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When was the first Sunset Park school built?

Ben Steelman

It’s hard to say. News clippings on file at the New Hanover County Public Library indicate that Sunset Park residents were first assessed by New Hanover County for school fees in 1915.

The Wilmington Morning Star of May 17, 1917, ran a story on end-of-the–year exercises at Sunset Park School. The students, it reported, presented their teacher, Miss Mary Wright Taylor, with a nice pin. Apparently the school had just one faculty member.

 The news story, however, did not give this first school’s address, and we haven’t been able yet to figure out where it was.

The first substantial Sunset Park school — the present Lucile Shuffler building at 2011 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington [Map this] — first opened in September 1920, with 66 pupils in grades 1-5 and a faculty of three teachers.

According to a Dec. 10, 1939, restrospective in the Wilmington Morning Star, Sunset Park School briefly gained national notoriety around 1929 when a fifth grader named Bobby Bleeker caught measles. The story goes that Bobby proceeded to infect his entire class for a small fee, so everyone could stay home from class. Eventually, the mini-epidemic involved all or most of the student body. This yarn was eventually picked up by about 50 Sunday papers nationwide (according to the Star) and was mentioned on the radio program “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

A new Sunset Park Elementary School building was erected at 201 Tennessee Ave., Wilmington, and opened for students on Nov. 24, 1942, with an enrollment of 510. Although it was technically located in the Summer Hill neighborhood, it kept the “Sunset Park” name. Lucile K. Shuffler, the principal of the old school, transferred over as principal along with her students. (Shuffler would remain principal until her death in 1948.)

Due to the rapid wartime expansion of Wilmington and the influx of shipyard workers’ families, the old school building at 2011 Carolina Beach Road remained in use for classrooms after closing briefly for repairs. It would remain in use, in fact, until 1980. when it was turned over to the New Hanover County Department of Aging as a county senior center. In 1992, after the county’s new Senior Center opened, the Shuffler Center was acquired by the Opera House Theatre Company, which continues to use it.

The present Sunset Park Elementary School, at 613 Alabama Ave., Wilmington [Map this], was built in 1953. The Tennessee Avenue campus then became Sunset Park Junior High School. It remained a junior high (and served as a polling place for the Sunset Park precinct) until closing in June 1988. The building was demolished in 1990, and 28 single-family bungalows were built on its former site.

User-contributed question by:
Mary Gaddy

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2 Responses to “ When was the first Sunset Park school built?”

  1. On August 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm Scott Nunn wrote:

    I started first grade at Sunset Elementary in 1970. It went up to fourth grade but the fourth grade was housed in the old Lucille Shuffler building. My favorite memory is that Shuffler had no electric bell system. My class was at the very end near the playground and so we got to ring a big old hand bell to mark the day. also there was a cafeteria but the food was prepared at Sunset and the cafeteria ladies pushed racks down the street over the Shuffler to serve us. We walked over to sunset for the library or assembly.

  2. On April 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm Jimmy Butler wrote:

    I lived in Sunset Park during the fifties & attended both the Elementary School as well as Lucille Shuffler. I lived on Ivy Circle & it was very nice at that time. For 25 cents I saw the Treasure Island movie which was shown at the Elementary School on a reel to reel projector. When i transferred to Shuffler, which was down the road, R&R music was going strong & Elvis was on top. I had a crystal radio which i grounded to a down spout at Shuffler to listen to the latest R&R at recess. Mrs Langdon was my teacher. They owned Langdon TV in Wilmington. Had a girlfriend named Betty who lived on Carolina Beach Road. Big man at that time was Phillip, rough, biker jacket, hair in a ducktail. Girls loved him. Rebel type. Had a chance to visit Shuffler School on business & it brought so many memories back to me. May it stand for a long time.

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