Fate of New Bern’s historic F.R. Danyus School remains in question after Board of Education decision

One of New Bern’s most historic school sites has been declared surplus property and will be offered to the county for purchase.

During the Craven County Board of Education’s October 19 meeting, the board voted to declare the former F.R. Danyus School as surplus property that is “unnecessary or undesirable for public school purposes.” The property, which is located at 700 West Street, will be offered to the Craven County Board of Commissioners (BOC) for purchase at fair market value, according to the resolution approved last week. 

The resolution states that if the BOC chooses not to purchase the F.R. Danyus property it can be disposed of by methods “including, but not limited to the negotiated sale and upset bid process.”

The history of the school site stretches back to a time when educational facilities in the United States were segregated by law, and when schools for Black students were often far inferior to those reserved for the local white population.   

According to information from the New Bern Historical Society, the property’s history as an educational site dates back to 1870, when a small wood-framed building known as the Red Schoolhouse opened there. The name was changed to the West Street Graded School before fire destroyed the structure in 1905. It was replaced by a two-story brick building two years later and became the first brick graded schoolhouse erected for Black students in the state, thanks largely to the efforts of its principal, John T. Barber.

The school continued to grow over the years, with new buildings and a high school department added in the 1920s. The school’s first high school class, consisting of 10 members, graduated in 1925. 

After Barber’s death in 1945, West Street’s high school department was moved to a new location on Cobb Street, J.T. Barber High School, which now serves as the site of J.T. Barber Elementary. 

Barber was succeeded at West Street by Frederick R. Danyus, an accomplished teacher and administrator who served until 1963.

According to information from the National Register of Historic Places listing for New Bern’s Cedar Street Recreation Center, in the late 1940s Danyus allowed the school’s brickmason class, under the guidance of their teacher, Jasper G. Hayes, to help construct the building, now known as the Jasper G. Hayes Omega Center. A group of World War II veterans who were also enrolled in a brick laying class at West Street assisted in the construction as well.

Fire struck the school again in 1969, destroying the historic 1907 brick structure. Newly constructed classrooms, an office and a library complex opened on the site in 1971. Three years later West Street was renamed and dedicated as the F.R. Danyus School.

Throughout the 1980s the school served New Bern’s fifth grade students. F.R. Danyus closed its doors permanently on June 30, 1991, according to information provided by Jennifer Wagner, director of public relations for Craven County Schools. 

The site is not currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

By Todd Wetherington, co-editor. Send an email with questions or comments.