History of North Cross School
North Cross School’s history is a wonderful composite of separate schools brought together by their shared aspirations. Because of the vision, diligence, and effort of people focused on excellent independent education, North Cross School emerged from its simple start in 1944 to our current status as one of the best independent schools in Virginia.
In 1944, Mrs. Howard (May) Butts, a former librarian at the Salem Library with a passion for education, decided to start a private school in her Salem home because the cutoff date for public school meant that her daughter, Cynthia Butts Kelly, would not start first grade for another year. When she recruited Margaret (Billy) Northcross (later to become Mrs. Ellis) to teach first grade and 19 students, she promised to name the school, “Northcross,” which she determined was much better than “Butts’ Basement.” Mrs. Butts soon saw that her basement was not adequate for the needs of the students. In 1945 a house was purchased at 12 Union Street and kindergarten and second grade were added. Third grade was added in 1946, and 1947 saw an addition that included an auditorium and cafeteria.
Financed with tuition and generous subsidies from Mrs. Butts for over ten years, it was deemed appropriate to incorporate in 1955. On August 9, 1957 the school was re-incorporated as a non-profit organization and later became North Cross, Salem. At the same time, on Colonial Avenue in Roanoke, Wellington School was being organized and would offer a competitive alternative to students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. On May 1, 1960, Tom Slack, Brounie Trout, and Dot Saunders met with North Cross, Salem, to open up talks about merging the two schools. Over the next six months and agreement was reached, including naming the new entity North Cross Country Day School, to honor the heritage of the Salem school.
Eaton School, led by Mrs. D. Kirk (Mary) Hammond was founded about this same time to give students at the junior high level a more intensive program of study, and to accommodate children with attention deficits. In January of 1961, Eaton School agreed to become part of the new North Cross Country Day School and 35 of its students transferred in September of 1961. The present day Eaton Hall recognizes their part of North Cross’ history.
When the doors of the combined schools opened in September 1961, 181 students were greeted by their eleven teachers. With Emerson Johnson as its first Headmaster, and Thomas Slack, who as its first Board Chairman, served faithfully and generously from 1960 until shortly before his death in 1974.
In subsequent years, the leadership, vision, and generosity of people like Gordon Willis (who succeeded Tom Slack as Chairman and served until 1987), Ben and Mary Wise Parrott, Katie Fishburn, Paul Funkhouser, Robert Fishburn, Sally Fishburn Crockett, Lucy Hazelgrove, Arthur Taubman, Bolling Izard, Lucy Ellett, and Beirne Carter helped lead the school, grow its faculty, facilities, and student body.
Since 1944, North Cross School has provided the Roanoke Valley with a strong educational alternative, and today provides a strong college preparatory curriculum from early childhood through twelfth grade. Today, the school’s enrollment is approximately 490 students. North Cross School is an educational community that is mission focused, firmly established, highly respected, and generously supportive, through both time and treasure.
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