Harris Middle School came into existence in 1978 as part of a county reorganization, which consolidated the county high schools into a single unit. The existing building was used as a high school from the early 1950's until 1978, when it became a grades 4 through 8 school, and then in 2000 once again transformed to accommodate grades 5 through 8. However, the history of the Harris Schools begins many years earlier.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century, education had taken place in small "one room" schoolhouses in many Mitchell County communities. In the Spruce Pine area these included: Mount Vernon School, (located near the Beaver Creek area) which was one of the earliest, Estatoe, Sunshine, Chestnut Grove, Wiseman, and Gouge's Creek, as well as others.
After the coming of the railroad in 1903, Spruce Pine grew into a sizable town. Between 1918 and 1928, the population of the town quadrupled. During this time, Spruce Pine would develop its own school system.
Because of its mineral wealth, the Spruce Pine area had attracted the interests of many in the mining industry. One such person was Colonel C.J. Harris of Dillsboro, North Carolina. Colonel Harris had been one of the early leaders in the development of Spruce Pine who had envisioned its location as a natural trading center for the neighboring counties and invested greatly in its growth. Harris had developed the clay - which would later be called kaolin - industry that operated in Mitchell, Avery, Yancey, and several other counties in Western North Carolina. This company would be known as the Harris Clay & Mining Company
The first public high school in Mitchell County, as well as an elementary school, had been established in Spruce Pine when the town was incorporated in 1907. A two-story frame structure was erected at that time. With the growth of the town and the schools, there arose a need for land on which to build a new and larger school. Colonel C.J. Harris donated a tract of land, which was part of his mining interest, across the river from the town to build the new school. (This is the present location of the Pinebridge Complex.) In 1916 a new brick building would be built on this site.
The old Harris School buildings built in the 1930's - 1940's. These buildings are now part of the Pinebridge Complex
At first glance, it would seem that the school would take its name from the land benefactor - C.J. Harris. However, this would not be the case. Colonel Harris and his family requested that the school be named in honor of his brother Dr. William Torrey Harris, who had died in 1909. Therefore, it was named William Torrey Harris Memorial High School. Thus, the Harris name has been synonymous with Spruce Pine schools since that time.
By the late 1940's, more space was needed for elementary and high schools in the Spruce Pine area. By this time all of the schools in Mitchell County were merged into a county system. A new school building, which Harris Middle School now occupies, was opened in the early 1950's as Harris High School. The old Harris School above the Toe River would become Harris Elementary and remain as such until 1978. Another school housing grades 5-8, was built in the 1960's, and named for another prominent leader - Jason B. Deyton, who had served as principal of Harris High School and also Superintendent of Mitchell County Schools.
By 1978 Mitchell County had consolidated its two high schools - Bowman and Harris, into a single unit - Mitchell County High School. Harris High would become Harris Middle School, housing grades 4-8, and retaining the name given in memory of Dr. W.T. Harris. Deyton Elementary, on the hill above Harris, would become a K-3 school. The old Harris Elementary would be abandoned at this point.
The building itself has undergone many changes and additions over the years. The central part of the building was built as a high school, opening in the early 1950's. During the 1960-1961 school year the present lunchroom, auditorium, and two additional classrooms were added. (Originally, the lunchroom as well as a shop classroom were located in the metal buildings behind the school.) During the 1970's there were several other additions to the building. The last building addition was completed in 1988.
As the community continued to grow, there would be need for further expansion. Mitchell County opened the new K-2 Greenlee Primary, named for another prominent Mitchell County educational family, in the Grassy Creek Community in 2000. Deyton Elementary would house grades 3-5, and Harris became a true middle school housing grades 6-8.
In the late 1990's the building was air-conditioned. During the 2001-2002 school year several renovations to the building took place including new windows, ceilings, lighting, and a new heating system was installed.
Today, Harris Middle School continues a tradition of learning that began many years ago. We are proud to bear the name of such an influential person in American educational history.