Trinity College Bell

The Bell on display under the Trinity College gazebo on the site of the original Trinity College and High School was made by the Henry McShane & Co. Bell Foundry of Baltimore, MD, in 1879.

The Bell and the Gothic style papyrus-leaf columns that the gazebo stands upon are the only surviving Trinity College artifacts in Trinity. Both appear to date to the post-Civil War renovation and expansion of the original 1855 brick Trinity College building.

The photo above, from the Duke University Archives, shows the building from the south in 1861, with President Braxton Craven and the all-male student body posing in their new role as commander and cadet corps of the “Trinity Guard.” The three-story brick building appears similar to any of the five cotton mills built on Deep River from 1838-1850, and in fact the college building was the focal point of Trinity in exactly the same manner as the factory was the raison-d’etre of any mill village. One major difference is that the windows of the college are much larger than the windows in any factory.

Organizing the home guard unit was Craven’s last-ditch effort to keep his student body from enlisting in the army en mass; during the war, however, he and the students were put on active duty guarding the Confederate prisoner of war camp at the former Salisbury Cotton Mill.

The 1855 college building was expanded between 1872-1874 with a large wing that fronted the road which is now NC62. The new wing set at a cross-angle to the 1855, so that the whole made a T-plan. The new wing contained classrooms and a chapel; the balcony of the chapel was supported by the papyrus columns which were re-used in the 1924 Trinity High School building.

The 1874 college building’s pointed windows and door openings gave it a vague Gothic Revival style which was popular for educational buildings and would be carried to its pinnacle in North Carolina in the 1924 West Campus at Duke University in Durham.

My favorite picture of Trinity College is the only one that shows the campus and grounds, a drawing on the cover of an 1883 commencement program. Whether this garden actually existed is unclear (the photo above only shows a field or wild flower meadow), the 1883 drawing shows a lively Victorian knot garden, with extensive flower beds and gravel walks.

When Trinity College was moved to Durham in 1892, the old college buildings were turned into a private college preparatory school, which became a public school in the early 20th century. In 1924 a special school tax district was established in Trinity and a new elementary school and high school building was built on the site of the college. That was in turn torn down in 1981, and the historic site is now a parking lot. The gazebo is squeezed between NC 62 and the fence around the lot.

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2 Responses to “Trinity College Bell”

  1. Bobby McCroskey Says:

    Mac,
    I’m trying to find out if the Trinity College football team that competed in the late 1880s (with some success against UNC & Wake) had a team name/mascot. I can’t find that information anywhere. Any reference to the Trinity College football team of that period that I find at the typical college football reference sites incorrectly identify the team as Duke, but the time period I’m referring to is before the College even moved to Durham. Any information or ideas where to look?

    • macwhatley Says:

      The best place (maybe the only place) would be the Duke University Archives, where they keep yearbooks and graduation programs and the like. There isn’t a whole lot left about the pre-Duke Trinity College, but what there is went to Durham with them. The Trinity Historical Society has very little at Trinity, and we have nothing in Asheboro. The best source would be newspaper accounts, but the Asheboro paper doesn’t survive back of 1903. Maybe a High Point or Thomasville paper would survive and have something. The Greensboro paper does- there is pretty much a complete run back to the 1860s. I’ve never really heard of mascots and etc. before ca. 1890. The last two decades of the 19th c. is when all universities started doing the kind of stuff we take for granted now. Harvard (where I went) didn’t use a Pilgrim until like 1895. They stopped wearing robes ca. 1800 and didn’t start again at graduation until ca. 1890. Braxton Craven died in 1883, and I don’t think he’d have been open for that kind of thing. He was pretty serious and religious, raised in foster homes, didn’t have much of a sense of humor. So the search window would be ca. 1883-ca.1892 — just 10 years. You might try looking in the UNC and WFU archives, too. If you find out which school was first to have a mascot and etc., the others would have followed pretty quickly, I’m thinking. Good luck, Mac Whatley

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