ROANOKE RAPIDS — The community descended upon the cornerstone of the Roanoke Rapids High School Saturday morning, which held a time capsule from 1920 that was opened using the same masonic ceremony a century ago.
At about 10 a.m., people gathered in front of the century-old high school where a parade featuring the Roanoke Rapids Marching Band playing the school’s song “Faithful and True-Hearted,” members of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina Ancient, Free, and Accepted Masons, past homecoming queens and others, walked down Hamilton Street. Also featured as part of the parade was antique vehicles from the decades.
Soon after, a large crowd formed over the much-anticipated reveal of the cornerstone laid in 1920 on a Saturday dated Sept. 25.
An article from The Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald (The Herald) on Oct. 1, 1920, read the laying of the cornerstone of then named Junior-Senior High School with full masonic honors. The North Carolina Grand Lodge of Masons conducted the ceremony, in which a copper box was deposited in the recess of the stone containing various items.
At the same spot where the ceremony took place 100 years ago, Principal Jeff White welcomed everyone and said he graduated from the same school in 1990. He recognized alumnus retired U.S. Air Force Capt. Bill Robinson seated behind him, who is the longest-held prisoner of war in U.S. history, spending seven and a half years in Vietnam. White also thanked the school district board of trustees, city law enforcement, first responders, the masonic lodge, elected officials and the Roanoke Rapids High School Alumni & Friends Association.
“One hundred years ago, Samuel Patterson saw the fulfillment of a dream,” he said. “His vision was to create a school that would be the symbolism of the power of education. Designed by Hobart Upjohn, this high school was built to be the centerpiece of this community. When this school was built, it was named the largest and finest high school in the state.”
White mentioned the 100th class of graduates to walk across the school’s historical stage had something in common with the first graduating class.
“Both classes lived during a pandemic,” he said. “As a result, masks, quarantine, lockdowns and school closures were familiar terms to the students 100 years ago, as they are today. We have learned over the hundred years that challenges are inevitable. But this school — this beautiful, historic old school continues to produce graduates who embody Sam Patterson’s dream, the power of education. And yes, I’m a Yellow Jacket for life.”
The audience applauded and then stood for the national anthem played by the school’s marching band. Afterward, Grand Master R. David Wicker Jr. took to the podium to invoke the beginning of the same ceremony held a century ago.
“It’s an honor to be here this morning to celebrate the rededication of this cornerstone and this high school after 100 years,” Wicker said. “The ceremony that the grand lodge will be conducting this morning is the same ceremony that was performed 100 years ago when the cornerstone was originally laid. We have assembled on this splendid occasion for the purpose of relaying the foundation stone for Roanoke Rapids High School. It represents the ambitious desires of those who provide for themselves a more suitable high school for the education of the youth of Roanoke Rapids.”
He then called forth Grand Steward Philip R. Johnson to ascertain the stone was in proper position and to make a proclamation.
“By authority of the most Worshipful Grand Master, I am now command and require all here assembled preserve silence and to observe due order during these ceremonies,” Johnson said. “I make this proclamation to the south, to the west and to the east.”
The air fell silent as Wicker banged the gavel and asked the audience to rise.
“Before entering into any great or important undertaking, we should first invoke the blessing of deity,” he said.
Wicker then called upon Senior Grand Warden A. Gene Cobb Jr., who is past Grand Master, to lead in prayer. He then called upon Grand Marshall Secretary Johnathan A. Underwood.
“It has been the custom on occasions like the present to deposit within the foundation stone certain memorials of the period in which it was erected,” Wicker said. “So that in the lapse of ages, if the fury of the elements or the slow but certain ravages of times should lay bear the foundation, an endearing record may be found by succeeding generations to bear testimony of the energy, industry and culture of our time.”
Wicker asked Underwood if the such deposits were made and placed within the stone’s foundation.
“It appears such a deposit was made,” Underwood replied.
Wicker commanded Underwood to reveal the 100-year-old contents, which he removed out of the copper box inside the recess of the stone still in place with the building and placed the items on a wooden tray to his right held by Johnson.
According to the Roanoke Rapids Herald, Oct. 1, 1920, article, items placed in the copper box were:
The Holy Bible
The Masonic Code
The Program of Widow’s Son Lodge No. 519 for 1920
The Roanoke Rapids Herald issue of Sept. 24, 1920
The Roanoke Rapids Herald industrial issue of July 5, 1918
The article included a statement showing:
Enrollment of the school the first year of its operation
Enrollment of the school 1920
Names of the present Board of School Trustees
Names of the Building Committee of the Junior-Senior High School
Name of the superintendent of its construction
A 1920 copper coin
Four of the items, the Bible, The Roanoke Rapids Herald issue of Sept. 24, 1920, the Masonic Code of the Grand Lodge of N.C. of 1915 book and a copper coin, were shown in the tray.
Underwood announced to the audience of the contents, which drew subtle laughter from the audience at the mentioning of The Herald paper that had the headlines “Nationwide Fight Against Disease” and “Corner Stone Laying Saturday Afternoon” columned next to each other.
The books were worn, but the Holy Bible had a faded sub-title that appeared to read “Sunday School Scholars Edition.”
Wicker then asked if the new deposits were prepared, to which Underwood confirmed.
Items mentioned during the ceremony:
A RRHS face mask from the 100th graduating class
Invitation ticket to the 100th commencement exercises of RRHS that took place on May 28, 2021
The Herald Sept. 21, 2021, commemorative edition, which has served the Roanoke Valley and Lake Gaston areas for 107 years
Lamenated documents to include photographs of the marching band, sports and athletic teams, the school, letters from the principal, elected officials, alumni association and photos of technology used in the school in 2021.
A copper penny dated 2021
A silver dollar noting the 100th anniversary dating to 1921
A new silver dollar from 2021
A Class of 2020 mug of the 100th graduating class and their names
A masonic ceremonies book used by the grand lodge
A pin denoting the 250th anniversary of the founding of the provincial grand lodge in 2021
An item later added was a printed article of Saturday’s ceremony by RRspin.
After announcing items that would be placed in the cornerstone, people in the audience began shouting, asking if the Bible would go in as well.
With a grin, Underwood said the Bible will remain and be placed once again in the cornerstone.
The audience applauded.
A second Bible was placed in the cornerstone as well.
The ceremony continued with the masons examining the stone to find if the craftsmanship is true.
Wicker then called on Deputy Grand Master Larry B. Thompson Jr., who carried the tool called a square. Thompson explained the square morally represents virtue and its masonic use is to square their work. He applied the tool to the cornerstone and reported, “I found the stone to be square. The craftsman have performed their duty.”
Wicker then called upon Cobb, who held the tool called a level. Cobb said the level morally represented equality and is masonically used to lay horizontals. He applied the tool to the stone and reported, “The stone is level, the craftsman have done their work.”
A Junior Grand Warden was called with a tool he called a plumb, which he said morally teaches rectitude of conduct and tests perpendiculars. He applied the plumb to the stone and reported, “The stone is perpendicular. Their craftsman have performed their duty.”
Wicker said the proper elements of masonry had tested the cornerstone.
“I find the craftsmen have skillfully and safely performed their duties. Therefore I declare the stone to be well-formed true and trusty and correctly laid. According to the rules of our ancient craft, let the elements of consecration now be presented,” he said.
The same members who measured the stone returned each one at a time hold three items. One brought a chalice and laid corn on the stone. Another brought a chalice of wine and poured it on the stone as it dripped on the side. Lastly, a chalice of oil was poured onto the stone.
After the final laying, Wicker approached the cornerstone and tapped it with the gavel. He then asked everyone to stand and members of the masonic lodge turned their hands together, facing up and down and slowly clapped.
“Be it known to you that we are lawful masons,” Wicker said to the audience. “True and faithful to the laws of our country and engaged by solemn obligation to erect magnificent buildings to be serviceable to the brethren and to the citizens at large, to revere God — the great architect of the universe, we have among us concealed from the eyes of all men secrets which cannot be divulged and which never been revealed. But these secrets are lawful and honorable and are not repugnant to the laws of God or man. They are entrusted in peace and harmony to the masons of ancient times and having been faithfully transmitted to us.”
Speeches from representatives of various groups came afterward.
Paris Bradley, executive board secretary of the RRHS Student Council, mentioned, “It’s been said that well-designed school buildings contribute to the success of students who attend. This building was designed with a purpose in mind. To this day, the lions and owls remain fixtures on the front of the building, reminding us as we walk to our classrooms of the power of education. I’m proud to be a student here and proud to the many people who came before me to do great things in the community and around the world.”
Roanoke Rapids Graded School District Chairman Jay Carlisle of the Board of Trustees thanked his fellow board members and the alumni association.
“The vision of the community of Roanoke Rapids to create a school that gives the children of the community more opportunities by ensuring equity and access to education lives today through the mission and vision of the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District,” Carlisle said.
He continued and said that even though the classrooms look different today, outfitted with 21-century technology, the purpose remains the same to make sure the children of the area have access to high-quality education.
“But that commitment to excellence and a passion to education in mind, our faculty and staff continue to reach new levels of distinction every day with the support of the community, stakeholders, and families who entrust us with their students,” Carlisle said. “I believe that I speak for the entire Board of Trustees when I say that I am proud of Roanoke Rapids High School and the entire Roanoke Rapids Graded School District.”
Mayor Emery Doughtie thanked everyone for the honor to speak.
“Today is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and my family,” Doughtie said.
He said one of his goals has been and continues to be working together with the school district. The results yielded the Manning track, the renovation of the tennis court at T.J. Davis Recreation Center, the joint use of the Kirkwood Adams Community Center and the aquatic center, Doughtie said.
“All of these joint projects along with today’s celebration have been made possible by the efforts of all of your city employees, the Roanoke Rapids Alumni Association, high school sports club and our band and our chorus,” he said.
Chairman Vernon J. Bryant of the Halifax County Board of Commissioners greeted everyone.
“Good morning on this beautiful Saturday morning,” Bryant said proudly. “God is good, isn’t he?”
He gave a speech for the future supporters of the Roanoke Rapids High School. Bryant said he was honored to write a letter to be placed in the time capsule inside the cornerstone.
“Halifax County has a very proud legacy of appreciating and preserving our history to share with future generations,” he said. “Roanoke Rapids High School stands as a beautiful sentinel of that history.”
Representative on behalf of U.S. Senator Tom Tillis, Trey Lewis, spoke and said the same ceremony was similarly conducted at the U.S. Capitol by the masons. Lewis then read a statement from Tillis and then presented a U.S. flag to White that was flown of the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Michael Wray also gave remarks and presented a N.C. flag flown over the General Assembly.
Remarks were also given by State Board of Education member J. Wendell Hall.
Interim Superintendent Julie Thompson also provided remarks. Thompson said she is honored to be serving as interim superintendent and highlighted the school district’s new motto, “Together we succeed.”
The ceremony had the Roanoke Rapids High School Concert Choir and Alumni/Community Choir sing “America, the Beautiful.”
A closing prayer was held, and the RRHS Marching Yellow Jackets played “Faithful and True-Hearted.”
To add remarks from the past, The Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald article on Oct. 1, 1920, provided a quote from the school’s architect, Hobart B. Upjohn, from that Saturday at the ceremony a century ago:
“”Briefly, the ideal of architecture is simplicity and honesty. Simplicity in design, in the relation of parts, in the introduction of ornaments properly placed and sparingly used, and honesty in the expression of the design so that we will feel the elements of its construction and get a sense of satisfaction that the building is well built structurally; and that it expresses and carries out in every sense the purpose for which it is built; and how each style has as its enduring foundation a definite principle of construction behind it.
“The introduction of electricity, of hygiene, biology, physics, chemistry, domestic, science and so on caused the high school to be a necessity and not a luxury. It comes from the desire to place before the youth the range of vision and greatest choice in a profession that we may develop the best that is in our boys and girls. These are some of the active forces then that have created the high school.
“Its design at the same time was always before the architect. While I do not feel that the goal has been reached in many things great advances have been made.
“The building we have officially started and blessed is designed to contain twenty-five class rooms, with an ultimate capacity of about sixty. It will contain, besides, an auditorium capable of seating two thousand persons, a stage which will take any play on the road, and a gymnasium fully equipped with a swimming pool twenty-six feet wide by sixty feet long and adequate showers and lockers for both sexes.
“But I am asked, why did you choose Elizabethan architecture as your style? First, perhaps, because it has been used in England in all the great centers of learning, as at Oxford, Eton, Cambridge and so on. It typifies education to us instinctively, but secondly, and for a better reason, it is most easily adopted to the requirements of our modern schools for light and air, the windows in this style being the great feature.
“We have endeavored to follow strength with simplicity, beauty with practicality and honesty with usefulness. There no doubt, will be many criticisms made, both for and against, but withal let me say we have made an honest endeavor, to reach the highest ideals of what we believe such a building should be.
“In due course of time this building will be passed over to you for your safe keeping. It is my ambition that it will stand as an educator in style and as a pleasure to look upon, but you, my friends, have the privilege to carry forward the torch of learning by developing the interior after my work is done. Its walls should be hung with pictures of the great masterpieces of architecture and painting. Sculpture and bas-reliefs should adorn its stairs and auditorium. Paintings can be introduced to give gaiety and life to the scheme.
“By these means and in such surroundings the student will find joy and uplift in his work here, and will forget the hard drudgery coincident with getting an education, and no more will be said as did Shakespeare: ‘The boy goes unwillingly to school.’
“And so my friends, I extend to you my heartiest congratulations and good wishes that this building may stand forever, for God, for Country and for the advancement of you, my fellow citizens, and may God bless you in your undertaking.”