N. Main St. at Ridgeway St.
nickname: Yellow Jackets
colors: Blue & Gold
Warrenton High School could trace its roots back to 1786, when Warrenton Academy was founded. The school operated continuously from that time, making WHS not only one of the oldest schools in North Carolina, but one of the oldest in the United States. As was common at that time, Warrenton Academy was probably operated in a house, church or one-room schoolhouse. In 1800, the school trustees raised funds to build a larger structure. (I couldn’t find a record of where this new building was located, but it is likely it was near Plummer Street.)
At some point between 1800 and 1818, the name was changed to Warrenton Male Academy, possibly to distinguish it from the Warrenton Female Academy. The girl’s academy was opened in 1808 by Jacob Mordecai, a former teacher at Warrenton Academy. The few records I could find indicate Warrenton Male Academy flourished all through the 1800’s. The Female Academy seems to have been extremely successful through the 1820’s, but a shortage of qualified teachers and increased competition from other academies seem to point to its demise in the 1830’s.
In 1885, the Fitts-Mordecai-Plummer house at 210 Plummer Street housed the first school named Warrenton High School. It was an African-American school devoted to training teachers and ministers. The name was changed to Shiloh Institute within a very few years.
Meanwhile, Professor John Graham had been operating a successful boy’s school in Ridgeway. In 1897 his school was destroyed by a fire. He then took over the Warrenton Male Academy, moving most of his old students to Warrenton. He renamed the academy Warrenton High School, but it was most frequently referred to as John Graham High School. He purchased the Somerville home to serve as a dormitory and dining hall.
Sometime around 1905, Prof. Graham opened Warrenton High School to girls and purchased the Fitts-Mordecai-Plummer house to serve as the girl’s dormitory. (The Shiloh Institute, who owned the house, moved its school to Norlina.) On the 1915-1916 list of schools recognized by the Commission on Accredited Schools of the Southern States, Warrenton High School is listed under “Private Schools”, with Prof. John Graham as the principal. A similar report in 1920 still listed Prof. Graham as the principal.
In the fall of 1969, the John R. Hawkins High School was closed and all Hawkins students were transferred to Graham High School. (See our blog post about John R. Hawkins High School.)
Oddly enough, I could find very few references to Warrenton High School (or John Graham High School) after 1920. The Warrenton High School building at the corner of Main & Ridgeway was designed by noted architect Christopher Sayre in 1922. The last graduating class at Warrenton High School was in 1981. I’m just assuming that in the fall of 1981, all students moved into the new Warren County High School. I didn’t find any information about what happened to the school building after 1981.
1961 – Lost to Windsor in the Class A State Finals, 15-14
1962 – Lost to Warsaw James Kenan in the Class A State Finals, 38-23
1962 – Lost to Colfax in the Class A State Finals, 53-47
Alumni (plus one)
A Few Notable Graduates…
– Dr. Frank Porter Graham graduated around 1904. He became a US Senator and president of UNC.
– NC Rep. Philip Franklin Hanes graduated in 1907.
– US Sen. Herbert C. Bonner graduated in 1909.
– Robert B. House, the first Chancellor of UNC, graduated around 1910.
Good things must have been in the air in 1912 at Warrenton High School.
– NC State Senator Archibald Cree Gay graduated from Warrenton High School in 1912.
– NC State Representative Robert H. Rouse graduated from Warrenton High School in 1912.
– Franklin Wills Hancock, Jr., graduated from Warrenton High School 1912. He became a NC State Senator, State Representative, US Representative and US Senator.
Simon Terrell graduated around 1942. In 2006, he was inducted into the NCHSAA Hall of Fame. Here’s part of his induction biography:
Terrell, born in Warrenton in 1924, was a three-sport star at John Graham High school. After a 3-year stint in the Merchant Marine, he was hired as an emergency teacher/coach at Warrenton. He guided the football team to the only undefeated season in school history; coached the girls and boys basketball teams to county championships and won the league title in baseball.
You can read the rest of Simon’s bio here.
Do you remember Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice? In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s he was a pretty good football player at UNC and for the Washington Redskins. He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame. There’s a statue of him outside the Charlie Justice wing of the UNC athletic center. Anyway, he received his high school diploma from Warrenton High School even though he never attended a day of classes there. Charlie left Lee Edwards High School early to enlist during World War II. He finished his high school coursework in the Navy. When he was finishing up his All-American stint at UNC, it was discovered he didn’t have a high school diploma. Warrenton recognized free publicity when it saw it, so in 1950, Charlie walked down the aisle of Warrenton High School and received a high school diploma with the other graduates.
There were 43 graduates in the Class of 1940.
There were 199 graduates in the Class of 1976. All their names are listed in this 1976 Commencement Program from John Graham High School.
The Sept. 3, 1951 issue of Life Magazine featured a pictorial on Warrenton’s Hospitality Weekend, a 3-day party for high school and college students on summer break.
Here’s a website about reunions, cruises and doings of the Class of ’76.
There are over 300 Graham High School alumni on Classmates.com.
Warrenton, NC has its own Facebook group.
Warrenton High School Class of 1911
Warrenton High School 1931 Women’s Basketball team
Warrenton, NC Courthouse & Confederate Monument
Recent photos of the Warrenton High School building
I believe all the above is accurate, but some of it was assumptions on my part based on logic and darts. For example, the class of ’76 website is decorated with images of a stinging bug and they had gold(ish) and black table settings in their 30th reunion photos. And one guy had on a yellow shirt with black trim. Therefore WHS/JGHS became the Yellow and Black Yellowjackets according to me. (But some alert alumni have since corrected me. The colors were Blue & Gold. Was I right about Yellowjackets?)
If you have any corrections, memories, or additional info about WHS/JGHS, please leave a comment below.
Not being from the area, I knew nothing about Warrenton/John Graham when I researched the original post. Based on comments & emails I’ve received, it’s clear that everyone agrees the name of the school was John Graham High School. However, the original name was Warrenton High School. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association always refers to it as Warrenton High School in its record books. But, they do occasionally call it John Graham in Hall of Fame narratives and other correspondence. So, I have a theory; I’m hoping someone will do some research to confirm this.
My Theory of the Day: At some point, the name of the school was officially changed in honor of its founder, John Graham. Since there was already another Graham High School (in Graham, North Carolina), the NCHSAA continued to call it WHS to prevent confusion. Everywhere else I’ve seen it referred to as Warrenton High School (news articles, etc.), simply means “the high school in Warrenton.”
And all that probably means nothing to anybody but me. It just drives me crazy that I can’t figure out how one school can have two names. Then again, I’m still baffled about how a June bug can be fluorescent green in the South and brown in the North.