Area residents will have the opportunity to step back in time on Saturday afternoon to witness and uncover a nearly forgotten slice of Stokes County history as Avolene Badgett opens the doors of a recently restored volunteer school .
The small school, located at Volunteer Road and Brims Grove Road, had operated from 1900 to 1937 with classes for students in grades one through eighth. The school is located minutes from Pilot Mountain and can be accessed via Old Highway 52 to Volunteer Road.
Badgett will be hosting an open house at the school on Saturday afternoon from noon to 4 a.m. The event is free and will feature school lunches and snacks from the time.
Among the exhibits on display by Badgett is a 1917 program with the names of 48 students, including three from Badgett’s family.
It was this strong family bond that prompted Badgett to restore and preserve old school memory. Her mother, Lula Lynch, had attended school as had Lynch’s 10 siblings. Badgett still remembers his family sitting down and remembering the fun and adventures they had in school and sometimes on their way to and from school.
Badgett grew up on a nearby family farm. Eventually, a house was built on the site of the volunteer school, leaving Badgett and his mother to believe the school building had been demolished and lost forever.
This belief has continued for years, making the past three years a gripping story of unexpected discoveries and restorations.
Three years ago Badgett attended an auction where the house that had been built on the site and the surrounding property were put up for sale. She remembers having no interest in buying but going there as a sign of support for the former owners and the auctioneer, who were all acquaintances.
The morning passed without her making an offer and in the afternoon attention turned to the house and the property. She recalls that the deals on the house were surprisingly small, which prompted 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 an offer. Following his advice, she offered what turned out to be the winning auction and became the owner of the house and three acres of surrounding land.
“I was surprised and I had so many mixed emotions,” she recalls. “Something kept saying, ‘You got it! And I was excited but didn’t know why. I didn’t even know why I had made an offer.
The following Monday, Badgett received an unexpected call from Billy Sisk, a representative of the auction company.
“He asked me if I knew I had bought a piece of Stokes County history,” Badgett said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he told me that RJ Bennett (a resident of the community who had attended Volunteer School) had said that I had bought the old school. He said they had moved the school when the house was built and the old school building was used as a conditioning room.
“It was as if the unanswered question had been answered,” Badgett continued. “It was school for my mother and all her siblings, I knew I had to bring her back. I just wish she had lived long enough to know all of this.
The discovery sparked a wave of activity that continues today.
Badgett paid to have the old school moved nearby to a roadside location at the corner of Volunteer Road and Brim’s Grove Road. She then backed him up with rock.
While the original windows and doors were in surprisingly good condition, much more work was needed. A new coat of paint was applied while the holes were repaired and many cleanings were done.
She spent enjoyable hours talking to RJ Bennett, learning about school life and details about her appearance during her early years. She is quick to give credit to Bennett, who died in December, for playing a major role in the renovation.
Then she contacted Mark Rodgers and Rodgers Builders to provide rough-sawn planks for the walls, as Bennett remembered.
A search for period style offices that Bennett remembered began in Hickory and continued in Newton, Huntersville, Winston-Salem, Rural Hall and King. A teacher’s desk and a copper trash can were found at Welcome.
A wooden bucket of water came from a vendor at Pilot Mountain while Billy Sisk donated a ladle and a painting of an old school room for the wall. A pair of blackboards were found. Gradually, Badgett and Bennett’s school vision began to come to life.
Pilot Mountain resident Joe Bill Bennett, 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 similar it looked, especially those walls,” Badgett said. “It made my day.”
Other period touches were added including a globe, stove, flags, learning boards and many school and children’s books, a spelling primer with words for grades 1 to 8 and a book used to teach arithmetic. At least one other course program will be available.
According to Badgett, the restoration project will continue. After the large class of 1948, the one-class school was doubled and a second floor was added. Although it was never used as a classroom, Badgett hopes to eventually integrate the space to show the changes in the school over the years.
She hopes that others who learn about the project could donate other items for the classroom. Featured is a display along a wall of 5 “x 7” framed photos of alumni. Twelve images are displayed, but Badgett hopes that as more learn about the project, the wall will continue to fill.
“Everyone is welcome on Saturday, but I would especially like to see anyone who knows people who have participated or whose families have come here,” she said.
Badgett expressed his gratitude to Vicky Butler, Bill Sisk, Eric Badgett and Mark Rodgers for their help during the restoration.
“It was a wonderful trip,” she said.