FAIRMONT — While driving five miles south of Fairmont on N.C. 41 toward Marietta, it is easy to miss an old building tucked about 100 yards off the road in the Yellowhammer Community.
Once known as Yellowhammer School, it was built more than a century ago as a single-room school for grades first through eighth, with just under 500 square feet of space for learning. For decades it sat as an eyesore — aged and abandoned with years of brush concealing it from view. But when Ricky Parker, the building’s curator, looks at it, he sees a community gem.
“Me and my dog, Banjo, came up in here about five years ago and you couldn’t even see it,” Parker said. “You couldn’t see it from the highway.”
Parker said as he and Banjo sat on the steps, he thought to himself, “It’s a shame that there’s all this history in this one-room school house.
“I said, ‘I’m going to open it up to the world.’”
The school first opened its doors in 1909. It was named after a bird.
During that time students still rode to school by horse and buggy, said Charles Kemp, co-curator of the Border Belt Farmers Museum in Fairmont. The school had a potbelly stove to keep the students and teachers warm.
On the weekends, it was used for church services, Parker said.
The school changed in the mid-1920s when white students began leaving for more modern schools built in the area. It finally ceased operations in 1948 and has sat abandoned since.
“It just sat there with the greenery growing around and the trees growing up through it,” Kemp said. “It just sat there and it has been there ever since.
“Anybody that lives in South Robeson County knows that it’s there. It’s just covered completely by all of the foliage.”
Efforts to move the school to the Fairmont High School failed, as did an attempt to renovate the building in 2011. In 2016, Parker went to Kemp about trying again to restore the old building and getting it established as a historic site.
“I’ve tried to get the Historical Society and everybody I know of involved with history to help me,” Parker said.
Kemp formed a committee of local people interested in restoring the building. They met periodically to discuss renovations, but progress on the school stalled because of lack of money. Parker continued work on restoring the old school.
“Several factors caused a stoppage of these activities, but it didn’t stop Ricky Parker,” Kemp sad. “He has personally taken this Yellowhammer School under his wing.”
Parker cleared most of the foliage blocking it from view with a bush ax. He later had a contractor finish the clearing so that it’s visible from N.C. 41 and people can drive up to it.
The building was used to store hay bales for a time, so he cleared away numerous truckloads of hay. He also placed signage facing north and south on the road for passing travelers to see. Recently, Parker replaced the steps leading up to the school and two front doors.
Parker said that, surprisingly, the roof doesn’t leak, but there’s still a lot more to do.
“I’ve still got a lot of cleaning,” Parker said.
His next step is to level the structure, which tilts slightly to the right, and add a new foundation and flooring.
“I know how fervent he is about that. I know how serious he is,” Kemp said. “He’s the guy that at church one morning said ‘We need to do something about Yellowhammer School.’”
Few students who attended Yellowhammer School are still alive. Parker hopes the restored building can be something to give to the present generation and the next.
“I just love history so much, and I decided that there’s just too much history, and it’s too pretty to let it just grow up and be forgotten,” Parker said.
“Most of the people that went there are gone. Most of the people that are connected with people that went to school there, they’re up in age,” Kemp said. “That’s the sad part about history.”
Parker has no timeline on when the building will be complete — and is in no rush.
“One day at a time,” he said. “I’d rather do one thing at a time. This school is going to be here until it falls down, and I’m going to do everything to make sure it doesn’t fall down.”
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.