Northwest Randolph County had been significantly settled prior to the Revolutionary War, and though a few residents had been granted their lands, many were squatters with no legal claims to the properties. Afterwards, the new Untied States government confiscated the holdings of the English crown and sympathizers, and North Carolina began issuing grants making landowners of those who could afford the purchase. The 1779 Randolph County tax records show twenty-five 25 legal owners in Trinity Township.
The inhabitants of the area moved toward community in the 1830s as the education of their children pressed them to start a school. Little is known about the earliest years purportedly under the tutelage of one Allen Frazier. The fledgling school struggled until Brantley York, a newly-ordained Methodist deacon, assumed the teaching position in 1838. A decrepit rough-log building was replaced by a hewn-log structure that came to be known as Brown’s Schoolhouse after the property’s owner.
York would later describe these years as “truly onerous,” forced to mix teaching with fund-raising, but he pushed forward, raising enough capital so that by July 1839, a committee of five leaders headed by Nathan Hunt, Jr., were named to engage carpenters for the construction of a “modern,” frame building. Leaving the cabins behind, this new “education association” was designated Union Institute, its foundation being the mutual effort of Quaker and Methodist leadership. The new subscription academy’s success allowed York to add an assistant instructor, a pivotal figure who would greatly impact the school’s development.
Brown’s Schoolhouse, ca. 1850, Duke University Archives
Braxton Craven, Duke University Archives

Braxton Craven began teaching in the institute’s second year, but quickly had the role of principal thrust on him when York decided to pursue other endeavors. Craven, believed to be York’s second cousin, was raised in the austere Quaker home of a neighbor, where though he felt “oppressed,” he learned qualities that helped him bring great success to this new challenge. The school grew, and Craven did as well, obtaining honorary degrees for himself from other, larger institutions, including the University of North Carolina around 1851. It was at this time that Craven saw the need for the school to shift direction and join the “normal,” or teacher-training movement, convincing the state legislature to reincorporate it to Normal College. This allowed “certified” teachers to be graduated without outside examination, but the state funding it was also supposed to bring never materialized.

The need for financing was a constant task, and it led to Craven to the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In 1856, he convinced the association to adopt Normal College. It was three years later that the pivotal event came when, as acknowledgement of the new support, the school was renamed Trinity College.

By the time of the Civil War, the significance of the college had grown as had its physical presence. A large, three-story brick building dominated the campus. The area around the school burgeoned as well. It was incorporated by the North Carolina General Assembly and the charter ratified on April 12, 1869. The legislation declares “The Town shall be two miles long from north to south, and one mile wide from east to west, the center of the Town to be the center of the principal College Building,” and established an election for a town magistrate and five commissioners.

Braxton Craven continued as Trinity’s president for many years, keeping it alive during the lean post-war years, and beyond, until his death in 1882. Leadership passed through a few presidents until it settled in the hands of Doctor John F. Crowell, a Yale graduate, in 1887. Like Craven, Crowell was ambitious for the college, but his aspirations would bring an ill-wind for the community that had birthed the school.
Crowell believed moving the college to a more urban location would provide greater opportunities, and even though a rail line had recently brought easier access to the town, he was able to secure great funding from North Carolina tobacco magnate Washington Duke and industrialist Julian S. Carr. The trustees agreed to move the school to Durham when land was provided and building commitments arranged. By 1892, Trinity College had abandoned its namesake.
Trinity College students, 1891, Randolph County Public Library Historic Photograph Collection
The college had recently established a preparatory school, and the campus was assumed by it after the move. It remained until 1908 when it was reorganized into a true high school, Trinity High School, provided for students in the entire northwest quadrant of Randolph County. The county leased the recently renovated college buildings initially, purchased them in 1919, but demolished and replaced them in 1924. Columns from the original college lyceum were retained, however, and used for the new building’s auditorium. When that building was, in turn, taken down in 1981 after serving as a junior high for thirteen years, the columns were retained to create a commemorative gazebo on the site that also houses the Trinity College chapel’s bell.
In 1924, Trinity College became Duke University, renamed in honor of the family who had provided so much of its support. That same year, it was realized that the need for town governance had declined, and the charter for the town was rescinded.
During the mid-1990s, it became apparent that Trinity’s identity was becoming threatened by the surrounding cities of High Point, Thomasville, and Archdale, and a movement began to preserve it through reincorporation. In 1997, residents voted to officially reestablish the city.
Trinity High School, Randolph County Public Library Historic Photograph Collection
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