Readin', Writin', & 'rithmatic In Early Jefferson County

By Willis, Sep 15, 2016 | |
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  1. Willis
    By Willis, Sep 15, 2016 | |
    Introduction
    A while back, Shannondale and Beyond came into possession of the edition of The Jefferson Republican, one of the local newspapers available in the 1950's, that celebrated the sesquicentennial of Jefferson County. The edition was published on September 20, 1951. It contains all manner of information.

    I'm no historian but I thought that you, our readers might enjoy some of the articles. We at S&B would welcome-no-we'd encourage-our users to dig deeper into any of the articles we have on our website. In the interim, we'll depend on Mr. Don Rentch to provide some insight into schooling in Jefferson County up to the County's 150th anniversary. Bear in mind the article just hits some of the milestones and comes to an end the year of the year of the issue.

    We hope to add some material directly related to the schools on he Blue Ridge and can use ALL the help we can get. Enjoy:

    Seat of Learning Came Before Ambitions for Jefferson County
    By DONALD R. RENTCH
    William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia, in his report on the condition of the Colony in 1671, said "Thank God, there are no free schools or printing presses, and I hope there will be none for the next hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world and printing has divulged these and other libels.

    "Of course Berkeley spoke of free schools and although the hope he expressed was fully realized, because it was 125 years after his utterance before Virginia enacted a law for a public school system, not all free men living in this new found country, felt the way Berkeley did about free schools and printing presses.

    To understand the origin and development of education in Jefferson county and West Virginia, it is first necessary to examine the records of Virginia before the formation of Jefferson County and West Virginia.


    LIMITED CONTROL OF EDUCATION

    In the early days of the settlement of this country except in the certification of common school teachers, the government of Colonial Virginia limited its control of education to certain requirements respecting poor orphans and indigent children. To owners of large estates this was not objectionable writes Charles H. Ambler in his History of Education in West Virginia, as most owners of those large estates were educated gentlemen, ambitious for their children and for the society then in the process of building. In the absence of villages and towns such as maintained community schools in New England, Virginia planters were compelled to use private tutors on the youth.

    For the most part these early tutors were English and Scots who were well prepared scholastically and some of them became so engrossed in their teaching they gave their lives to it. And it was through them that many private schools were established and later developed into common schools and in some cases academies.

    It was along these lines that education in Jefferson County took hold and grew down through the years.

    The people of Jefferson County being pioneers in just about every field of endeavor also took the lead in the development and furthering of education among its peoples.

    SCHOOLS COME BEFORE COUNTY
    There were a number of schools in Jefferson County even before it became a county. Especially was this true about the Shepherdstown section.

    Charles Ambler in his "History of Education in West Virginia," reports that the first school in Jefferson County may have been the "English" school kept by Robert Cochbum in 1762. Or it may have been a German school active at the same time under an unknown teacher.

    After a lapse of 200 years it is very difficult to determine accurately just when the first; school was opened in what is now Jefferson county because the written records often disagree on many details.

    It is, however, known that Shepherdstown and ,the surrounding ┬░sections of Jefferson and Berkeley counties had its classical academies and later its female seminaries from time immemorial.

    Following the Revolutionary War, Abraham Shepherd made frequent mention of an academy in Shepherdstown, and the Rev. Stubbs was teaching in it in 1787.

    In April 1792, Moses Hoge opened a school in Shepherdstown for the purpose of teaching Latin, Greek and the English languages and some of the most useful branches of Science. And Moses Hoge seemed to be the most effective teacher in developing Shepherdstown into an educational center of the time.

    With this background it would be logical to assume, and nothing can be found to the contrary, that the Shepherdstown Academy, which was incorporated by an act of the general assembly of January 3, 1814, was the first, or at least one of the first schools in Jefferson County.

    This meant that the Academy had been operating for more than 20 years before it was incorporated as such with the following as trustees: Lewis Mayer, John Matthews, James Brown, John Baker, Daniel Bedinger, Daniel Buckles, Van Bennett, Van Rutherford, Walter B. Selby, Thomas Van Swearingen, Thomas Toole, John Briscoe, Jr., Aaron Jewett and Robert Worthington.

    CHARLES TOWN ACADEMY OPENED
    Another section of Jefferson County-Charles Town-not to be outdone by Shepherdstown started a movement in 1795 for a Charles Town Academy. And with 81 contributors whose gifts totaled 514 pounds and 18 shillings, the school was opened.

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    The primary purpose of the Academy was to provide a seminary learning for instruction in Latin, Greek, but in case of demand, it might be expanded to include English, French, geography, astronomy, criticism, mathematics and natural and moral philosophy.

    The first trustees of the Academy were: Phillip Pendleton, Gabriel Nourse, Thomas Griggs, Thomas Rutherford, Sr., Christopher Collins, George Steptoe Washington, George Hite, Ferdinand┬░ Fairfax, George North, Edward Tiffin, Alexander White, and William Hill. But the act of incorporation substituted Elisha Boyd, John Dixon and Samuel Washington for Philip Pendleton, Christopher Collins and George Steptoe Washington.

    The Academy featured its program with a declaration of intention to educate poor children free of cost and then it began its first session in 1798 under the principalship of William Hill, one of the trustees.

    This Academy continued to offer instruction without interruption until 1905. In 1910 the building was sold to the Charles Town District Board of Education and on this site now stands the Charles Town Graded School.

    Things changed in those days with progress just as they do today, and early in the nineteenth century the people of Jefferson county, pioneers in every respect, began thinking about free schools for their children almost before the ink had dried on a statute enacted by the legislature providing a free school law for those counties that chose to adopt it.

    Once again it was Jefferson County's people that took the lead in pioneering something new in West Virginia. And so, today the county can rightfully claim the distinction of being the first to establish free schools in West Virginia.


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    It was only a matter of about a year or so, history not being too accurate on dates, that the first free school in Jefferson county and West Virginia was located on the Grove Hinkle farm on the Harpers Ferry Pike a short distance from Halltown. Mrs. Mary T. Miller reports this school was built in 1847, or only a year after the act was passed permitting free schools in West Virginia.

    Robert H. Duke was the first teacher of the school and William Rider was the last. Mrs. Miller also reports that the school was destroyed by cannon fire from Maryland Heights during the Civil War. Today only the skeleton framework of the huge stone walls still remains.

    Millard K. Bushong reports in his history of Jefferson county, that John Yates of Walnut Grove, near Flowing Springs, was instrumental in starting the first free school in Jefferson county and West Virginia, and it was located on the Lemen farm near Shepherdstown.

    Within the next 15 years progress in education and the educational facilities in Jefferson County kept pace with the fast progressing commercial and business matters and by December 1848 there were 27 free schools in the county. Twenty-three of the schools had a total enrollment of 1,100 students. Seven of the 23 teachers in the county's schools received $300 per year salary and sixteen others received $275.

    The branches of learning being taught in the schools were reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, spelling and geography.

    Like everything else, education continued to show progress in Jefferson County until the Civil War and then the county's school system fell into a deplorable condition according to a report made in 1867 to the State Superintendent of Schools by Joseph Barry, county superintendent. Barry complained there was too great a disproportion between the amount collected and that spent by the state in the county. Barry also pointed out in his report that another difficulty was the fact that any person participating in the school's affairs was excluded by law unless he could take an oath that he had never been disloyal. As there were whole districts in the county where scarcely a person could take this oath and where no radical teacher would dare to appear, schools could not be organized.

    These troubles were apparently only aftermaths of the war and, in a sense growing pains, and by 1873 the public school situation in the county had greatly improved since the years following the Civil War.

    Millard K. Bushong in his History of Jefferson County reports that this was due largely to the efforts of William L. Wilson, who had been elected county superintendent of schools in 1871. Better teachers had been engaged, their salaries were being paid more promptly than before and the people as a whole had become more anxious for the improvement of public schools.

    AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE FOUNDED
    In 1874, under the influence of the then prominent Grangers, the Jefferson County Agricultural College was born and it was incorporated-by an act of the West Virginia Legislature passed January 19, 1875. It was to have been located at Leetown and to be under the control of seven directors chosen by the stockholders. But because of the failure to sell enough stock, the opening of the school was postponed.

    A committee from the school and the Grangers went to Washington in an effort to get Congressional aid, but this effort likewise failed. In 1877; however, the Grangers succeeded in having the State Legislature pass a bill giving to the school such revenue as might come to the state in the future from the sale of public lands.

    Unfortunately for the school it was at this time that Daniel B. Lucas, one of the most influential backers was named to the Board of Regents of West Virginia University and he shifted his support to that institution, with the result the Jefferson County Agriculture College project collapsed.

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    Meanwhile a good private school for girls had been opened in Charles Town. And in the Fall of'1882, the Rev. Charles N. Campbell, a former teacher of the Charles Town Academy, conducted a boarding and day school in the western part of the town, known as Mt. Parvo Institute. It continued as such for about two years and then was moved to a different location in Charles Town and became known as the "John Stephenson Seminary". Stephenson had bequeathed land and money to the establishment of the institution. The cornerstone for this school building was laid June 12, 1884 and the school operated until the Fall of 1917. During most of this period the Seminary was under the direction of Dr. Charles N. Campbell.

    FIRST CHARLES TOWN PUBLIC SCHOOL
    It was in 1893 that a large brick building which had been constructed during the "boom" years was sold to the Charles Town District Board of Education to be used as a Charles Town public school.

    In the Fall of that same year Wright Denny of Amelia county, Virginia was hired as principal and he served in this capacity until his retirement in 1939. That school occupied the original building until 1912 when its present quarters were provided.

    At the close of the 19th Century there were 73 public schools in the county attended by 3,778 pupils. There was, however, another 1,730 children of school age who did not attend school.

    By this time the people of Jefferson had really become education conscious and additional efforts were put forth in all sections of the county towards the improvement and advancement of the county's education facilities and system.

    Colonel R. L. Bates in writing on the Old Clip Academy which was in operation at Middleway for a period of five years gives a clear insight as to what was happening in the educational field in Jefferson County.

    The teachers of the "seventies," "eighties" and "nineties" represented a superior type both for culture and training. Those of the "seventies" were Mr. Far Hayslett and Miss Ida Kearney. The Reverend Mr. George Long, of Lutheran faith, conducted a private school and his moral teachings left an impression; upon the community. The village (Middleway) public school teachers during the period of the "nineties" were Misses Catherine (Kate) Tanquary, Edith Lloyd, Ruth Helen Bates, Julia Grantham "and Margaret Fry. Prior to this time little thought had been given to public high school instruction. Private tutors and governesses had taught Latin, French and Algebra to advanced pupils, but this was mostly prior to the Civil War. During all of the periods mentioned there was no sharp line of distinction between the grades as there is at present. A pupil went to school until he or his parents thought he had sufficient education. The nearest high school was in Charles Town and that was about seven miles away from Middleway-the equivalent of fifty miles in this automotive age. The expense that would be incurred in sending children away to an academy (for these were hard times) was regarded as prohibitive. Moreover, parents realized the desirability of keeping children at home during their immaturity.

    The economic upset of the first and middle parts of the decade had impressed a lesson. No longer was one to rely too much on land for prestige, or even for a livelihood. The Bryan campaign and the Spanish-American War were extraverting influences. The latter, no less than the former, created much excitement. There was lavish giving, not of money but of supplies, to the suffering Cuban Insurrectos. The Battle of Manila Bay and Hobson's exploit in sinking the Merrimac echoed through the countryside. Abraham Lincoln was slowly finding his way into the mind of the school child. Excluding the Civil War, never had the inhabitants of Middleway been so interested in what was going on in the outside world.

    During the "nineties" the landed gentry maintained a dignity and pride which today would seem stiff and formal. Prestige and land were not to be separated. One was adjudged a success in life in so far as he could add to his holdings in farm land and property. No title, emolument or perquisite could take the place of land. The panic of 1893, the plight of the landowner, at that time, and the threat to the agriculturist of losing caste produced a renaissance. A new order of things now loomed before the denizens of the community. Horizons were suddenly enlarged. A new Century brought a challenge.

    It had been observed that manufacturing was displacing land in economic importance. The only obvious expedient for arighting what appeared to be a lost balance was to educate youth. In deference to the changed outlook on life it was decided that Middleway should have a high school. A college education was held before the eyes of adolescents as the surest way to maintain a place in the new order of things. - It was proposed that a competent university man be employed under private auspices as principal of the high school. Rooms in the Masonic Hall were rented. For want of a better name, the school would be called Clip Academy, In the summer of 1900, Robert B. S. Shackelford, Jr., of Albemarle County, Va., who had studied at the University 'of Virginia, was employed as the first principal. The school was under Mr. Shackelford's control for two years. He resigned to study medicine and subsequently became an officer in the Medical Corps of the United States Army. Reverend Andrew J. Willis, who was a native of Orange County; was assigned the duty of selecting the teachers. Mr. Shackelford was succeeded by Robert Peachy Latane of Essex County, Va. Mr. Latane had studied at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and was an exceedingly brilliant mathematician. After one year of service he went into industrial work but died an untimely death from a fever. He was succeeded by Mr. Arthur Powell Gray of Amherst County, Va. Mr. Gray had attended the University of Virginia. After a tenure of two years he resigned the principalship of the school in. order to study for the Episcopal ministry. For many years he was rector at West Point, Va. The school was in operation for a period of five years. The name of the school had been changed in the meantime to Jefferson Academy. A scholarship was offered to the high standing pupil by Washington and Lee University to which college it was accredited. The roll of the Academy brings us to the year, 1905:

    John Mitchell Willis, Andrew Hunter Willis, Margaret Somerville Willis, John Porter Lucas, Robert E. Strider, Margaret Shaull, John Murphy Shaull, John Clavert Murphy, William Seibert, George Seibert, Douglas Sampson, Charlotte Barnes, Mary Joyce Lewis, John Fielding Lewis, Edward Davis, Edgar Kearnes, Albert Davis, Dorothy Throckmorton Thompson, Imogen Thompson, Lee Brown, Thomas Harrison, Clarence Earle Grantham, John Scott, Alexander Mason Evans, Margaret Howell Evans, Phebe May Rose Gilbert, Henry Americus Souder, Bruce Grubb, Clyde Grubb, Smith Henshaw, Charles Calvin Henshaw, Raymond Farnsworth, Wallace Kuykendall, John E. Gilbert, Scollary Brierly, Margaret Shirley Bates, John Thomas Bates, Harry Howard Bates, Robert Lee Bates, Keith Lloyd.

    In about 1904 the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia established a school in Jefferson County, buying a tract of land on the east side of the Shenandoah River where they erected an industrial school for mountain children.

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    At the present this school is operating under the more familiar name of the "Mountain Mission."

    Although the county's school situation made a fast recovery from the Civil War during the last 25 years of the nineteenth century, it was really not until after the start of the 20th century that the modern improvements and real expansion came.

    Finally in the 1920's the conditions in the schools of Charles Town, Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown became so crowded that the Jefferson county board of education had to take steps to remedy the situation and as a result three new high schools were built in the county within a period of several years. And only several months ago a fourth new and modern high school was completed in the county-the Page-Jackson High School which is located in Charles Town.

    Today the old one-room schools are gone from Jefferson County. The last one to go was the Chestnut Hill School located on the Blue Ridge Mountain. Today the Blue Ridge school which has six grades and an enrollment of 170 students has replaced all the small schools in the mountain section.

    When the county school unit system was set up in West Virginia some 14 years ago Mr. Isaac Bonham served as Jefferson county's first Superintendent of ,Schools and after him came the late Henry M. Sydnor, who served for 13 years, before resigning to accept a position at Austin College, Sherman, Texas. His successor was T. A. Lowry (sic), named in 1948. He had been serving as principal of Charles Town High School since 1939 and prior to that had taught at Harpers Ferry High School for six years.

    Today the education facilities offered in Jefferson County and the number of persons associated with them in various capacities is a far cry from the days before there was a Jefferson county. Today also there are 3,550 students enrolled in the five high schools and 17 elementary schools in the county in which 134 teachers and principals are directing the educational destinies of the youth of the county.

    Progress! Yes, there has been plenty of it and the people of Jefferson County can feel justly proud that they were among the pioneers of education in this great state and this great nation. And while education has gone forward in the county, state and nation, still there are many things yet to be done to improve the educational system. There is a long road ahead, but today there is a double force at work to help make the load and the road easier as the parents and teachers have teamed up for the welfare of the children. And with such a constructive force as the Parent-Teachers group that has been organized and is active, this terrific educational enterprise which is costing the taxpayers and the state so many millions of dollars a year is sure to show even greater progress in the years ahead.

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