Wake Forest University Birthplace Still Small

It was such a lovely day out today that a quick trip the the Wake Forest University birthplace was in order. It’s just over on North Main Street.

As expected, the grounds were lovely, the people I ran into were super friendly, and the Calvin Jones House was still small.

For those of us that have a reason to frequently drive down North Main Street in Wake Forest, what is certainly a special location for many, is just another place to pass.

Quirky windows comprise both sides of the Jones abode.
Quirky windows comprise both sides of the Jones abode.

In my five years in Wake Forest, I have to admit, I never stopped to look closely at the Calvin Jones house, the birthplace of Wake Forest University.

Jones typifies even the modern transplant down to the land of “mo tea?” Apparently Jones was a transplant from Massachusetts via New York.

After moving to North Carolina in 1795, Jones and a handful of other North Carolina physicians founded the North Carolina Medical Society. The formation of malpractice attorneys surely happened not long after.

Calvin is a man after my own heart. Having first embarked on a path headed in a different direction, he eventually partnered up and edited and published the Raleigh Star for several years.

Afterwards Calvin did a little moonlighting and taught medical students in Wake Forest and is reported to have been an ace at removing cataracts back before there even was a Medicare to slash his reimbursements. Ironically my background is also in ophthalmology. Odd.

The Calvin Jones house circa 1820 that was once on the Jones plantation in the Forest of Wake.
The Calvin Jones house circa 1820 that was once on the Jones plantation in the Forest of Wake.

By 1832 Jones had amassed a collection of “artificial and natural curiosities,” which he donated to The University of North Carolina (I’ll have to hunt that down), and owned 612 acres near the Forest of Wake. In 1832 Jones cashed out and sold his Wake Forest land to the Baptist State Convention which became the location of Wake Forest College and later to be called Wake Forest University.

After selling his land, Jones beat it out of town and relocated to Bolivar, Tennessee where he started another plantation.

In a cruel twist, the State of Tennessee later bought his land in Tennessee and built the Western Hospital for the Insane.

Thank God that’s not was built in Wake Forest. It would have given our sweet little town an entirely different vibe. Not that there is anything wrong with the insane.

But as it stands, a little discussed historical fact was the reality Jones owned slaves on his Wake Forest plantation. According to the Wake Forest Historical Museum, “In its inaugural year, the school’s seventy students lived in the former cabins of Dr. Jones’ enslaved workers and attended classes in the carriage house. The curriculum emphasized Greek, philosophy, Latin, and mathematics. All students and staff were required to spend half of each day doing manual labor on the plantation.” Great, you get to pay tuition and plow the fields. Kind of ironic that modern student loans have turned students into financial slaves. But that’s another topic.

The old well SEBTS coughed up and gave to the Wake Forest museum after the campus decided they didn't need it anymore.
The old 1911 well SEBTS coughed up and gave to the Wake Forest museum after the campus decided they didn’t need it anymore.

Jones apparently had a penchant for affiliating himself with oddly named people.

At one time he was engaged to Ruina who died and in 1819 he married her sister Temperance. They had two children, Montezuma and Octavia. Not a Sally in the bunch.

Jones also corresponded with notable figures of his day including Davy Crockett, Benjamin Rush, and James Madison.

Colonel Davy Crockett had written to Calvin Jones about selling his lands to pay his debts and his desire to lease some of Jones’s Tennessee lands where the mental hospital was later built.

Today the grounds of the Calvin Jones plantation house are to be celebrated in numerous ways. Not only did we get the slave issue resolved but the Wake Forest College beat feet out of town to Winston-Salem, induced by cash.

On one hand that’s a good thing. If the college had remained imagine how different our sleepy little town would be today. Chalk one up for SEBTS keeping it small.

Sure, Wake Forest University has a football team, but we’ve got quaintness and charm. I’ll take that any day of the week.

Tending to a loved ones grave across the tracks.
Tending to a loved ones grave across the tracks.

A walk around the Calvin Jones house is an unexpected treat. I head off to the left of the house and was utterly surprised how close the old town cemetery actually is to this part of town. Just across the tracks, the site of caring family members tending to a grave of a loved one was a moment of buttery melancholy.

The location of the old cemetery is another connection to a much different past than new residents would expect. A drive through the old burial location will revel a number of Confederate soldier graves and at certain times of the year a fresh crop of small Confederate flags seems to appear on the burial sites with CSA markings.

But there are new sights at the Calvin Jones house to bring you back to present day as you walk around. Small gardens, birdhouses, lush plantings and even a very tranquil fountain can be found.

The gentle fountain out back.
The gentle fountain out back.

I have to admit to resting on the bench near the fountain in the back, between the house and the museum, and feeling perfectly at peace while I rested. That’s got to the the secret bench for others to find as well to seek some contemplative solitude.

More of my photographs from my Sunday morning visit can be found below.

I’m a bottom line kind of guy so here it is. If you are a fan or alumnus of Wake Forest University you will be entering sacred ground as you visit the Wake Forest University Historical Museum. You’ll be stunned by the history and enthralled by the story of how your beloved school grew from a humble start.

But for those of us visiting Wake Forest, or living in Wake Forest, forget all that stuff. The Calvin Jones house is just a really nice place to visit on a beautiful day and to take a few minutes to enjoy some free beauty, peace and quiet.

Not visiting this place for all those years I’ve been in Wake Forest turns out to have been my loss.

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