The Rock Gym

In 1937, the school board decided that the Allen Jay School needed a gym. It was during the Great Depression, and the County Commission said that no funds were available. So, the school board proposed that parents, students and community members build a gym themselves. It was suggested that a member of the board contact the Works Progress Administration (WPA) office in Winston-Salem and ask for help.

After much discussion, the WPA approved the plans and said they could complete the project and furnish 80% of the labor. The necessary planning paperwork was filled out and sent in to Washington, then for six months there was no reply, and people were very upset. They contacted one of the Senators for North Carolina, and arrangements were made for a meeting in Washington.

Five members of the committee went to Washington, expecting to meet with the chairman of the WPA. Instead, the Senator told them they would be meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and that for security reasons, only two members of the committee would be allowed into the Oval Office.

The very nervous committee chair, a member of Springfield, told the President how the community had worked to see that their children could have a gymnasium. He told the President that the plans had been sent to the WPA office in Washington six months ago and they had not heard a word on any progress. The President picked up his phone and told the switchboard to connect him to the Office of the WPA. Upon being put directly through to the Chairman of the WPA, President Roosevelt said, “Jack, about the Allen Jay gymnasium project in North Carolina, I want you to find the number of it and get it unstuck!”

The meeting had lasted about fifteen minutes. Within a month, word was received that full approval from Washington, D.C. had been granted. The Guilford County Commissioners now approved.

However, the State Board of Education said that for safety and engineering reasons, that the building couldn’t be of wood construction. The Allen Jay School Board suggested that the area had lots of rocks and stones. If the students, the entire community, all worked together, enough rocks and stones could be gathered to complete the gymnasium. Since the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had much experience in building with local stone, they recommended that stone be used.

Rocks and stones were gathered, brought to the school by pick-up trucks, school buses (in lunch pails and sacks) by students, in dump trucks, by volunteers, and by horsedrawn wagons. The whole community participated. Work was started on cutting timber and a portable sawmill was set up. Parents and volunteers worked in the evenings sawing timber into necessary beams and lumber; the rocks and stones piled up at the school yard, and then the building actually began, by the school community, by the CCC and by the WPA.

The Rock Gym still stands today, a tribute to all the people involved and to the great spirit and determination of the people of the Allen Jay community. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Condensed from a Memorial Sunday talk given by Pat Brower in 2006

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