, always a Tiger!”
Cauley has one son who was a student there, another who’s still a student and a third who is about to be a student. For her, as with many on the school staff and many more in the community, Saturday’s celebration is personal. “I am so thankful to be able to be a part of celebrating 100 years of dedication to education in our community,” she said.
The party will include a bouncy house and other activities for the children, a show by classic rockers the Donald Thompson Band, concessions, lunch and souvenirs. Centennial shirts will be on sale as will commemorative bricks from buildings torn down in 2009. The Down East Wood Ducks will have a special concession featuring team gear and are offering a special prize for one lucky runner in the one-mile fun run – the chance to throw out the first pitch at the Wood Ducks game on Saturday night.
Even the young students of Moss Hill Elementary, for whom a century must seem unfathomable, are getting excited about the celebration, Sanderson thinks.
“The closer it gets, the more excited they’re getting,” she said. “We’ve been talking about how things were in the old days. Our field day was also a throwback; we did some of the old games.
“When we showed the children some pictures, when there was no air conditioning or when people had to walk to school, they started making those faces,” she said. “It is pretty wild to think that it’s exactly the same building as in those pictures.”