George Watts Elementary

36.008199, -78.910762

Cross Street
Year built
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National Register
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Watts Elementary at or near completion, 1918

George Watts Elementary is the oldest school building in Durham still serving in its original capacity. (The oldest extant school building is the former YE Smith school on South Driver St.)

Watts Elementary was built in 1918 according to the design of architect C. Miller Euler. Originally symmetrical, with a combination of Deco and neoclassical elements, the school was placed at the northeastern edge of rapidly developing Trinity Park.

Circa 1920 bird's eye view of Trinity College and Trinity Park, with the Watts School visible at the edge of the housing development.

1924 (from the Durham High School Messenger, via Milo Pyne)

Below, H. Lee Waters film footage of Watts Elementary in the late 1930s. By this point, the right entry to the school had been widened/modified.

Watts School, 1950s.

Additions have been made to the west of the original school building; the school remains a vibrant part of the neighborhood, and, as one would expect, appears to have a great deal of parental (and alumni) involvement. I'm always thrilled to see neighborhood schools thriving (at least from an outsider's perspective.) The logic behind locating schools where kids can neither walk nor bike to them seems decidedly twisted to me.

Watts School, 10.03.09 (Photo by G. Kueber)


Video evidence that back in the 1930's it was no big deal to carry a toy gun to school. At least I hope that's a toy gun the kid is packing at the end -- the cameraman stops filming kind of abruptly…

"The logic behind locating schools where kids can neither walk nor bike to them seems decidedly twisted to me."
That school may be located in a neighborhood, but since it's a magnet school in Durham, kids from that neighborhood aren't necessarily able to go there. AFAIK the majority of kids going to Watts (a Montessori magnet) are bussed or driven to school.

Gary, where do you find this stuff?! Loved watching that video.

Here are the facts on school makeup:

The first class to matriculate through the magnet school is the 4th grade class.

Among the 4th and 5th, a larger percentage of students are from *outside* the priority zone (which includes three neighborhoods, not only Trinity Park, where the school is located).

In the lower grades (preK-3rd), the majority of the children are from the surrounding neighborhoods. Next year's class of pre-K/K students are 100% from the surrounding neighborhoods (or are siblings of current students).

I don't know how many of the neighborhood kids actually walk/bike to school, but many of them could, if they (or their parents) chose to.


Point taken, but it is easier to change a policy than a school location. Usually, anyway.


Also loved the video. Amazing that even if it were filmed in 1939, the youngest would be in his/her late 70s today.

So happy to see the school continuing to thrive. I was there as a sixth grader in l966. I read something once that Frances Gray Patton who wrote the short story "The Terrible Miss Dove" which eventually became the film "Good Morning Miss Dove" based her story on a teacher (or teachers) @ Watts St. Anyone ever heard that? A number of her stories have Durham (and NC)references. I know that she lived in Durham, and her husband taught @ Duke. I wondered if she lived somewhere in the neighborhood. Also the video is absolutely charming. I wish the adults that those precious children became could see themselves. What a wonderful gift for posterity from Mr. Waters (and you, too Gary!).

In reply to by retired Englis… (not verified)

I visited With my Family from Norway in 1965-66, I then went in the 4th grade. You wouldn't happen to know a place to trace old classmates?
My class was Mrs. Bryan, an th names of some of my Classmates were Douglas Beringuer and Dale Duke, but we were possibly of poor interest for you beeing to grades belw! :-) All the best
Espen from Norway

Congratulations on being named COO at your "real job" GK!

Congratulations on your new leadership position, Gary.

But I guess this means you'll have much less time for Endangered Durham...


Well, ED's loss is Durham's gain. Good luck!

Miss Dove was Miss Pridgen, the principal in the late 1950's-early '60s when I was a student. We use to refer to her as "the ghost who walks" as she was very intimidating to us 9 year old brats. I came to know she was a very wonderful women who cared very much for her students.

I was a student in the mid-40s and Mrs. Pridgen was a VERY visible principal. Even the rowdiest of boys knew she was in charge and would not hesitate to correct any misbehavor (same for the girls). She became a beloved memory.

I loved "Watts Street School" I was there in the mid 50's. Mrs. Moore was another teacher the put fear into her students. Miss Pridgen loved her students, wish there pricipals like her now.

Gary, are there any more pictures of the house directly to the right of the school? 

The birds-eye-view picture shows the house, which (I believe) is 604 Watts. This is my families home, purchased in 1950 and occupied by my grandfather, former mayor of Durham, Harry Rodenhizer. The house is still in the family and we would love to see any other old pictures of the house... btw great site.

William - there would be a ~1980 picture in state archives, but I know of none earlier than that in public archives. If you'd like instructions on how to get a copy of that picture from the state, email me. 



I attended George Watts from 1956-1962 as did my sisters and my mother and her brothers in the 1920s and 1930s  Mrs. Pridgen was a teacher when my Mom was there and later principal when we were there.  She WAS the character Mrs. Dove in the novel and the movie.  Frances Gray Patton's children attended George Watts and thus the connection.  My Mom always told the story that all the other Grade Mothers would make her approach Mrs. Pridgen when they needed anything because she had known her all her life and wasn't afraid of her----everyone else was!  She looked like the classical schoolmarm---white hair pulled back in a little bun, glasses and those tie up black shoes on stacked heels.  Apparently she never changed her look from the 1930s---even when we were kids in the 60s. 


The best night of the year at George Watts was Halloween when we had a school carnival that included a haunted house (room) on the second floor, dinner served in the cafeteria and games in the gym.  It was magical---we went from there to trick or treat in the neighborhood.

In reply to by Claire Slaughter (not verified)

I have the same memories of the Halloween Carnival, Claire! It was magical and after we had seen everything from supper to White Elephant sales, we took our pillowcases and went Trick or Treating for blocks around! Such fun! We even went into some homes for cider and cookies. My, how that has changed.

In reply to by Patricia Delam… (not verified)

The Watts Street All-Americans ruled the court after school and on weekends. There will always be a good goal and bad; a high side and low. To win is to play.

In reply to by Sudsy (not verified)

There were great lessons to be learned on the playground. The love between all the players was the true strength and they were talented. It was a fun and beautiful time. Many challenged them and were turned away.

In reply to by Sudsy (not verified)

There were great lessons to be learned on the playground. The love between all the players was the true strength and they were talented. It was a fun and beautiful time. Many challenged them and were turned away.

In reply to by Patricia Delam… (not verified)

I recall the Halloween Festival with the volunteer moms running the fun booths and the films in the auditorium. Too bad that that fun has gone away today. I hope it will return.

I attended Watts from 1950 to 1955. Miss Pridgen was indeed the principal and we all respected and probably feared her. Me, especially when I was sent to her office for the crime of bringing a baseball to school! Softballs only. Mrs. Gray was my first grade teacher and she had taught my father in the same room. I was to have been in the dreaded Mrs. Moore's sixth grade, but, we moved. Gainsborough's Blue Boy hung in the hall. Good people all and I was happy there.

I taught first grade at Watts from 1961-1964. Mrs. Pridgen was principal the first two years and then she retired. Gary Harris became the principal. I had the first two Black children in the school - either in 1961 or 1963: a boy named Robin and a girl I think named Constance. I loved teaching there, but I, too, was afraid of Mrs. Pridgen and Frances Gray Patton (I knew her in later years) did tell me that Mrs. Pridgen was the model for The Terrible Miss Dove - that became the movie Good Morning Miss Dove. If anyone knows about the two Black children and where they are, I would love to know - they would be 56 years old.

In reply to by Marsha Warren (not verified)

I went to school there in 6th grade, I believe 1962-63; had Mrs. Nordan. I later taught kindergarten there from 1973-1977, along with my mom, Mrs. Hilliard who was known by students as Mrs Honey). I enjoyed the school, and have fond memories. My most vivid memory was when President Kennedy was shot- the patrol boys came in just about the time that someone (principal?) came in and told our room. Do you think Mrs. Pridgen was there in 1962? I can't recall the other teachers, either...

I attended George Watts from 1951-1957. Mrs. Pridgen (whom students called Mrs. Pigeon behind her back) was the principal. I was just a few years behind Sandy. My dad had attended George Watts in the 1920's. Mrs. Pridgen was his Geography teacher then. Her name was still on the door to Mrs. Saunders' 4th grade which I was in. We were terrified of Mrs. Pridgen and really toed the line for her. My dad insisted on taking a box of candy to Mrs. Pridgen every Christmas with all three of us children along. We answered her as she had directed us in school: "Yes, Mrs. Pridgen." or "No, Mrs. Pridgen."

Frances Gray Patton was in school with my Uncle Bill. She modeled Mrs. Dove after Mrs. Pridgen, hence the name Miss Dove (pigeon--dove).

We lived across the street from of the school. Our neighborhood included Mr. Welch's store down Watts at Demerius Street. Went there often for candies and chips. My 3rd grade boyfriend gave me trinkets from the penny gum machine! Duke Campus was our playground--walked on top of the wall after school for our entertainment!

Mrs. Moore (who would blow her whistle in class for our attention and would scare us to death) was my 6th grade teacher and she really got us prepared for Carr Junior High. Once when a schoolmate said he left his homework at home, she told him to go get it. You can't do that now with safety in mind, but it was no problem then.

We had the best education you could get with many outside the district boundaries continuing to come even though they had to pay tuition. These included many of the Duke Professors/Doctors' children.

I'm so glad I was able to be part of George Watts School. I retired from teaching in 2005.

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