The Burwell School


A place of beauty and history
Open to the public Wednesday - Sunday
Free admission

Anna Burwell

1810 - 1871

The Burwell School Historic Site brings important 19th century history alive for 4,500 visitors a year.  The three buildings (house, classroom building and "necessary") stand on two green, shaded acres on Churton Street in Hillsborough's Historic District; the site is one of the earliest in the area to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From 1835 - 1857 this property was the home of the Rev. Robert Armistead Burwell, his wife, Margaret Anna Robertson Burwell, and their twelve children.  For twenty of those years they operated a landmark girl's academy for both day and boarding students, Mr and Mrs. Burwell's Academy for Young Ladies.  As an antebellum school in the south, the school was available only for white girls and tuition was charged.  Over 200 girls from NC and other states pursued a "classical English education" through a four-year course of study, with an emphasis on composition, literature, grammar, mathematics and science, French, art, music, philosophy and more.  Mrs. Burwell was the central force of the school whose goal was to create "thorough scholars and useful members of society."  At least five schools were operated by former Burwell School students,  and the Burwell family also later led the Charlotte (NC) Female Academy (now Queens University) and Peace Institute in Raleigh, NC (now William Peace University).

After the departure of the Burwell family in 1857, the property was home to a series of families, notably that of Josiah Collins III of Somerset Place plantation in eastern NC.   The extended Collins family family took "refuge" there from the Civil War and the house was so filled and busy with activity it was nicknamed "the Beehive."   Two Collins sons married Hillsborough girls, both of whom had attended the School.  Later the property was owned by Dr. John Spurgeon, a prominent dentist, and his wife Carrie, whose mother had attended the Burwell School.

The property was acquired in the 1960's by the newly-established Historic Hillsborough Commission, which raised the funds to restore the buildings and open it to the public as a historic site.  The Commission raises all funds locally to operate the site through grants, fundraisers, and donations.

For more information on visiting,  click here.  


The real story of Mary and her little lamb



Did you know that there was a real Mary and a real lamb?   The beloved nursery rhyme has a fascinating and heartwarming story behind it.   This song has been a part of childhood since 1830!  

Join Burwell docent and teacher, Carrie Currie, for Last Friday, September 29, (rescheduled from August 25) as she tells you the whole story of the schoolgirl and her faithful companion -- and there will be a crafts table, wool and fleece to feel, (and a little to take home!!) and a weaving demonstration from Sun Mountain Weavers.

Admission is free.   Register HERE.

See you at the Burwell School!


Keckly Bicentennial Year Planned for 2018



Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly was born into slavery in February, 1818, almost 200 years ago.  She spent seven tumultuous and pivotal years in Hillsborough (1835 - 1842)  as an enslaved member of the Burwell household, during which she reports she was subjected to several harsh beatings and the unwanted attentions of a local man, which resulted in the birth of a son whom she named George.  

Elizabeth and her young son returned to Virginia to serve in the household of Robert Burwell's sister Annand her husband, Hugh Garland, who moved his family to St. Louis.  There Elizabeth was established in a dressmaking business which for some years supportd the Garlands.  She married James Keckly there, and although the marriage was not a success she retained her married name.   Mrs. Keckly purchased her freedom in 1855 and by 1859 had a clientele of prominent customers in Washington, DC.  She created many dresses for First Lady Mary Lincoln, and the two developed a close friendship during difficult times for the First Lady.  Always an activist in support of those in need, Mrs. Keckly helped to establish an organization to support freed slaves.  After the assassination of Lincoln she wrote an account of her life: Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.  

Mrs. Keckly continued her dressmaking business into the 1890's, then taught sewing and dressmaking at Wilberforce University in Ohio.  She helped to train and launch many young women of color in careers in dressmaking and teaching. She lived her fina years in quiet retirement as a paying boarder at a home for destitute women and children that she had helped to found.  She was always observed to be a woman of unfailing dignity.

Elizabeth Keckly died in 1907 in Washington at the age of 89 soon after a stroke.  

The opening event of the Keckly bicentennial year is a program on the African American communities of Hillsborough in the early 1800's, presented by Reginal Hildebrand, PhD, Professor Emeritus in History at UNC-Chapel Hill, to be held at Dickerson Chapel AME Church in Hillsborough on February 11, 2018.

More events and details for the Keckly bicentennial observance will be announced in the coming months.  We hope you'll join us in learning more about this remarkable woman.