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Was there ever a commune in the old days in Holly Shelter?

Ben Steelman
Girls are shown at a May Pole celebration at the Carolina Industrial School in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Pender County Public Library.

Girls are shown at a May Pole celebration at the Carolina Industrial School in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Pender County Public Library.

We passed your question by Superior Court Judge Gary Trawick of Burgaw, who’s writing a history of Pender County. He never heard of an antebellum commune, as you suggested.

He believes you might be thinking of the Carolina Industrial School (1902-1926), which was established off what is now Croomsbridge Road near Burgaw by the Boston-based National Alliance of Unitarian Women. A chapel on the property, dating from 1900, is reputed to be the oldest Unitarian house of worship in North Carolina.

In 1902, the Unitarian Women opened a boarding school at the site, which apparently also accepted students from the local community. According to Judge Trawick, some of the locals apparently regarded the Northern Unitarians as a bizarre cult. Others, however, gladly enrolled their children in the school, according to historian Peggy Ward Rawheiser, especially when it became clear that the teachers were not proselytizing Unitarian beliefs.

By all accounts, the school — which occupied several buildings on a 40-acre property — was remarkable for its time. In addition to a “classical” curriculum, it also offered a number of practical crafts. (Hence, the “Industrial” in its name.) According to Rawheiser, girls were taught breadmaking and other domestic skills; boys learned how to handle mechanical tools, how to mend shoes, repair harnesses and fix buggies and wagons.

The school taught gardening and maintained a well-known experimental farm, rasing a number of plants and herbs on its property. According to Rawheiser, a new breed of strawberry, the Peterson, was developed there. This was named for Abby A. Peterson, the widow of a Harvard professor who had long worked in the Boston public school system. She came South in 1904 to became headmaster of the school and remained in charge until her death in 1919.

Community members often flocked to campus programs; several accounts mention stagings of Shakespeare’s plays, and students danced around a May pole in the spring.

The Unitarian Women also sponsored a sister school near Swansboro.

Carolina Industrial School closed in 1926, after the state of North Carolina began to provide buses so children from the area could attend schools elsewhere. In 1932, the Unitarians sold the property (for “one dollar and a handshake,” according to one account) to the Universalist Convention of North Carolina. The property came back into the fold in 1961, when the Unitarian and Universalist churches merged.

Today, the former Carolina Industrial School campus is the site of the Shelter Neck Unitarian Universalist Camp, 4737 Croomsbridge Road, Burgaw [Map this]. Still in active use, it is the site of a number of camps and conferences each summer. Here is its website: http://www.shelterneckuucamp.org/.

User-contributed question by:
Barbara Grant
Barbara Grant

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2 Responses to “ Was there ever a commune in the old days in Holly Shelter?”

  1. On May 23, 2010 at 8:58 pm Shanan Harts Stephenson wrote:

    Both of my maternal grandparents, Robert and Hattie Ward Hanchey, and most of their siblings attended this school. I have heard hundreds of stories about the day to day activities there during those years. My grandmother repeatedly told us that if it were not for those ladies that taught at the school their families would never had survived and would have never received any form of education.

  2. On July 13, 2012 at 4:09 pm sherry westmoreland-boring wrote:

    I just wanted to share that my grandma Nora Hanchey and aunt Hazel hanchey went to school there and I remember as a little girl every year we would go to the school for their reunion and it was like stepping back into history,it was always so much fun hearing them speak of their childhood there. along with all of my family there was another person there that I loved so much I never knew his last name but his first name was Walter ,I loved him like family.I think they are all gone now,my grandma died a few years ago…they will all be missed but never ever forgotten!

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