National Mary Potter Club


Location: Oxford, North Carolina
Project Size: 9,600 SF

The Mary Potter Academy was founded in Oxford, North Carolina by Dr. George Shaw in 1888 as a boarding school for African American children. The school’s original goal was to uplift the black race through religious training based upon Presbyterian principles. Historically, the school was the epicenter for the black community during the Jim Crow and segregation periods, providing a nurturing, communal environment, generating a strong black middle class, and serving as the incubator for many black leaders.

Desegregation of Oxford schools began in 1970, crippling this pillar of the black community by pulling resources, teachers, funding, and students to newly integrated schools. In the wake of this change, the buildings on the historic campus were forced to close their doors and be sold off. By the early 21st century, only three buildings remained in various stages of shuttered disrepair: Dr. Shaw’s original residence (which was renovated in 2004), the former Industrial Arts Building, and the former Gymnasium.

In the context of the school’s powerful legacy and the city’s complicated racial history, the new Mary Potter Cultural Complex thrusts new life into the Oxford community while simultaneously promoting the Academy’s memory and mission. The revitalized complex will welcome multiple generations and races to gather, discuss, collaborate, engage, and celebrate. Rather than approaching each building as separate entities with duplicating uses, the design embraces the collective, distributing programs capable of accommodating a variety of groups and activities.

The multi-level Industrial Arts building, now on the North Carolina Historic Registry as a contributing building within a historic district, becomes a conference center with spaces for smaller meetings and offices for start-ups. A new stair unites the building’s previously disconnected floors while allowing daylight from above to penetrate the partially submerged lower level. The former Gym transforms into the Mary E. Shaw Cultural Center, capable of hosting large events. An entry vestibule at the Gym building provides an accessible entry while acting as a vitrine to showcase the Academy’s history. Finally, the farmers’ market serves as the new campus’ hub, helping connect the separated buildings.