From the Free Press, August 1, 2004 and used with permission.

August 01,2004
Jason Spencer
Staff Writer

Just down the road from North Lenoir High School, another kind of class is held.

You probably can't use much of what you learn. But some spare change will buy you a snack, or you could walk away with a couple of apples for free. A prominent "conversation piece" comes in the form of a lone collard leaf, cured as if it were tobacco. And it's the perfect place for George Rouse to showcase his 30-inch peas.

Welcome to Bryan's Store, in the heart of Lenoir County's Institute community.

Today, it's little more than a hangout with frills. But the store stands as one of the few reminders of a small, but bustling, turn-of-the-century commercial center for those who lived and worked on farms in the northern part of the county.

"Back in the 1930s, I came over here with my daddy on a mule buggy … to get flour, coffee, sugar - the staple goods," Rouse said, leaning back in his chair.

"Back then, you raised all the other, didn't ya," added Thomas "Pee Wee" Williams, an Erwin native who eventually settled along Institute Road. "Chickens in the yard. Hogs in the pen."

The Lenoir Male and Female Seminary, also known as the Lenoir Collegiate Institute, or simply the Institute, had long closed its doors by the time Rouse began trekking to Bryan's Store with his father. (After all, "town was too far away," Pee Wee said.) But a handful of its buildings still stand, including the academy's primary building, which eventually became Institute United Methodist Church.

And of course, the name stuck.

In the last 100 years, Institute voluntarily has taken the gradual downgrade to quiet country village - on the outside. Inside Bryan's Store is another story. (Lots of them, actually.)

"This is a community job," said Edward Dawson, of La Grange. "Whoever comes out here first, opens it up."

Several people have keys. The store "opens" at about 3 p.m., and closes at dinnertime. It reopens at about 8 p.m., and closes at bedtime. Inside, you can get crackers, candy, something cold to drink or a pack of cigarettes.

"That's the cash register over there," Dawson said, motioning to a small round table. On it were three stacks of coins, all less than an inch high: quarters, dimes, nickels. Who stocks up on supplies? Whoever goes to Sam's Club first. (A Lance man comes by with the nabs, though.)

Frequenters, many of whom are veterans, use the honor system. But "if any strangers come up, we'll get up and wait on them," Dawson said.

Bryan's Store is housed in a plain, white one-room building at the intersection of Bryan-Hardy Road and Brothers Road. A soda machine is out front.

Dusty, time-worn shelves inside are stocked with some canned goods, like pork and beans or Vienna Sausages. In the corner, dried tobacco leaves hang. Against the wall, a stack of folding chairs rest. The occasional yellowed-photograph or hand-carved truism - "Sit long, talk much" - decorate the walls.

In the back, a plaque still in a clear plastic wrapper hangs showing Wheat Swamp Christian Church's gratitude to "the Bryan's Store Gang" for their participation in a fish fry.

A window air conditioning unit keeps them cool. A pot-bellied stove keeps them warm.

You'll find an old adding machine, and an old set of scales. A political poster of state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, is taped to an old barrel. (He stops by sometimes.)

"You can find most anything in here," Rouse said.

Despite the décor, the stories are new.

"I got my first tomato on my vine. It's about this big," Pee Wee said, making a circle with his thumb and index finger. "It's as red as a rose."

Like much of the county, agriculture has remained a conversational mainstay in Institute.

Take 83-year-old Jake Herring, for instance. In 1899, his grandfather bought 64 acres of farmland just west of the community for $640.

Bryan's Store "has been here as long as I have," he said. Herring remembers another one of Institute's three shops back then, a small grocery store that's no longer standing. Ben Wilson ran it.

Herring as a boy saw 96-pound bags of flour at the Wilson store, stacked from floor to ceiling. That business preformed remarkably during the Depression years, he said.

"Ninety-six pounds didn't last too long then - a whole family eating three meals a day," he said. "Now, my wife buys a 2-pound bag and it goes bad. Of course, you didn't have nabs and Pepsi-Cola back then. Everything you ate came off that table."

A small cardboard box sits on a table in Bryan's Store where the gang brings apples, peaches, tomatoes, okra - anything "extra" to come out of a garden. Whoever wants it goes home with it.

But the produce is just a fringe benefit. Get a dozen or so of the guys together, all talking at once, and you'll get the real taste of Bryan's Store. And keep in mind that enough discourse can uncover shared distant relatives.

"One of them took a dose of Castor Oil and it works on all of them, because they're all kin," Herring said, laughing.

"Everybody jokes, and tells one story right after another," he said. "They can tell you where the unknown soldier is in here."

Jason Spencer can be reached at (252) 527-3191, Ext. 237, or

Contributed by Martha Marble From a clipping found in the Free Press, date unknown, but may have been around 1950 as it mentions Mrs. Alice Hunter was 92 and she was born in 1858.

By Fred. Whitaker

NOTE: There are several pictures: Mrs. Alice Hunter, the Methodist Church, and the home (at that time) of Logan Hardy.


Legend holds that the Institute at Institute closed its doors because the railroad passed it by.

That may be. The tracks were laid through La Grange, four miles south, in 1857 (sic), and the following year the assembly bell stopped ringing for classes at the Lenoir Collegiate Institute in the northwest corner of Lenoir County.

It is just plain Institute now, without even the post office the community had at one time, but there is still an air about it that makes the passer-by wonder. That wonder is brought by even a passing glance at the unusual architecture of the homes there. Most of them were built as a part of the school.


In 1853 just three years short of a century ago, the residents felt the need of higher learning for their children and the children of others in Eastern North Carolina. They were joined by the settlers of the State's down east counties, and there began the construction of the Institute at Institute.

The father of Dr. J. Y. Joyner of La Grange, North Carolina's “Grand Old Man of Education”, was one of the trustees. Other names on the roster of the sponsors were Blaney Pridgen, John Timberlake, the Rev. John Dozier, Wilson Reed, and Jesse H. Hardy.

The trees were cut and lumber made for the construction. The homes went up – twin chimneys, flat pitched roofs, and wide porches. They were designed for boarding the students of the Institute. An assembly hall was built with upstairs classrooms for young men. Down the road was built the classroom building for the young women.

The school opened its doors in 1855 under the direction of the Rev. W. Henry Cunningham, a Methodist minister. The new school welcomed students from communities far away for those days, when travel was by horse-drawn wagon or buggy. There were some 10 teachers for the150 young women and men.

An advertisement in Lenoir County's weekly newspaper of April 1857, The American Advocate, stated the case and at the same time cast the shadow of the railroad four miles south across the school.


Situated in the County in a Moral and Healthy Neighborhood four miles north of Moseley Hall; the only Depot between Goldsboro and Kinston. Levi Branson, A. B., Principal of the Male Department, Miss Sarah L. Hampton in charge of Female. Expenses & Board exclusive of Washington and light, $6. Tuition per session of 21 weeks from $7.50 to $15. Ornamental branches, extra. One hundred and fifty students can be accommodated within one mile of the schools. Next session opens first of January. For circulars, apply to the Principal at Moseley Hall, Lenoir County, NC W. Henry Cunningham, Sec.

Thus was the Institute, the only one of higher learning east of Raleigh, which brought together the sons and daughters of planters of the days before the Civil War.


The only member of the student body of the Institute living today is Mrs. Alice Hunter of Kinston. She will be 92 years old on April 17, but she remembers. It was a strict school in the social sense. There were no dances which today have become an accepted part of any co-education school.

But there were picnics, baseball games and excitement at graduation time. Mrs. Hunter remembers one thing above all others of her school days she says she could run faster than any other girl at school.

The best memory of the Institute though, is a second-hand one. Logan Hardy, whose home was once a dormitory of the school, heard about it from his father, Stephen P. Hardy, Sr.

In the main assembly hall of the school over which were the classrooms for the young gentlemen, a plank, one by six inches, ran from the door to the pulpit in the front of the hall. On one side sat the young woman, and on the other the young men.


In later years the plank was removed when the assembly hall became the Methodist Church of the community, and the second floor classrooms were removed. But the habit of tradition still affects the congregation nearly a century later. A great many of the men and women go to the right and left of the center line even today, Hardy says.

That dividing line for the male and female students extended further than the assembly hall, though. There was a line across the dusty roadway outside too. It could not be crossed to the east by the men, nor to the west by the young women, except by permission of their principals.

There is left no written record of the gaiety and activities of the students of the students of the Institute, but hearsay passes one down. There was a hole cut in the wall of the young gentlemen's upstairs classrooms to facilitate the sly use of chewing tobacco. The only remaining voice of the school today in its assembly bell. It stands now in front of the church to issue the call to Sunday worship.

One student still remains at Institute. Of him this is said:

Sacred to Memory
Thomas C. Lamb of Hyde County
Student of Lenoir Institute
Who died the 8 th day of March 1858 at age of 19 yrs. 8 mos. & 11 days.

The young student was buried in a community cemetery plot near the school. His death was caused by pneumonia, brought on by exposure suffered while surveying with Stephen P. Hardy, Sr., who told his son, Logan, about the Institute at Institute, and about the home he lives in today.


The community that was the location of Eastern Carolina's first seat of higher education has not changed much since its school closed its doors for the last time. Two or three of the school buildings were moved to the railroad depot at Moseley Hall, in 1871 to become a part of the town of LaGrange. Since that time about the same number of buildings have been put up at Institute.

The road that winds through the community and the rich farmland around it today is a quiet one. The living details of the tradition of the Lenoir Collegiate Institute at Institute are very nearly forgotten. But they are, nearly a century later, strong enough to attract the passing stranger to a unique community in a peaceful countryside.