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What is the history of New Hanover High School?

Ben Steelman

The oldest high school in service in New Hanover County, New Hanover High School, at 1307 Market St., Wilmington [Map this], was the largest secondary public school in North Carolina when it was completed in the 1920s.

The county Board of Education began acquiring land on the 1300 block of Market Street in 1914, as the nearby neighborhoods of Winoca Terrace, Carolina Heights and Carolina Place were rapidly growing. A cornerstone for the new building was laid in 1919, and the first classes were held in the center block in 1922. Its adjoining wings were completed in 1925.

Designed by Wilmington architect Leslie N. Boney, the main building and its neighbor, Trinity United Methodist Church, are the only full-scale examples of glazed tile use in Port City architecture, according to historian Tony Wrenn.

The school gymnasium on Princess Street, also designed by Boney, was built between 1930 and 1940.

The auditorium, Brogden Hall — named for legendary football, basketball and baseball coach Leon Brogden — was completed in 1954, designed by Boney’s firm. For many years the largest public venue in New Hanover County, Brogden Hall was the scene of Azalea Festival pageants in the 1950s and ’60s and is still frequently used for public concerts.

A notable feature is the pedestrian bridge crossing Market Street in front of Brogden Hall and connecting the campus on the either side. Completed in 1976, it was designed by architect John R. Oxenfeld and built by Miller Construction.

The high school’s Isaac Bear Hall was originally built as a separate elementary school in 1918 on the south side of the 1200 block of Market Street. In 1947, it housed the first classes of Wilmington College, which grew into the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The college occupied all or part of Bear Hall until 1962, when it moved to its present campus off South College Road. Most of Bear Hall was demolished in 1964-65, although parts of the building remain in use as a campus annex.

For the first four decades of its history, during the segregation era, NHHS was the county’s white high school. Token desegregation under a “freedom of choice” plan began in the 1964-65 school, will full integregation, with full desegregation following the closure of nearby Williston High School in 1968

Notable NHHS alumni include the novelist and newspaper columnist Robert Ruark, the nationally known artist Claude Howell, broadcaster David Brinkley (who apparently never graduated, dropping out to work full-time for the Star-News), film and television actress Beth Grant (“Rain Man,” “Little Miss Sunshine”), Jim Goodnight, CEO of the business softward company SAS,  and Don Payne, a writer and consulting producer for the animated TV series “The Simpsons.”

Two NHHS graduates received Medals of Honor during World War II: Charles P. Murray Jr., who retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel,  and William D. Halyburton Jr., a Navy Corpsman killed in action while serving with U.S. Marines on Okinawa.

Among its athletic greats were NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Christian A. “Sonny” Jurgensen; Roman Gabriel, who went on to quarterback for N.C. State University,  the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles; former NFL defensive end Clyde Simmons; NBA basketball player Kenny Gattison; and major league baseball outfielder Christopher T. “Trot” Nixon. Tennessee Titans tight end Alge Crumpler  graduated with the Class of ’96; at NHHS, he was a state champion in the discus and a three-time state champion in the javelin.

Brogden — who doubled as New Hanover County’s athletic director from 1945 to 1976 — coached Jurgensen and also coached  the Wildcats to six state basketball championships between 1956 and 1962.

User-contributed question by:
Gayle Bergamini

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18 Responses to “ What is the history of New Hanover High School?”

  1. On March 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm George Cain wrote:

    I’m always amazed that I am never listed as a distinguished alumnus of NHHS.

  2. On March 6, 2010 at 10:35 pm Edith Borjes Greer wrote:

    NHHS–’twas a wonderful high school–hope it still is. I graduated in 1952 when wonderful teachers like Virginia Walsh, Margaret Williams, Texys Morris, Polly Levine, TP (Wigwam) Brown, Mary Mintz were one reason it was an excellent school.

  3. On March 9, 2010 at 4:21 pm Joe Wilkins wrote:

    I am disappointed that you didn’t see fit to to include that Burt Grant was the winning quarterback on the 1951 Championship Football team coached by Coach Brogden. Burt Grant also went on to Georgia Tech, where he had a successful career in football. Burt and I are both alumni of NHHS and I would like to see him given the credit due him.
    Joe Wilkins,
    Member of the 1951 Football Team

  4. On March 11, 2010 at 10:26 am sandy best wrote:

    Shuny Brittain was also a standout athlete in football(state champions) and baseball at NHHS in the 1930s. He went on to play major league baseball in Cincinnati and Montreal(during WWII ’43-’44).

  5. On March 13, 2010 at 9:21 pm Vera wrote:

    Was the Student Union the first one in a high school in the state? nation? what year did it open?
    NHHS is the greatest high school ever. 1958 is the most loyal bunch of Wildcats ever.

  6. On March 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm Drob(WHO AM i) wrote:

    Scored the winning touchdown…or as Gene Mottly put it,”the go ahead score to clinch the 4A Div3 title in 1983….dropped out but became a lawyer and recently served as the keynote speaker for Pitt Community College.

  7. On April 28, 2010 at 9:42 am Bill Mathias wrote:

    I understand that prior to the construction of the Princess St. gym, it was located below ground level in the center of the main building which runs parallel to Market St. When the Princess St. gym was completed, the original gym became the cafeteria.

  8. On April 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm Tammy Wallace wrote:

    I was searching for more information about the first Azalea Princess (1949) and I just knew I would find something here. So I am disappointed to see you did not include my grandmother, Marguerite Todd Fornes on this site. She was a very involved Wildcat, ROTC, cheerleader, Glee Club, also crowned May Queen at the NHHS Ball!

  9. On August 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm Bill Mathias wrote:

    Did the 1951 NHHS basketball team coached by Leon Brogdon win the state championship? If so, this would make seven state champions.

  10. On August 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm Bill Mathias wrote:

    What high school, or high schools, served the Wilmington area prior to the construction of New Hanover?

  11. On December 4, 2010 at 10:44 pm chris overton wrote:

    Joe Wilkins…then you would remember my father who was a running back on the 1951 team and I think scored the winning TD.

  12. On September 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm Alton Y. Lennon wrote:

    My father, Alton Asa Lennon, graduated from NHHS. He was President of the Student Body and a captain on the footbal team. He was an attorney, Judge of the Recorder’s Court (which preceded our present District Court), and a State Senator. In 1953 he was appointed to the U.S. Senate and thereafter served as Congressman from the Seventh District for twenty years- until his retirement in 1972.

  13. On January 19, 2013 at 10:53 pm Ray Williamosn wrote:

    I graduated from NHHS in 1959. I would like to see a tribute to the players, rosters, etc., from those great Leon Brogden teams. We had wonderful athletes in this era. I also am interested to know the seating capacity for Brogden Hall. Surely, it was among the largest High School Gyms in the state.

    Also, the education at NHHS was outstanding. My college prep classes led me to acceptance at NC State engineering school. Unfortunately, I did not have the funds at that time. I later graduated for a major university with a business degree.

    My brother and sister also graduated from NHHS. We were from a rather poor family; but, we have all been quite successful in life.

  14. On October 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm Rain Vaught wrote:

    My father graduated I believe in 1958 and he was known as Edwin Samuel Vaught…..Birth name of John Samuel Vaught III. I am looking more into the school’s alumni etc as my dad just passed away and I would like to connect with classmates/friends that he had. Anyone know how to locate old year books? My email is rainvaught@yahoo.com.

  15. On October 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm Si Cantwell wrote:

    Try the North Carolina Room at the main branch of the News Hanover County Public Library. They keep yearbooks.

  16. On July 13, 2016 at 8:59 pm Vera Walker wrote:

    You did not answer #5 .
    I’m still waiting for information on the blind Peanut Man on Front Street.
    Thanks for researching.

  17. On July 14, 2016 at 10:27 am Si Cantwell wrote:

    Here’s a link to our post about the man who sold peanuts downtown: http://www.myreporter.com/2016/06/who-was-the-blind-man-who-sold-roasted-peanuts-on-front-street/

  18. On April 8, 2017 at 8:55 pm Peggy Warren (Longmire) Class of 1952 wrote:

    My brothers, Pat and Gene Warren were also NHHS graduates and were in the first class of 1947 that met at Isaac Bear and later became UNC-Wilmington. Gene worked for the Wilmington Star News and regularly covered Coach Brogden and our Wildcat teams.

    I well remember the “senior steps,” that students could only go on their senior year. We had a great class and Virginia Walsh was my favorite teacher. No more reunions, and I have lost touch with my classmates, but I have great memories of my NHHS years.

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