Retrospective

Selections from University Archives
Writer: 
November 30, 2008
Trinity Park School Students

Trinity Park School students relax in their dorm room. Duke University Archives

These days, Duke's undergraduate admissions officers find themselves sifting through piles of applications that represent every state, as well as dozens of foreign countries.

But this was not always the case.

A century ago, before Duke was even Duke, many admitted students received their pre-college training right here on campus.

Before moving to Durham in 1892, Trinity College, Duke's predecessor, had operated a preparatory school in its Randolph County location, in part to help ready students for the rigors of college. After the move, administrators soon set to work to create a Durham prep-school counterpart. Under the direction of the college, Trinity Park School opened in 1898 on the northern edge of present-day East Campus.

Originally, the school served the important function of annually providing fresh crops of well-qualified first-years. But as the public-school system grew in North Carolina, Trinity Park's enrollment started to fall. By the summer of 1922, the board of trustees decided to close the school and use the buildings for the burgeoning undergraduate class of Trinity College.

In Trinity and Duke, 1892-1924: Foundations of Duke University, Earl W. Porter writes of the school: "It had held the line for Trinity until the public schools could arrive."

One of the few physical remnants of the school is Bivins Hall, the red-brick building that now holds theater department offices as well as staff and faculty offices for the dance and Duke in New York arts and media programs. Bivins was originally built as a dormitory and named for Trinity Park School's first headmaster, Joseph F. Bivins. The current Branson theater building was constructed using materials recycled from the school's original Branson Hall, which was torn down in 1935.

The prep school's small campus also included the Asbury Building, which was located near the site of the present-day Mary Duke Biddle Music Building and was demolished in 1974, and Lanier Hall, York Dining Hall, and the Harnett and Drummond buildings, all of which either burned down or were razed in the 1920s and 1930s.