MINT HILL, NC – On Sunday, May 21, Mint Hill celebrated 134 years of history with the dedication of a monument to Historic Bain Academy.
Established in 1889 by bachelor John Bain with the help of Philadelphia Presbyterian Church, the original Bain Academy was a five-classroom building. Atop the two-story building sat the iconic cast iron school bell that called students to class. The school was an immediate boon to the community’s many families, who relied on private tutors or the kindness of local churches in order to provide their children with reading, writing and arithmetic instruction prior to its establishment.
Philadelphia Presbyterian maintained the school after Bain’s passing in 1897 at the age of 88, as well as his grave in the West Cemetery across from the site of Bain Academy marked by an obelisk bearing the inscription, “John Bain, the builder of Bain Academy, donated to Philadelphia Church, 1889. Long may his name live.”
In 1924, Philadelphia Presbyterian turned the school over to Mecklenburg County, and it continued to serve students from first grade through high school as Mecklenburg County’s first graded school. Known for high quality academics, championship basketball teams, and cultural events, it was for many years one of only two schools in the county that prepared students for college or university in North Carolina.
The passage of time brought significant changes to Bain Academy. In 1950, students in grades 10-12 were transferred to the new East High School, and when Northeast Junior High School opened in 1970, Bain became a 1-5 school. Kindergarten was added in 1976. Eventually, Bain Elementary School outgrew its original structure, and Historic Bain Academy sat empty when a new school opened in 2013.
For years, a small but dedicated group led by the late Commissioner Tina Ross worked to raise awareness and funds to restore and repurpose what remained of the Historic Bain Academy, but they were unable to raise enough funds to proceed with the restoration. In November of 2018, Mint Hill’s Citizens voted on a $2.5M public facility bond referendum to restore Bain school and an $18M bond for a new athletic/entertainment venue. The bond referendum failed by a difference of only 560 votes, and the original building was demolished in the fall of 2020.
With the dream of a restored Bain Academy gone, the preservation group elected to use a portion of the funds they had raised to build a lasting memorial to Historic Bain Academy. Sunday’s event marked the unveiling of that monument as well as a bittersweet celebration of Bain Academy and what it has meant to its generations of graduates and the Mint Hill community as a whole.
Sunday’s program began with a welcome from Historic Bain Restoration Member and Philadelphia Church Officer Jerry Mullis and an invocation from Philadelphia Church Reverend Katie Sloan. The event saw a long list of special guests: Bobby Long, current holder of John Bain’s “Bain Cane” and first Mayor of Mint Hill; Dr. Steve F. Bain and daughter Dr. Stephanie Bain, distant relatives of John Bain; Connor Fohr and family, who held the first fundraiser to preserve Historic Bain Academy; Allyson Ross Cathey (daughter of the late Tina Ross) and family; several of Mint Hill’s Commissioners; officers and members of Philadelphia Church; faculty, staff, alumni and retired teachers from Bain School; and officers and members from Mint Hill’s Chamber of Commerce, the Mint Hill Women’s Club, and the Mint Hill Historical Society.
The event included inspiring speeches from several individuals involved in the effort to preserve Bain Academy and bring the monument to fruition. Diane Campbell, Clear Creek Militia DAR Regent, spoke about the importance of early education, and Dr. Steve Bain spoke about the Bain family’s legacy of leadership in early education. Dr. Dan Morrill, Board Member of Preserve Mecklenburg and Former Director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission gave the keynote speech titled “The Importance of Remembering,” and AIA Architect Stefan Pienkny spoke about the evolution of the monument’s design.
The finished monument features handmade bricks from the old school set in a v-like pattern that represents an open book. On the left panel sit the 1924 cornerstone and a bronze plaque honoring John Bain; on the right side is another bronze plaque featuring an image of the school as redesigned by Louis Asbury in 1924. Securely mounted on the top of the right panel is the original cast iron bell, stored for many years by Philadelphia Church in its historical room. The monument sits across the street from the site of the original school, just a stone’s throw from John Bain’s grave, where Philadelphia Church can oversee it indefinitely.
Sunday’s ceremony ended with Ross Cathey, grandson of Tina Ross, who fought so passionately for the restoration of Historic Bain Academy until her passing in 2018, ringing the historic bell. Visibly overcome with emotion, Jerry Mullis brought the event to a close with the highest praise imaginable: “I just know that – I know Tina would be so proud.”