north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



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      William James Bingham was born in Chapel Hill in 1802, while his father Reverend William Bingham taught briefly at the University of North Carolina. The elder Bingham went on to serve as principal at Hillsborough Academy from 1813 until about 1815, when he left in order to establish his own school. Known as Mount Repose, Bingham’s school was about 10 miles from Hillsborough. When Reverend Bingham died in 1826, William James finished out the year as principal at Mount Repose and then closed the school in order to take the helm of Hillsborough Academy. He remained there until 1844 when, like his father before, he left to open a school at Oaks, northwest of Chapel Hill.

      An 1844 Hillsborough Recorder advertisement for the new school at Oaks, stated Bingham’s “leading motive is to educate his own sons in the country; and his selection has been made with special reference to this object.” He built a brick school building with a brick-columned piazza near his farmhouse. An entirely private academy, Bingham advertised his venture as “Select Classical and Mathematical School” and later as “W. J. Bingham’s Select School.” Although his school may have been known informally as the Bingham School, that name was not adopted until 1864.

      For his academy, Bingham accepted boys from ten to fourteen years old. Enrollment at the Oaks campus ranged from thirty to sixty pupils, with applications usually far exceeding the number of available seats. The school’s reputation as a classical academy attracted students from elite families who were willing to pay the annual tuition of $80, a fee that placed Oaks among the most expensive preparatory schools in the country. Willam James Bingham’s sons William and Robert joined their father as teachers at the Oaks and by 1857 it became known as “W. J. Bingham and Sons Select School.” The elder Bingham taught the preliminary courses with his sons taking care of the advanced levels.

      During the Civil War, the health of the younger William prevented him from serving in the regular army, though he eventually rose to militia colonel. Robert enlisted in early 1862, leaving William and his father, in declining health, to run the Oaks. William assumed daily operation of the school by 1864, and in December moved the campus to Mebaneville, closer to the railroad for easier access to supplies and travel for students. When William incorporated his Bingham School in 1864 it became a “military and classical academy.”

William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Robert I. Curtis, “The Bingham School and Classical Education in North Carolina, 1793-1873,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1996): 328-377
Carole Watterson Troxler and William Murray Vincent, Shuttle & Plow: A History of Alamance County, North Carolina (1999)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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