Bragtown School

36.034896, -78.88763

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Bragtown School, ~1960.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

I'm uncertain when Bragtown School was initially established, but the original school was replaced with a Rosenwald-funded school around 1923, and a newer Atwood and Weeks-designed structure replaced this in 1928.

Aerial of Bragtown School, looking west-southwest, 1950s.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

Bragtown High School and Mangum High School were merged in 1952 to form Northern High School. By the 1970s, the school building was being used to house a program called Operation Bragtown, which provided programming for "emotionally disturbed" children.

The school building burned on December 18, 1991.


(Courtesy The Herald-Sun)

The site has been vacant since that time.

Site of the Bragtown School, 01.24.09


i believe the school was built in 1928. At least the painted sign had that date on it

Where exactly is this? On Old Oxford?


Thank you ! - I'll update.


As a geography person, you're going to hurt my feelings if you don't use my Google Map link. It's on Belvin, just off Old Oxford.


I missed the Belvin Store post earlier but I would like to ask if someone knows why the "Fairntosh" historical marker was replaced.

The school was operated for many years as the place for basically every sixth grader in North Durham to go. Back then Jr Highs went from grades 7-9, High School was 10-12. Bragtown and Little River Elementary (the old one) were the only schools in the northern half of the county where sixth graders went. It was affectionately called "Roachtown", due mainly to the poor condition of the structure and close proximity to a housing pproject. I was used up until about 1990 or so, and then the grades were restructured throughout the schools and the school was closed.

So all the fencing went up after 1960, looks like. When I smell honeysuckle, I think of this school. There were huge honeysuckle vines alone part of the playground’s back fencing.

Didn’t the investigation eventually determine the fire was arson?

My dad claimed he and his siblings attended “upper grades” at Bragtown circa 1927-1933. Your 1920 map (posted 1/26) shows it as “colored”, so I guess it flip-flopped back and forth over the years? It was definitely considered a “black school” when I was transferred there in 1969 (after the Supreme Court managed to make Durham comprehend that “Yes, you must desegregate the schools” really did apply to Durham, too). It was not in the best of shape even then. The floors creaked, windows wouldn’t stay up or down, the ceiling was peeling in some classes. I had some fantastic teachers there, nonetheless.

One story I’ve heard from several sources is that there used to be a brick pump house or well house in the parking lot to the east, and that a student was leaning out a bus window (this was in the 50s?) and the driver started moving. The student was killed.

There was originally a full auditorium with balcony in roughly the center of the building. Sometime in the 70s, the main floor of that was converted to a media center and the upper part (balcony area) was used for storage. I remember how thrilled everyone was to have a “real” media center.

A very old white frame structure was to the west of the main building, across the parking lot from the main building. By 1972-73 was used for the sixth grade classes. (I think there was one kindergarten classroom in it, too.) This is about the time that the school experimented with sixth graders changing classes rather than staying with one teacher all day. The roaches in the building were of mythic proportions – huge!

Has this part of town ever been considered “good”? I recall my mother was terrified of driving through there even in the 60s and 70s. I never gave danger much thought until on day when I was in jr high were passing by the c-store a block east of Bragtown School and saw a classmate’s father being beaten in the parking lot. (I believe he was shot or stabbed.)

I guess the place was falling in on itself when it burned, but it was still sad to hear of it being destroyed. A lot of personal history in that building for a lot of people.

In reply to by wren (not verified)

I attended Braggtown School from 1953-1960. During that time the school was a white only school- the school was a 1-12 grade school until Northern High School was built in late 50's. I remember the high school students did change classes but the elementary students never did. We ate lunch in the white houses across the parking lot until they built a more modern cafeteria on the other side of the school where the cedar trees were located. I enjoyed going to school there and made many life time friends there.

i was a student at
bragtown 6th grade center in the early 80s. the building was definitely ancient, i remember particularly the dungeonlike space where we had art class. also i think there was a quonset hut on the property then. i recently found my handbook from 6th grade and was interested to see that the day has been lengthened by an hour from then to now (i have a 6th grader.) i will say one thing those old buildings had, that i miss in the schools today, were wide staircases.

I was a 6th grader in the 80's, too. I believe we had band in the Quonset hut. Everyone had to do band or chorus & we traveled to perform for ALL of the Durham 5th graders so they could pick which one they would take the next year. I played the drum solo each time.

That dungeon of an art room was below ground & flooded that year. I got the impression all the new art materials were bought by our teacher, not the school.

Every year was capped off by a "field trip", though ours only went to Whipporwill Park. On the way back to school, one of the field trip buses flipped & our year-end assembly was full of kids in casts, braces, & crutches. Guess that school didn't have good luck with buses.

Don't get me started on the roaches...

Um, right, the Google... Earth... link. Uh, it was, um, I didn't.... (oh, bother).

I was a student here too and honestly don't remember the roaches. This would have been like 1979-80. The main building was u-shaped and there was a gymnasium behind that and to the right of the gym and main building was some really old wood building that housed kids I didn't mix with. Not sure who they were or why they were there. I was privileged enough to get to tak art classes in the "dungeon." The art teacher was awesome and all of us in the class were the school's best artists and had our stuff displayed at Northgate Mall several times.

I remember the gym as the first place I ever had a dance. It started with the boys on one side, girls on the other and it stayed that way until like the last 15-30 minutes, which then turned to basic mayhem.

I also remember playing and watching basketball games here through some local youth sports league. Practiced baseball at Cat Town(?) down the street, a field next to a fork in the road where there was a really old general store. And I remember the reputation of the projects nearby ... they were so hopeless. We had friends who lived there and man ... just a desolate hopeless place.

I was pleased to see some development there, albeit a Wal-Mart, but there are other shops. If I remember the projects were still there, looked much the same. Still the area is better than what it was before ... that area seems to have done better than other areas a little closer to downtown. Yow.

Prior to 1960, the school was a high school, however, 1960 through the discontinuation of the school, it was an elementary school (my husband attended Braggtown School in 1965 as an elementary student). While the school did have mentally challenged students, the school was not created solely for them. As all schools in the mid-century - this school educated challenged and normal functioning children.

I was a 6th grader here during the mid-80's. By the time I was here, there were large holes in the plaster walls. In these holes is where we would find the infamous, enormous cockroaches (some measuring more than 9 inches in length).

While I was here, they installed an 8 foot high chain-link fence around the building (complete with barbed-wire at the top). This really gave the place the feeling of a maximum security prison - though I now realize it was because the Braggtown neighborhood surrounding the school had become really unsafe and it was to protect us from unwanted outsiders.

I also didn't care much for the teachers at Braggtown. The chorus teacher was the only teacher I remember liking. Seeing the pictures of the school brings back some memories I hope I don't revisit for a long time to come.

I did my practice teaching at Bragtown School in 1983. At the time I started the art teacher had just been raped - sort of an awkward way to begin practice teaching. My supervising teacher was a sweetheart whose focus was creative writing. She also led a service project where the class adopted someone in a local nursing home. My students were bright and engaging - and many lived in circumstances that were beyond my imagining. Although my career took me other places than the classroom, I still remember those students with fondness and affection. Sorry to hear the school burned down.

This school was Bragtown High School in the 50s, with grades 1-12 - personal experience. Fine teachers, safe neighborhood, good education. We walked everywhere - that's what you did. It wasn't until the projects were built nearby that the area became known as "unsafe". Other County schools were Oak Grove, Mangum, Bethesda, Lowes Grove - all who banded together to comprise the "County Counts" sports teams and were friendly rivals of Durham High. Returning to yesteryear .....

I was a student at Bragtown from 1941-53 and graduated from Bragtown, not Northern. As the previous person said Bragtown School was a second home to many students.. the teachers were excellent..there was a principal and a teachers security guards in the halls

The Bragtown community was truly a village that revolved around the school, Bragtown Bapt. Church (first started in the Bragtown School auditorium) and Wrights Refuse for homeless kids.

Everyone should be so fortunate to live in such a neighborhood and have the same friends for 12 years. All the negatives printed here are from a much later, more polically, correct era.

By the way, the metal building in the back was built for a woodworking shop and the wooden building to west was the school cafeteria to the left and home ec to the right.

Correction: The name of the school was Wright RefuGe.

I was a student at the very first 6th grade center in the early 70s'. I was just looking over my old yearbook last week. I only recall fond memories of Bragtown and don't remember the building being in bad shape physically, though it was certainly old. The teachers were wonderful and I have remained friends with those I met many years ago. I don't remember any roaches. Just the old gym, the art room, steep staircases, the media room where we were introduced to sex-ed. The playground and bus parking lot. I do remember in the early 70's that Bragtown was also called something else that is not politically or ethically correct. I am sad the school burned. It was a part of my wonder years.

"One story I’ve heard from several sources is that there used to be a brick pump house or well house in the parking lot to the east, and that a student was leaning out a bus window (this was in the 50s?) and the driver started moving. The student was killed"

I think this was earlier, maybe in the late '20s or very early '30s. My grandmother, who will be 96 next month, was there at the time and has talked over the years about remembering this incident.

It was 1955, not 1952 that Bragtown and Mangum merged to form Northern High School. First graduating class was 1956. My mom was in the first class to go all four years at Northern (graduating in 1959). My great Aunt Margaret Fletcher was the manager of the cafeteria in the 60's and 70's. Up until she died she would fondly talk about all her kids she fed at Bragtown.

The last high school class to graduate from Bragtown was 1954.  Northern opened in 1955.

I read the reference to a Rosenwald School in the write up. In the first photo, there is a wooden/windowed building above (west of) the large brick Bragtown. The building resembles the Rosenwald format. Is this wooden building a Rosenwald-funded facility?

I lived next door to the school from about age 3 until 1949 when we moved to Durham. We moved there when our home was sold and a church was built there on Roxboro Road.  I remember the first time my grandfather made me walk  to Belvin’s Store.


My grandparents lived in the old rambling white house across the road from Mr. Ashe who was the principal I think at the time. I started the 1st grade there in 1945 with a Mrs. Williams as my teacher. I have returned many times but only have one family member still in Durham and she is older than me.  LOL


My grandfather, William Wade Copley,  was the janitor and my grandmother, Maude Nichols Copley, was the seamstress at the old Durham County Home where prisoners took care of the aged and infirmed.  Big Daddy as he was called, rented the farm attached to the school and raised hogs and chickens.


After leaving Braggtown in 1949 we moved to 520 Park Avenue across from the Markham home and I remember a policeman and his wife, William Jolly, lived upstairs with his nephew Hugh Ingram. Hugh and I would later both be sent to Union Mills Boarding School.


I am 72 now and remember as if it was yesterday.


Thank you for sharing the history.

I was a student at Bragtown  from the first grade to the sixth grade. I am proud to say that i will always remember Bragtown as one of the best, and remember teachers  mrs. Fowler ,Mrs Green, Mrs Waters and Mrs Chandler of the library.. They were the best.

In 1969, I went to Head Start at Bragtown School. Seeing this school on this website brings back flooding memories! Thank you!

It is with some serious nostalgia that I recall my years at Bragtown Elementary School.

I transferred to Bragtown Elementary school in 2nd grade, in January of 1956. Ms. Copley was my 2nd grade teacher Mr. Goodman (?) was principal and his wife taught 3rd grade. At that time Bragtown was an elementary school, grades 1-8. I believe this changed after my 8th grade year. For anyone who might have also attended during this time I'll mention my teachers who come to mind: Mrs. Goodman (3rd grade). Mrs. Moore (4th grade - classroom in separate building across the bus parking lot), Mrs. Green (6th grade), Mrs Driver (7th grade - classroom in basement near the gym), and Mrs Sercey (sp?) (8th grade). The only other teacher I remember was Mr. King (8th grade). I remember walking to school (from Bon Air Avenue near the Center Drug store.) So many memories. Time does fly by way too fast.

After Bragtown, I attended Northern High through graduation in 1967. Mine was the last 4 year class to graduate from NHS. After my freshman year, they changed NHS to a 10-12 high school and damn it, our class was treated as freshmen for a 2nd year in a row! :) Those were good years. Heck, they even let me drive a school bus (#83) only 2 months after I got my driver's license! My times have certainly changed.

I went there for 6th grade. It was definitely called Roachtown! I remember them running across our desk & also around the water fountain. I would never use the bathroom or drink water, half the time I wouldn't eat lunch! If I did I packed it in sealed containers! Nasty but I have some good memories!

I was a student at Braggtown 1986 ----- I remember me and some buddies sold now and laters for 5 cents to other students,.. wide stair wells,... Mr Gerald the English Teacher, would rub his face with rubbing alcohol,.. you didnt not pay attention to him.... chain link fences seemed like 10 feet tall surrounding the place,... hot hot hot,....

What was the physical address of the school on Belvin?

I was a student at Bragtown 1969-74; I'd been removed from my neighborhood school (Holt) and bussed across town to integrate the "all black" Bragtown. I was not saddened to hear of the fire destroying it. I don't remember roaches but I do remember drunks passed out on the playground, creaking floors, peeling paint, the dungeon art room that I loved, dark hallways, bathrooms with no stall dividers or doors and exposed pipes where sinks had been yanked out; but mostly I remember the daily violence.

I had countless lunchboxes and thermoses stolen, used as kick balls and returned to me shattered, my lunch gone. If I wasn't the only person in the bathroom I wouldn't use it because I'd been attacked in there so many times by other students; My clothes were grabbed and torn, I was slammed against the walls and threatened with rape by broom handle if I couldn't get away. I was pushed down the stairs on several occasions, punched, kicked, shoved, dumped out of chairs and slammed into walls; I went home battered and bruised every single day.

I had classmates who were several years older because they had been held back so many times; in 5th grade I was tasked with using the old green 1st grade spelling book to give a spelling test to another student seated in the coat closet. I helped her cheat to pass the test because she was embarrassed and I wanted her to feel good about herself.

I remember the story about the student getting hurt on the bus also, but I seem to remember his arm was just pulled off; the lunchlady told the story to everybody in line at the beginning of the year; I think he was related to her in some way so I guess this was her way of trying to protect us.

I do remember some good teachers; old Mrs.Yost who was so stooped over we nearly met eye-to-eye; she played piano for us after lunch, "...all day, all night, angels watching over me....". Young Miss Webb who married a police officer (?). Ms. Swindell (?) who didn't want to take any crap from us but seemed to have her best battles behind her and was just trying to get us through the system.

I did make a few friends who taught me things I didn't understand until later in life. I would love to find Janice Blake; she was the only person who came to my home for a birthday party in about 1971 or 72; she gave me book about Abraham Lincoln that I still cherish today. It set me on a lifelong journey, fighting prejudice and inequality.

Without Bragtown I would not have become the strong woman I am today.

I started my schooling at Bragtown in 1971 in the kindegarden that was, as a previous poster said, in the white building to the West. I also attended grades 1-3 in that white building and would return again for 6th grade in 1977. There were trails in the woods behind the school that a group of us took walking to and from school.

In reply to by Russell Coleman (not verified)

Hey Russell, I hope you're doing well. I got excited when I saw your name. We were there at the same time. 

I attended this school in 6th grade. Ms. Katherine Webb was a teacher of mines and Ms. Yolanda Ford. They were amazing.

I was at Braggtown School in or around 1979 or 1980 and it was a mixed race school. The majority of the elementary school fifth graders ended up their both black and white. I was one of the students from the public housing that we called Braggtown. The school was coming out of its hay day and had black students well into the early 60s attending that school. I remember playing around the school and we were not allowed to crawl under the gym that was placed on large stacks of bricks. Blacks from the working class neighborhoods such as Old Farms and River Forest would attend Braggtown. The African American community around the school supported Braggtown and was active in the education of the students there. Most of my cohorts from the public housing are well educated because we had good parents/teachers at Braggtown. I remember Braggtown gave me my first lesson in racism. I had befriended a poor white kid name Lee and it did not set well with some of the staff. I remember Lee must had been off a farm or something because he did come to school un-kept and would beg a lot for food and especially those sugar cookies my mom use to give me a nickel to bring home sometimes. We use to have the black parents from Old Farm, River Forest and some of the white parents attacking the public housing students in some way. The school use to have some of the lowest class whites that came from some of the most rural parts of Durham that struggle as much as some of the black students. We had all of those dynamics going on and you would see higher social economical black students that would tease the white students. I remember Ms. Williams and a black male teacher we deemed as mean and when the boys got into trouble they would send them to him. I remember a white teacher that would not teach the black kids in her class and when I told my daddy he said you don't need her you can read the lessons and the book by yourself.

I went to Bragtown from 1952 - 1955 and remember the cafeteria on the other side of the parking lot......was fun when it rain and we ran to lunch!  Remember when Hazel hit and the school let out just in time as many of us had not been home long when the hurricane hit!  Sad that the school no longer exists but times move onward.  

I attended this school in the 6th grade in the late 70's and I remember the carnival they had and you got to take a crack at an old car with a sledge hammer. 

In reply to by iluvsun66

Thanks for the comment. Do you have any photos of the school/carnival/etc? We can also take photos/documents at our office - PO BOX 25411, Durham, NC 27702, and upload them for you, if easier! 

Thank you for sharing this fascinating piece of history about the Braggtown School. It's interesting to learn that the school served both mentally challenged and normal functioning children, reflecting the inclusive educational practices of mid-century America. Speaking of inclusion, I recently stumbled upon a website called  that features a wide range of gift ideas for grandparents and adults, including those with special needs. It's heartening to see such resources available to help grandparents of all abilities feel loved and appreciated. Thank you again for sharing this insightful glimpse into the past

Just a few thoughts about braggtown school. I attended this school from September 1955 through June 1956. I was in the second grade. My teacher was mrs. coffee. I loved being in her class. My mother came to the school on parents nite and met mrs coffee. My mother thought she was the most wonderful person. I remember eating in a cafeteria not outside. Also I don’t remember any bugs in the school. All my second grade classes were in one room with mrs coffee as the teacher. I remember there was of proper word pronunciation training. First time I ever saw a flutaphone which I failed as I could not play a note of music. Still can’t. At the end of school year all classes had pictures taken and a small yearbook was composed. The only person I remember from school was Teresa pope who my mother always spoke highly of. We lived on Maynard avenue which I believe was 111 or 211. My mother worked at general telephone which was a few doors down roxboro Road. She walked to work as we only had 1 car and daddy used it. In those days most families had only 1 car due to the expense. I road the city bus to school. My mother asked the bus driver and the passengers if they would watch out for me. Our house was a duplex apartment. My best friend was Larry long who lived beside us. Another friend was van hall who had a very nice home across the street. Something happened to him when he started durham high school or maybe northern high, I never found out. Since mama and daddy both worked, daddy got a lady to come in and stay with us until they got home. Her name was Rosalie. She was a black lady and my sister and I really loved her. I went with daddy to take her home one nite and she lived out on angier avenue past a fertilizer plant. During the summer of 1956 we moved to east durham . I remember before McDonald’s opened, a place called Neal’s drive in occupied that space . Daddy would take us there often. Daddy also took us to the royal ice cream store . Which later became famous. Just some thoughts of when I went to braggtown school.  Jim jones

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