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  • Bethel Military Academy

  • Retyped with permission of John T. Toler, author and editor, as it appears in Vol 18, No. 2 of the News and Notes from the Fauquier Historical Society, Warrenton, Virginia. Spring & Fall 1996 issue.
  • Sandy Onbey typed this section.
  • Part II: Years of Change at BMA
  • Life at "The Springs" and Return to Old Bethel

    Newsletter Editor

    The passing of Maj. Albert G. Smith on May 4, 1892 marked the beginning of great changes at Bethel Military Academy. Maj. Robert McIntyre (1862-1952), a BMA graduate who had gone on to earn a law degree, married Maj. Smith's daughter, Elizabeth Blackwell Smith in 1881. Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Maj. McIntyre's home state of South Carolina, where he began a law practice.

    In 1886, Maj. Smith invited Maj. McIntyre to return to BMA as Associate Principal and Commandant of Cadets, following Col. Lightfoot's resignation. During the last two years of his life, Maj. Smith was less and less involved with the academy, allowing Maj. McIntyre to gradually assume control.

    Maj. Smith also appointed his son-in-law executor of his will, and in effect, his successor as Superintendent of BMA. By the time of Maj. Smith's death, enrollment at BMA had slipped to 50 students, and only six faculty members remained, including Maj. McIntyre.

    Soon after taking over, Maj. McIntyre made sweeping changes in the faculty, retaining only Dr. Thomas W. Smith and Prof. E. S. Blackwell, New members added to the staff were Rev. J. W. Grubbs, R. I. Hicks, M.D., and his brother, Douglas McIntyre, as Cadet Tutor.

    The following year, he hired two more instructors and Micah J. Jenkins, a West Point graduate, who served as the Commandant of Cadets. To reverse the falling enrollment, Maj. McIntyre worked hard to attract new students from other states. For the 1893-94 session, enrollment at BMA grew to 73 cadets, with 32 from Virginia, 40 from 13 other states, and one from Panama. Confident that he had solved the enrollment problem, Maj. McIntyre turned his attention to the buildings and grounds at Bethel.

    By the mid-1890s, most of the buildings were more than 20 years old, and in need of modernization and repair. As reported in the 1897 BMA Rifle, Maj. McIntyre sought a new location nearby that offered a more progressive atmosphere, and room to grow.

    Also at issue were two lawsuits brought by the Blackwell family to clear up inheritance obligations and the ownership of the Bethel Military Academy property. In Blackwell vs Blackwell, it was established Maj. Smith had never finished paying the late James Blackwell for the land that BMA had been built on. The property was still owned in part by his heirs, including Maj. Smith's wife.

    In Blackwell vs Smith's Executor, it was determined that if Maj. McIntyre wanted clear title to the property, it could be purchased from the remaining heirs for $10,000.

    Maj. McIntyre agreed, and the money was paid to Special Commissioner C. M. White, who acted on their behalf.(1) As far as the academy was considered, the issues of replacing the old BMA buildings and the court fight over the land became moot when Maj. McIntyre entered into an agreement with Mr. John F. Adams, of Baltimore, to lease the Fauquier White Sulphur Springs property southwest of Warrenton.

    The contract gave Maj. McIntyre a five-year lease on the former resort property, with the option to by, beginnings in May, 1896. The lease rate for Fauquier Springs was a mere $2400 per year, paid in three installments: $1200 on Sept. 15, 1896 and two payments of $600 each on March 15 and June 15, 1897.

    Cadets returning for the 1896-97session were greeted with a totally new environment. The 200-acre Fauquier Springs property offered Blue Ridge views and landscaped gardens, "designed by F. H. Cobb, landscape gardener for the Capitol grounds in Washington, D. C. ," according to the 1896-97 catalogue. Instead of the old wooden barracks, cadets stayed in eleven slate-roofed brick cottages, formerly used by guest families at the Springs. The five-story, brick resort hotel served as the main classroom building.

    Cadets were given the "privilege of using the water from the sulphur spring, which is wonderfully curative of all stomach troubles and dropsy and diseases of the nervous system," according to the 1896-97 catalogue. Maj. McIntyre was justly proud of his new facility, which he advertised extensively throughout the South and East. Since he did not want to pass the higher costs of operating the academy at Fauquier Springs directly on to the students, Maj. McIntyre sought instead to cover the difference through increased enrollment, which could be easily accommodated at the new facility. Bethel Military Academy was well-suited to its new location, which should have offered the opportunity for dramatic growth.

    All that was good about the old school - the taditions, the academic standards and the careful involvement of the faculty - remained intact while the school was operated at Fauquier Springs. Enrollment for the 1895-96 session at "Old Bethel" was 85 cadets; for 1896-97 and 1897-98 at Fauquier Springs, enrollment grew only slightly, never more than 100 cadets either session.

    After two years, enrollment was still only about half what the facility could physically or financially accommodate, and the "experiment" at Fauquier Springs was ended. The public reason given was that the facility was "not entirely satisfactory" as a site for the school.

    The lease was cancelled and the property was returned to its owners, who soon reopened the resort.

    Perhaps, enrollment of BMA while at Fauquier Springs could have been increased if the school had been marketed differently; or perhaps, if a different curriculum had been offered; or perhaps, if expenses could have been reduced… Or perhaps if new dynamics in education, which Maj. McIntyre and his staff did not anticipate, were not causing sweeping changes across America. Two years after BMA departed Fauquier Springs, a familiar tragedy was repeated there. After the close of the 1901 resort season, the huge brick hotel caught fire, and was completely destroyed.

    BMA Returns to "Old Bethel"

    The extensive renovations at Old Bethel that were postponed by the move to Fauquier Springs were finished the summer before the start of the 1898-99 session. According to the 1898-99 catalogue, D. P. Wood & Co. of Warrenton was hired to do the construction work. The contract called for the remodeling of all the cottages, classrooms, and accessory buildings. Of particular interest was the new water system, which brought in "a copious supply of crystal water" piped in from the hills above BMA.

    In spite of the improvements and other changes, enrollment for the 1898-99 session fell to only 44 students, with13 from Virginia. At the end of the school year, Maj. McIntyre resigned as Superintendent and went on to pursue other interests. Maj. McIntyre retained ownership of the academy property, but was no longer involved with the school. He began a second career as an attorney in Warrenton, where he would later enjoy great success. For the 1900-01 session, Prof. E. S. Blackwell, Dr. Thomas W. Smith, and Maj. Micah Jenkins served as co-principals of the academy. Enrollment increased to 66 students as BMA entered its final decade.

    Following two years of stewardship by the co-principals, BMA was reorganized under new leadership. Beginning with the 1902-03 session, William Mauzy Kemper (1881-1954), son of an old Fauquier County family, leased the academy from Maj. McIntyre. A former Bethel cadet and honor graduate of Hampden-Sidney College, W. M. Kemper assumed the position of Superintendent and Colonel at BMA, Young Col. Kemper brought extensive educational and administrative experience with him, having also served as an instructor, professor, and counselor after completing his undergraduate studies at Hampden-Sidney. Upon taking command, Col. Kemper worked hard to increase enrollment and strengthen the financial position of the academy. Creating a smaller, more versatile teaching staff was essential.

    In addition to his duties as Superintendent, Col. Kemper taught Latin, French, and German. His wife served as matron of the academy. Maj. Ray W. Richardson, a graduate of Kentucky Military Institute, was hired to serve as Commandant of Cadets, and professor of Science and Mathematics. Capt. Cahrles L. Kemper, also a graduate of Hampden-Sidney, taught English and Business, and Capt. J. W. Firor, a recent graduate of Maryland Agricultural College, served as an instructor in History and taught Drawing. Long-time Prof. E. S. Blackwel was given the rank of Captain, and continued to teach mathematics; Dr. Thomas W. Smith continued with the school until he died in 1907. His son-in-law, Dr. George W. Davis, succeeded him as School Physician. Along with the smaller teaching staff, costs were cut in other areas.

    No attempt was made to portray BMA as the stylish institution it was while at Fauquier Springs. Catalogues sent out during Col. Kemper's regime emphasized the quiality of education and the opportunities for personal development parents could expect for their sons at BMA. By counting the years before the War that the Bethel Boarding School operated there, Col. Kemper could claim, by 1907, that BMA was "The Oldest Preparatory School in Virginia." As for the facilities at Old Bethel, the 1907-08 catalogue stated that:

    "Improvements have been made, and will be made, from time to time, in order to keep the school equal to the best…and the entire place is as a simple, substantial military post, comfortable and sufficient in every detail for a training school." During the years that Col. Kemper operated the school, it maintained its many old traditions, it closeness with its students, and its high educational standards.

    Military drills continued as before, but with additional emphasis on athletics. BMA cadets fielded teams for many sports during its final years, including football, baseball, and tennis. BMA athletes competed with local high schools and other private schools. No figures from 1902-03 to 1909-10 are available, but it appears that enrollment never exceeded 60 cadets in the early years of the decade, and had declined to only 44 (17 from Virginia) for the final session in 1910-11. BMA continued to enjoy strong support from college educators, former cadets, parents and others until the final session. The catalogue sent out for the 1909-10 session included testimonials from the presidents of Hampden-Sidney College and Washington and Lee University, the president of Tredegar Iron Works of Richmond, and others. Also quoted were well-known Fauquier residents, including Warrenton druggist Joseph A, Jeffries, and Prof. George B. Butler, principal of the Fauquier Institute for Young Ladies. Former Superintendent Maj. Robert A. McIntyre strongly endorsed Col. Kemper's efforts at BMA, expressing his "unbounded confidence in (Col. Kemper's) ability to carry "Old Bethel" forward in her noble career." The catalogue also carried an 1898 editorial from the True Index, in Warrenton, which pointed out that: "Any disaster to Bethel would almost paralyze this county, especially our locality. It has brought nearly a million dollars into our midst, the most of which has been left here… Have we been doing our part in return for these benefits? What the University is to Charlottesville, Bethel is to Fauquier." Scant information about the closing of Bethel Military Academy has been uncovered. Certainly, the school continued to suffer from financial difficulties and a falling enrollment, but even in the final 1910-11 catalogue, Col.. Kemper wrote optimistically of the future. But he did not include any of the customary testimonials, perhaps because he knew that they would not be needed. With the celebration of "Finals" on June 7, 1911, Bethel Military Academy passed into history.

    BMA Evaluated

    In his 1945 thesis on Bethel Military Academy, P. B. Smith examines the rise and decline of the school in terms of the evolution of education in Virginia. The years 1875 to 1885, which were marked by high enrollments and a stable teaching staff, were perhaps the best years of the academy's existence. But it was also at the end of that period that the demand for universal educational opportunities provided by state-supported school facilities in Virginia had reached the point where something had to be done. By 1900, public interest in education was very high. Mrs. Smith wrote that:

    "The people were beginning to become conscious of the value of education fot the general populace as well as the chosen few. "The academies had come into existence very largely to meet the demand that was being expressed now. But even if they had diversified their offerings tot he extent that they could offer the type of training that was needed, they could reach only the rich, the ones who could afford the price."(2)

    Quite possibly, competition for private school students brought on by the opening of the Stuyvesant School in Warrenton in 1912 helped hasten the decision to close BMA. Rather than strict military schooling, Stuyvesant offered a protected, exclusive environment for its students. Instead of drill and ceremonies, activities at Stuyvesant included horse shows and polo, more inline with emerging trends in private schools. Mr. Smith concluded that:

    "All evidence points to the definite trend in education at the time; the academies were destined to follow the same course the Latin Grammar Schools had been forced to take at the time the academies came into prominence."(3) Bethel Military Academy flourished as long as it did because it was an exceptional institution. Costs were much lower than other academies, which kept it within reach of more families for a longer period of time. The dedication of the teaching staff and the quality of education offered there was outstanding, and the school was supported by its alumni and the local community until the end.


    Little is remembered of any activity at Old Bethel after the academy closed in 1911. Maj. McIntyre kept the 90-acre property for many years, selling to Charles T. Grant in August, 1948. As improvements are not mentioned in the transfer, it can be assumed that during the intervening years, the old academy buildings sat idle, and were lost over time to fire, termites, and deterioration. Watched over by the old stone chapel, the oak grove and grasses of the field reclaimed the old campus and parade ground. Charles Grant kept the property for less than two years, selling it to Robert M. and Frances S. Bartenstein in July, 1950. They kept the property for about nine years, until it was sold to a young developer, A. "Buddy" Yurgaitis, in November, 1959. Mr. Yurgaitis subdivided the property into 155 lots, and sought approval from the county to begin selling the lots and building homes at the new "Bethel Academy Subdivision." As soon as approval was granted, a storm of protest began, led by Bethel Valley residents and others who wished to preserve the site. Meetings and public hearings were held, at which the approval process and the actions of the County were bitterly attacked as providing too little protection for rural land and historic sites.

    The opponents' strategy was to stall, and eventually stop, the development of the property.

    An article written in The Fauquier Democrat in 1960 analyzed the passion felt by those wishing to preserve the grounds of Old Bethel. "Few sites in Fauquier are identified more closely than Bethel with the charm of the past… Bethel has a tradition of gallantry and an historical significance almost unmatched elsewhere. "If change must come, Bethel is the last place those who remember would want to see it."(4) At the end of the article, Brig. Gen. John B. Rose, U.S. Army (Ret.), of Bethel, explained that opponents of the subdivision were "Fighting to preserve some of the character of the County."

    Gen. Rose was a descendent of the original Blackwell family, and a graduate of BMA, where he received the Gen. William H. Payne Medal in 1898. The manner in which the subdivision plats were approved, and the planning commission vote itself (2-1 in favor) gave opponents grounds for a legal challenge. A temporary injunction against the development was issued by Judge Rayner V. Snead on March 8, 1960. The injunction stood until early June, after which the opponents took the case to the State Court of Appeals. After hearing the case, the high court ruled in favor of the County and the developer. The first lots at the academy were sold by the end of the month. Unwilling to concede defeat, opponents continued the fight by trying to disrupt Mr. Yurgaitis; efforts to sell the lots. In August, Dr. Murdock Head, of nearby Arlie Farm, built the 'Bethel Valley Hog Farm," complete with feed troughs and old school buses used as hog sheds, on agricultural property directly across from the entrance to the subdivision. As more lots were sold, the possibility of saving the grounds of Old Bethel diminished. In early 1962, the hog farm was moved to a different part of Arlie, and an uneasy truce prevailed. Having seen what happened at Old Bethel, opponents of the development and others concerned with the future of the county demanded new, more carefully constructed regulations to protect historic sites and open land in Fauquier. Shortly afterward, Fauquier County began work on its first Comprehensive Plan, created to control and direct the growth that would follow.

  • 1. Deed Book 89, Page 20 (1896), Fauquier County Clerk's Office
  • 2. Smith, Peter Bartow, Bethel Military Academy, Master Thesis, prepared for the faculty of the University of Virginia, 1945, P. 45
  • 3. Ibid., p. 121
  • 4. The Fauquier Democrat, "History Holds Key to Battle of Bethel," April 28, 1960, P. 3.
  • Additional Reference Sources

    Fauquier County, Virginia Tombstone Inscriptions, Vol. 1, by Nancy C. Baird and Carol Jordan, 1994. The Beverly Family of Virginia, by John McGill. Reprinted 1995 by the Thomas Turner Assn.

  • This page updated 3 Oct 2012