(The material in this historical summary was originally included
in an article "History of Rockingham County Schools," written by Faye
Reubush and Dorothy Swank for the VEA Centennial Celebration in 1963.
Updated 2001 by Larry Huffman, school historian. Below is a summary
of the history of Rockingham County Schools followed by a list
of schools which contains links to various schools' histories.
Also, teacher lists from various
school sessions are available.)
The records of the schools prior to 1870 are meager, and only a few of the developments that are known can be mentioned here. Rather detailed records have been preserved of a school opened by the Methodists in Harrisonburg in 1794, with John Walsh as teacher. The moving spirit in this enterprise was no less person than Bishop Asbury himself. In 1825, also in Harrisonburg, a school was announced in which the higher branches including Latin, Greek, philosophy, and surveying were to be taught. The next year Rockingham Academy was chartered. This school was located between Timberville and New Market, later known as Plains, and was in operation over a hundred years becoming a part of the public school system. A later school with a similar history was the one at Lacey Springs. John W. Taylor went to this place in 1865 and taught there almost continuously for forty years or more. The most outstanding figure in the early period, however, was John Salyards, a self-taught scholar, a facile writer, and an outstanding teacher, "probably the most famous teacher that ever lived in the Valley of Virginia." (Wayland) For about a quarter of a century he worked in Rockingham County at McGaheysville, beginning probably in 1838; in the Rockingham Male Academy at Harrisonburg; in Pleasant Grove Academy, south of Mt. Crawford; in Cedar Grove Academy, near Broadway, and at Rosendale, on Smith's Creek near the northern boundary of the county. The old stone building at Rosendale still stands as a monument to the early efforts to provide educational privileges for Rockingham's children.
The present public school system in Virginia had its beginnings in 1870 and was a product of the Reconstruction. Although as early as 1780 there were legislative provisions for free schools, most of the children were educated in "pay schools" until 1870. At this time there were at least ten schools for white children in Harrisonburg, none of them free schools. There were two free schools in Harrisonburg for colored children. However, there were over 60 free schools operated in the county, according to a report in January, 1871. These schools, referred to as community schools after the State Board of Education was organized that year, were all one-room frame structures, the oldest being Friedens, near Pleasant Valley, and St. Michaels, near Bridgewater, which were built in 1840. There was a "Minninite School" opened in 1845 but the location is not stated in the records. These schools were built on church property. Other early community schools listed and the dates of their establishment were Beaver Creek, 1860; Pleasant Hill, 1860; Timber Ridge, 1860; Hedricks, 1870; Spring Creek, 1870; and Cross Keys, 1870. (Huffman)
When the public school system was set up in 1870 the community schools were absorbed by the district boards. George W. Holland was made superintendent for the entire county including Harrisonburg. In the fall of 1871 the Harrisonburg graded school was organized under the new public school system with Rev. J. S. Loose as principal. Shortly after the new Rockingham County School Board was organized in September of 1872, Superintendent Holland left the superintendency, having spent nearly two years laying the groundwork for the public school system in Rockingham County. He was succeeded as Superintendent by Rev. Loose. The years after the Civil War in Rockingham County were unsettled and many residents of the county were suspicious of the new public education system, some feeling that it was an imposition placed on the southern states by the victorious "Yankees". For this reason, one of the major jobs of the superintendent was to convince county residents of the need for a system of public schools. Also, since the appointment of the local superintendents was made by the State Board of Education, political considerations entered into the appointment of the superintendent. This tended to make each of these early appointments controversial. After serving just one term, Superintendent Loose was not reappointed and the position went to one of his major critics, Jasper Hawse. Superintendent Hawse served the county for two terms, enduring much of the same criticism as his predecessor. When the Republican "Mahoneite's" took over the state legislature in 1882, this opened the door to the appointment of one of Rockingham County's most controversial superintendents. In January of 1883, Rev. A. P. Funkhouser was appointed superintendent in spite of the fact that the Rockingham County School Board unanimously recommended Jasper Hawse for re-appointment. Largely because of the political nature of his appointment he was never confirmed by the state Senate and his term would be marked by controversy and opposition. With the election of Governor Fitzhugh Lee in November of 1885, the political climate turned and Rev. Funkhouser's controversial term came to an abrupt end. On January 26, 1886, George H. Hulvey, a well-respected educator in Rockingham County, was appointed superintendent.
During this period Mr. A. C. Kimler taught in the county, three years at River Bank and eight years at McGaheysville. Dr. Wayland says of him he "probably did more than any other to command the public schools to general favor, to stir up school spirit, and to inspire his pupils with a desire for higher learning." By 1886 according to Supt. Hulvey, "Much has been done along the line of higher education; and a number of good schools were growing up under competent teachers." He named the schools in Harrisonburg, Mt. Crawford, McGaheysville, Broadway, Lacey Springs, Bridgewater, Elkton, Port Republic, and the colored school in Harrisonburg.
In 1886 there were in the larger centers outside of Harrisonburg one five-room school and six four-room schools, all frame buildings. The valuation of all the school property including Harrisonburg was $59,915. By 1914 six to eight room buildings of brick or stone had been constructed in seven of the large centers and a number of good, but smaller, brick and frame buildings were put up in the smaller communities. The valuation had then reached over a quarter of a million dollars. Along with this building program went consolidation and the development of high schools.
Meanwhile some of the community schools developed by a different pattern becoming ultimately institutions of higher learning with emphasis on teacher training. Of these early schools the one carried on at Bridgewater from 1873 to 1878 by Alcide Reichenbach, J. D. Bucher, A. L. Funk, and others, is to be remembered as perhaps the first school in the state to do real normal work. Two-year and four-year professional courses were outlined, a model school for observation was conducted, and prominent outsiders were brought in for special lectures. Another normal school was West Central Academy, located at Mt. Clinton and operated under the principalship of I. S. Wampler from 1890 to 1902. It is claimed that 65% of the teachers of the county about the year 1907 had spent some time in this school. Other schools established in the county for teacher training or collegiate work are: Shenandoah Seminary, established at Dayton by A. P. Funkhouser in 1875, now Shenandoah University located in Winchester; a normal and collegiate institute established at Spring Creek in 1880 by D. C. Flory, which was moved to Bridgewater two years later and chartered as Bridgewater College in 1889; a state normal school, now Madison College, organized at Harrisonburg in 1908; and the Eastern Mennonite School, now Eastern Mennonite College, begun at Park View in 1917.
In 1911, Rockingham County, including Harrisonburg, voted for compulsory school attendance by a large majority, the second county in Virginia to take this step. In 1916 Harrisonburg was made a separate school division with its own superintendent. The following year the term of office of Supt. George H. Hulvey came to an end and that of Supt. John C. Myers began. In 1922 Rockingham had 110 school buildings located so that no child would need to travel more than 3 1/2 miles to reach school. The average salary at this time was $567 for the 256 white and 7 colored teachers.
Rockingham was one of the first counties in the state to adopt fully the county as a unit for school operation and the district school tax was abolished. This enabled the school administration to operate the school uniformly over the entire county. In compliance with the County Unit Law of September, 1922 the School Trustee Electoral Board selected the following to compose the first County School Board for Rockingham County: H. H. Aldhizer, A. A. Howard, B. F. Suter, O. D. Garber, and John F. Miller.
According to Supt. John C. Myers in a report in 1924 "the next step forward in the improvement of our schools can be made by transportation of pupils and further consolidation of schools. Rural supervision offers another means of greatly improving our schools. Since 1919 Miss Ada Baugh has supervised the county schools in Plains District with gratifying results. The supervisor sometimes called helping teacher, is able to save many a young teacher from failure." (an Economic and Social Survey of Rockingham County)
Consolidation and construction of new buildings continued. In 1917 there were 56 one-room and 27 two-room schools. During the period 1917 to 1950 new buildings were constructed at Bridgewater, Dayton, Mt. Clinton, Port Republic, Elkton, Grottoes, Keezletown, Lacey Springs, Singers Glen, McGaheysville, Tenth Legion, Timberville, and Linville-Edom. The cost of this building program was $585,000.
Other factors affecting the schools may be contrasted during this period, 1918-1950. The school budget grew from $130,886 to $820,147. Transportation grew in cost from $248 to $85,544. It was in the school term 1938-39 that for the first time all of the schools had a nine month term. Teachers salaries advanced from about $40 per month to an annual salary for beginning teachers of $1800.
Having laid the ground work for an outstanding program of consolidation, Supt. John C. Myers retired in 1950 after serving the county for 33 years in that position. Superintendent Wilbur S. Pence, who had participated in the planning of the school program for several years as Director of Instruction, was chosen by the School Board to lead the schools forward in the programs begun by Supt. John C. Myers.
The years following World War II found the schools overcrowded and in 1950 the high schools of McGaheysville, Keezletown, and Port Republic were consolidated into the first of the large high schools in this county. The Montevideo High School was constructed at a cost of $622,740. In 1952 a large consolidated high school was constructed west of Broadway which included Broadway, Timberville, Linville-Edom High Schools and Bergton Junior High School.
In order to keep pace with the increasing school enrollments, a successful $1,700.000 bond issue was voted in May, 1955 by the citizens of Rockingham County to complete the building program so urgently needed.
Turner Ashby High School, named for the Confederate cavalry leader, served the area of the former Bridgewater, Dayton, and Mt. Clinton High Schools. Constructed at a cost of $916,000, the third of the county's consolidated high schools opened in Sept., 1956. Construction of Elkton High School, the fourth and final of the projected consolidated high schools, was completed at a cost of $750,000 in Feb., 1958. This led to the closing of the last of the small schools in the Blue Ridge Mountain area, Maple Springs and Sandy Bottom.
Two new elementary schools, Ottobine and Bergton, costing $125,000 each, were also opened in 1958. The county's last one-room school, Mountain Top, located northwest of Bergton, held its last session in June, 1961. It, along with other small schools in the Shenandoah Mountains, were no longer needed with the completion of the expanded facilities in the northwestern part of the county, including the opening of Fulks Run School in Sept., 1961. This school cost $155,000.
During the period 1950-62 Rockingham County expended $4,765,000 for these new schools, for a school bus shop, and additions to the schools in Mt. Clinton, Elkton Elementary, Grottoes, Broadway High School, Turner Ashby High School, Timberville, Dayton, and Keezletown. By 1962 the county had paid nearly one-half of the loans required for this building program.
By the early 1960's, crowding in the high schools and in the elementary schools had become a significant problem. The solution to the problem was the development of the intermediate school, which would include grades 7 and 8. This provided relief for both the high schools and the elementary schools and provided a unique program for the students between elementary school and high school. In 1964, John C. Myers Intermediate School opened in Broadway. In 1965, additions were built at Montevideo and Elkton for intermediate schools and, in 1966, John Wayland Intermediate School was opened at Bridgewater. When this new phase of construction was completed, it was time to focus attention on the older elementary schools, most of which had served for 50 years or more. A new school south of Harrisonburg, Pleasant Valley, had been opened in 1963 resulting in the closing of the smaller Pleasant Hill and Dale Enterprise schools. In 1967 the small Park School was closed and the students were also sent to Pleasant Valley. Plans for consolidation of some of these older schools was delayed due to a disastrous fire in January, 1968 which destroyed McGaheysville Elementary School. A new building was opened in 1969. In 1971, Wilbur S. Pence retired, to be succeeded by Forrest L. Frazier. In 1972, a new elementary school at Timberville, Plains Elementary School, was built to replace the schools at Broadway, Timberville and Tenth Legion. Also in 1972 a new building at Elkton and the Massanutten Vocational Technical School, operated jointly with Harrisonburg, was opened. A year later the small school at Singers Glen was closed and the students divided between Linville-Edom and Mt. Clinton. During Mr. Frazier's superintendency, attention was again directed toward the high schools with plans to consolidate Elkton and Montevideo High Schools.
The planning of the new eastside high school was not without controversy. Questions related to location and the difficulties associated with the loss of a high school to the community slowed progress and resulted in school board changes. Superintendent Frazier, who was caught in the middle of this and other controversies, was not reappointed by the school board in 1977.
In the fall of 1977, Ryland Dishner was appointed Superintendent of Rockingham County Schools. The earlier controversies eased and the new Spotswood High School was opened in September of 1980. The high schools at Montevideo and Elkton were converted to middle schools. The construction of Spotswood ushered in a new phase of high school construction, just as the construction of Montevideo had thirty years earlier. Residents of southern and northern Rockingham County began to speak out about the need for a new high school in their area. In 1987 Ryland Dishner retired as Superintendent and David Andes was appointed the new Superintendent of Rockingham County Schools. The school system was again facing overcrowding in its elementary and middle schools. The decision was made in 1987 to build a new Turner Ashby High School. This would allow the old high school to become the middle school and for John Wayland Middle School to become an elementary school. The older buildings at Bridgewater (1911) and Dayton (1914) were closed. Also during this time period, amid much controversy, the small school at Bergton was closed in 1988. A new elementary school, Lacey Spring, was opened in 1989 to relieve crowding at Plains and Linville-Edom Elementary. South River Elementary School was opened in 1994 to allow for the closing of Grottoes and Port Republic Elementary Schools. David Andes retired in January of 1994 and John Kidd was appointed Superintendent.
During the 1990s there has been significant growth in the part of the county stretching from Bridgewater to McGaheysville. Renovations and additions at Elkton Elementary School and McGaheysville Elementary School helped to alleviate crowded conditions in those areas. In 1996, construction was started on the new Broadway High School which opened after the winter break of the 1997-98 school year. The old Broadway High School was converted to a middle school, J. Frank Hillyard Middle School, and the old John C. Myers Middle School became John C. Myers Elementary School. This greatly reduced the populations of Linville-Edom Elementary School and Plains Elementary School at Timberville. During the fall of 1998, an extensive redistricting program shifted the county school population in a northward direction and helped to relieve crowded conditions in the schools closer to Harrisonburg. A plan was then developed to close the two oldest remaining schools in Rockingham County. In the fall of 2000, a new elementary school, Mountain View, was opened on the Rawley Pike (Route 33) west of Harrisonburg. This provided population relief for Pleasant Valley Elementary School and Ottobine Elementary School and resulted in the closing of Mt. Clinton Elementary School, which had been built in 1926. A new addition at Wilbur S, Pence Middle School also opened in the fall of 2000 and relieved crowded conditions at that school. In the fall of 2001, a new elementary school near Penn Laird (Peak View) opened. This allowed for the closing of Rockingham County's oldest school, Keezletown, which had been constructed in 1917, and also relieved population pressures at South River and McGaheysville. Plans are now being made for additions and renovations at Ottobine and Fulks Run and eliminating the need for mobile units which have been placed at these schools for many years.
Since the earliest days of the Rockingham County school system,
the school board and the citizens of Rockingham County have strived
to provide the most modern and up-to-date facilities that resources
would allow. Future plans will continue to address the need to
replace aging facilities and the need to provide the best possible
facilities for the 21st century.
The Rockingham County School History Project is currently seeking information on the schools of the county. We are looking for pictures, yearbooks and memorabilia for any of the county schools either for donation to our archives or for loan to copy. If you have such material, please contact Larry Huffman (day) 540-433-7819, (night) 540-833-5483 or Dale MacAllister (day) 540-896-8961, (night) 540-833-4562.
Go to History of RCPS Schools top of page.
Briery Branch (Colored)
Broadway High School
Concord (sometimes called Hupp)
Dry River (Central)
Dry River (Linville)
Elkton (Elk Run)
Flick Hill (Union)
Fulks Run (Old)
Garbers (Crossroads) (Union)
Glass (Pleasant View)
Grottoes Shendun (Colored)
Harrisonburg Colored (Effinger)
Island Ford (Rocky Bar)
John C. Myers Middle
John Wayland Elem.
John Wayland Intermediate
Mountain View Elem.
Mt. Clinton Elem.
Mt. Crawford (Colored)
Mt. Pleasant (Plains)
Mt. Pleasant (Stonewall)
Mt. Vernon (Ashby)
Mt. Vernon (Central)
Mt. Vernon (Stonewall)
Myers (Rock Valley)
North Mountain Academy
Oak Hill Academy
Ottobine Elem. (1958 building)
Peak View Elem.
Pleasant Valley (Colored)
Port Republic (Colored)
Roadside (Simmons Gap)
Rocky Bar (Island Ford)
South River Elementary
Spotswood High School
St. Stevens (Berrytown)
Summit (at Hinton)
Timber Ridge (Ashby)
Timber Ridge (Plains)
Toll Gate (Rawley Springs)
Turner Ashby High
Union Chapel (Rosenbergers)
Wilbur S. Pence Middle
"Area School Building." Daily News Record, May 13, 1963.
Brown, Robert C., Hulvey, Brown, and Hulvey, Layton, Editors. Public Schools of Rockingham County, Virginia. Harrisonburg, Virginia: News Record, 1914.
Huffman, Charles H. "Dr. Huffman Lists Early Area Schools." Daily News Record, Feb. 25, 1963.
Pence, Wilbur S. Your County Schools, Superintendent's Report, 1961. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Park View Press, 1961.
Peters, J. S. and Stinespring, W. F. An Economic and Social Survey of Rockingham County. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia, Sept., 1924.
Rockingham County Education Association. Handbook. 1946, Revised 1951, 1956.
"Rockingham Schools Are Big Business." Daily News Record, Sept. 11, 1961.
Wayland, John W. Historic Harrisonburg. Staunton, Virginia: McClure Printing Co., 1949.
Wayland, John W. History of Rockingham County, Virginia. Dayton, Virginia: Ruebush-Elkins, Co., 1912.
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