Rena Worthen, Web Adm

Reminiscences Of A Prep, Of A Primary School of Lexington, VA from 1833 to 1837 For the County News-1 1899

Angela Ruley

Early in the decade of the thirties I recall my introduction into a school conducted by Amos Botsford and wife, located on Main street below the court house, between Mr. Andrew Withrow's and Mr. Samuel Dold's houses, and since razed. This school was a successor to one kept by a man, Tidd, whom the venerable ex-mayor will recall. To us he was a tradition and a fearful one too. The suaviter in modo now took the place of the forster in re, at least much modified was the discipline. In this school of about seventy scholars, male and female, were represented most of the best families of the town and its environs. The teacher was skilled in music and was a precentor in the old Presbyterian church, then standing in what is now the cemetery, as well as instructor to the brass band of some eight or ten pieces which was a part of a volunteer company which always turned out and fired salutes on the Fourth of July and the 22nd of February. The band always attended Washington College commencement exercises and played after each graduate's speech, which took place in the college chapel. The chapel was then in the main building in front of the stairs of today and had a gallery. Afterwards the exercises were celebrated in the church, the chapel being too small. I recall the dense crowds in the body of the church and the galleries. Dr. Henry Ruffner was the president, though I do not recall the president of college when exercises were held in the chapel. In my earliest recollection of the college grounds there were two buildings of brick much in ruins standing in front of what is now north dormitory and Newcomb hall. There was also a steward's house, a brick building, where at the time I write a classical or preparatory school was taught. This building stood near the site of the present chapel of the university. The town then had 900 inhabitants and extended on Main street from Clyce's (now Blue) hotel to Hendren's, opposite northwest end of the cemetery. The back street or Jefferson street, began at Clyce's and extended parallel to Main to where Mr. J. McD. Alexander's house now stands, the street being terminated by a part of Wm. Taylor's farm. The other Back street, or Randolph street, extended from J. T. L. Preston's land by the Back spring up to the lot upon which stands the A. S. Bacon house. The V. M. I. was then the arsenal commanded by Captain D. E. Moore, where the nation's defenders periodically got their guns for three days training for the general muster of the regiment. Big muster! Glorious day! The Revolution and War of '12 still impressed into the people a war spirit and even the youth had the spirit to form military companies and marched in uniform with colors, drum and fife. There was a big dinner where the military officers feasted and drank patriotic toasts and sang national songs of land and sea victories where a few men who had followed Washington were present, upon whom we looked with great respect. Only two families today occupy the houses in which their fathers lived. The hotels were Clyce's now Blue hotel, belonging to Washington and Lee university, Sloan's hotel, now Irvine's hotel, Burton's hotel, now McCrum's Drug store and Walz's confectionery, and McDowell's, now occupied by Mrs. Robert McDowell. On the east side of Main street there were no pavements, except in a few places, up to the cemetery. On the west side there were pavements from John F. Caruther's, opposite court house, to Dr. Paine's, now Methodist church site; thence to the cemetery gate there were two wide planks upon which the congregation walked to and from the Presbyterian church or cemetery gate of today. On the Sabbath the Sunday school was held in the church and the little boys and girls were consigned to the tender care of Miss Sallie Turner in a small brick house, standing in the rear of the church near the square in which General Jackson's grave was. It was called the study. There from the pictures on the walls I learned some Bible history. While so near the church I'll go in and see the pew I sat in as a Sunday School scholar at the feet of C. C. Baldwin. There were three or four doors on the front and rear. The first door on the west of front led into the aisle in front of the pulpit. Three aisles ran perpendicular to it, one in the centre and the other to two doors along each side. The floor had one or two steps as you went towards the door, near the old oak tree now standing. The pulpit was six or eight feet high, had two flights of stairs leading up into it and a large sounding board suspended over the preacherís head. It was a subject of serious speculation on the part of the juvenile members of the congregation lest it should fall and catch the preacher, who was a Mr. Douglas and afterwards Mr. Wm. Cunningham. Near the centre of the aisle in front of the pulpit was a large column supporting the ceiling along which the rope from the bell descended, and from its fastenings David Buck, the old sexton and grave-digger, solemnly detached it and rang the bell, always with a grave and uniform motion of limb and body. Around three sides ran the gallery, the east gallery appropriated to Negroes, the south and western to students. A little later the south or one opposite the pulpit was used by the choir. The church was heated by three large ten plate stoves, each plate seemingly seven eights inches thick. The casting was very rough and the dates on them, I think went back into the last century. Bricks were heated in them for the use of the ladies; also a very few little fire-boxes were used. The ceiling was of boards and some of them were warped loose and a dark crevice filled the small boy with terror at what might dwell up there. A road diverged from the Main street at the upper corner of the graveyard, near the Bowyer tombstones, towards the late Fair grounds, which road was filled with horses hitched at every re-entrant angle of the fence on both sides, besides a vacant lot opposite the cemetery where the residences of Mrs. McCrum and others now stand, was filled with carriages and horses. The congregation was largely composed of country folk. Opposite the northwest side of the churchyard was the Hendren house, very small and the last house on Main street going southwest. To the aged retrospection has its charms unknown to young manhood and the pictures of the past are indelibly impressed upon the memory. As sequel to the within I may write the men and homes of the people in the town. I knew them all. B.F.W.

Angela Ruley

End Notes

1. Rockbridge County News, 26 January 1899, p. 3.

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