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Kivett Hall on the campus of Campbell University. The building was built in 1901, a year after a fire destroyed the campus of the former Buies Creek Academy. Photo courtesy of Campbell University.

In 1900, Buies Creek Academy was a growing, thriving school founded 13 years earlier by a young Baptist preacher named J.A. Campbell. His school was started with the idea that everybody — even young people growing up on farms in the most rural of areas — deserved an education, regardless of their means to pay for it.

On a near-freezing night in December of that year, the Academy and its large, wooden schoolhouse burned to the ground. Campbell was crushed — legend has it he ran from his home during the blaze and watched his dream crumble to the ground, helpless to stop the roaring fire from devouring his building.

Campbell would eventually rebuild — with the help of a local architect named Z.T. Kivett — and Kivett Hall (which still stands today) became the new centerpiece of the campus. A century ago, it was by far the tallest and grandest building in Harnett County. Today, it still stands — the iconic centerpiece of one of the state’s largest private universities.

When Robert E. Pomeranz of Sanford was appointed to the school’s fundraising cabinet in 1965 — shortly after the school jump from a junior college to a senior college (and 14 years before it became a university) — the school issued a press release that also went into detail about Campbell’s long-standing relationship with the City of Sanford, located just 27 miles from the main campus.

The release revealed that shortly after the fire destroyed the school in 1900, “a delegation from the Sanford neighborhood harnessed a team to a stout buggy and junketed across county lines into Harnett County to visit the hard-pressed headmaster.”

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“If you’ll move your school to Sanford,” the committee told J.A. Campbell, “We’ll put you up a building and help you find whatever money you need to get you running again.”

Campbell declined, of course. He would later receive offers to move his school to the city of Wake Forest after its school moved to Winston-Salem. But Campbell was determined to keep his school in Buies Creek. Today, Campbell University is a Division I university with more than 6,500 students. It’s home to a new medical school, a school of engineering and a nursing school. And it’s home to the only law school in North Carolina’s capital city.

Of course, it was nowhere near that level when the offer to move to Sanford was made. And who knows what the school’s future would have been had Campbell relented and took the offer. Certainly, Sanford would be different today — very likely, the school would have been located near the downtown area.

The story reminds me (the guy writing this) of a story I once heard (and cannot verify) that the North Carolina Zoo once seriously considered Sanford as its location before ultimately choosing Asheboro and opening in 1974. Sanford was considered because of its land availability and proximity to U.S. 1.

Full disclosure:  Rant Editor Billy Liggett works at Campbell University, and thus, has access to stories like this. If you have other stories about Sanford’s history, send them his way or comment below. We like stories. 

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