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A Regal Sentinel: Raleigh’s Thompson School

On the eastern fringe of downtown Raleigh an imposing Jacobean manor stands sentinel over the surrounding neighborhood. I am referring, of course, to the former Thompson School on East Hargett St. Although the school itself closed with the merger of the city and county public school systems in 1976, the building still bears a prominence in the community today as Wake County’s family services Thompson Center.

In 1907 the Raleigh school board opened the Thompson School in the antebellum mansion then standing on the site. That building itself had long served as Miss Sophia Partridge’s “Select School for Young Ladies” from the mid-1840s through the end of the Civil War.

Two other residences in the neighborhood also served as private schools during the ante bellum years. One of these was located in the Jordan Womble house, which still stands nearby.

Miss Partridge was a prominent Raleigh citizen of the period. Following the war she was instrumental in the establishment of the Confederate Cemetery in Oakwood.

She continued to reside in her Hargett St. home for many years after she closed her school. (A portion of the mansion grounds’s cut granite block retaining wall demarcating the edge of the property can still be seen today.)

In 1923 the Raleigh school board hired Atlanta architect C. Gadsen Sayre to design four modern school buildings. These were Wiley Elementary School on Saint Mary’s St., Washington High School for African-Americans on the southern extension of Fayetteville St., Hugh Morson High School near Moore Square, and Thompson Elementary School on Hargett St.

All four buildings were designed in the then popular Jacobean style. Wiley and Washington still function as public schools; Thompson is now the county’s Thompson Center, which offers services to socially disadvantaged clients. Hugh Morson, by far the largest of the four, was demolished in 1966 and replaced by the Federal Building.

After many years of benign neglect, the county rehabilitated Thompson in 1986 for use as the community services center. The surrounding neighborhood is now part of the city’s Downtown East redevelopment plan and is currently in the early stages of a residential resurgence and renewal.

Although only a fragment of the original ante bellum Hargett St. neighborhood exists today, Thompson School still regally reigns over the its neighbors.