Museum Profile: Wake Forest Historical Museum
Monday, February 02, 2015, 2pm by Kristy Stevenson
The Wake Forest Historical Museum, on North Main St. in Greater Raleigh's Wake Forest, is adjacent to the Calvin Jones House and provides an innovative look at the history of a quaint town, its college and subsequent university.
Calvin Jones was a physician, founder of the N.C. Medical Society and mayor of Raleigh who moved to northern Wake County around 1820, purchasing the farmhouse on 615 acres of land and calling what had previously been known as the Forest District: Wake Forest. The two-story Greek Revival house is the birthplace of Wake Forest College (now Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.) and the town's oldest dwelling. Here he saw patients, performed surgeries and even established the area's first post office. Dr. Jones was the first to use "Wake Forest" as an address on a letter sent through the U.S. mail.
The property was sold in 1832 to the N.C. Baptist Convention, which was seeking a suitable location to educate young ministers by way of a manual labor institute. By 1834, students as young as 12 could work the land in exchange for a religious education. Under the guidance of first president Samuel Wait, the college began to develop a flourishing student body (eliminating the farm chores), advanced curriculum including Schools of Law and Medicine and a new brick campus. The college even transitioned to co-ed during the war.
Wake Forest was born as a college town populated with shops, pharmacies, restaurants, department stores, pool halls and movie theaters. For more than a century, the town and the college grew up together. It acquired new residents, businesses and even a railroad.
Wake Forest Historical Museum depicts it as "five towns in one" back then: the Business District, the college area/North Main St., Mill Village, East End and the Harricane.
The Wake Forest College Birthplace Society, the museum operators, have spent more than half a century working to keep the story of Old Wake Forest alive, collecting more than 15,000 pages of documents, 5,000 photographs, 1,000 books and hundreds of artifacts.
Today, the Calvin Jones House is part of a four-acre campus that includes gardens, pathways, an old well and a museum annex. The house is furnished to reflect the period of its various residents and the museum's extensive exhibits depict the history of the college and town.