By Patrick Farris
The earliest private school on record in Front Royal was the school begun by Samuel Simpson around 1800.
Simpson began his school in his home, located near what is now the entrance to Skyline Drive. It is said that his school "attained such reputation that youths from adjoining counties were among the students, and for some years from seventy to a hundred scholars were to be seen in one room."
Between 1848 and 1850, Simpson was the head of the Front Royal Academy.
The Front Royal Academy, which was located on Crescent Street, was probably an outgrowth of Simpson's private school. The academy was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly on March 22, 1837. The building, however, was not erected until 1847.
The building was located on the Crescent Street home of Nettie Weaver, a daughter of John Weaver, who purchased the school. The academy was closed for the duration of the Civil War, 1861-65, and the building was used as a hospital to care for sick and wounded soldiers.
The academy was reopened soon after end of the war and remained open until free schools were established by the act of 1870. The academy's trustees sold the property to John D. Weaver in 1870.
The Stonewall Institute operated in Front Royal from about 1869-72. That school was built by G.E. Roy at his home on Manor Avenue (now South Royal Avenue). The building used for his school remodeled in 1937 for use as an apartment house. It was originally a two-story, stone structure consisting of three rooms. Geography, grammar, arithmetic, and some Latin and French were taught. Girls and boys attended the academy, but during classroom instruction they were segregated.
With the closing of the Front Royal Academy in 1869 and Roy's Academy in 1872, several people endeavored to continue instruction on the secondary level in Front Royal by holding classes in the home of the teacher in a room set aside for school purposes. Two of these private schools were the schools of Gussie Brown and Lore Stinson.
Still another private school was operated by Alice and Lettis Holcombe at a house on the corner of Lee Street and Luray Avenue. This school was something of a secondary school, as evidenced by the subjects taught.
The Holcombe school was closed about 1900. The building [was] the home of George Ramey.
Roberta Macatee, who had taught in the Holcombe School, opened her own school in Riverton in 1897 with assistance from her sister, Marjorie Macatee Kerfoot. The building used was the Kenner House, an old hotel. The school continued its successful existence until the year 1900, when it moved to Front Royal. There it occupied various sites until 1903, when the school was closed.
The only evidence of organized secondary instruction in a school of private character existing in Warren County outside of Front Royal was to be found in Shenandoah Normal College, located in Reliance. This college was founded in Middletown in 1883 by Professor G.W. Haenschal. The college changed its location several times, until finally in 1893 it was moved to Reliance in Warren County. It was housed in a four-story, frame building. The college's aim was to train the student mentally, morally, and physically.
The college was an institution of good reputation and attracted many students whose homes were in Warren County. Around 1900, there were nearly 200 students enrolled. The school offered boarding and was coeducational. On June 1, 1914, Shenandoah Normal College came to a permanent end when it was destroyed by fire.
Another institution of a private character was Eastern Normal College founded in Front Royal in 1900. J.S. Gruver of Washington, D.C., was the college's chief organizer. The school was coeducational and offered academic preparatory courses as well as college courses. There were 14-16 faculty members. According to Gruver, the average attendance during his tenure as president of Eastern College was somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 students from 45 different states.
This is the second in a series of articles on education in Warren County. Interested in local history? Come visit the Warren Heritage Society in Front Royal. Refer to warrenheritagesociety.org for contact information, hours and location. Patrick Farris is executive director of the Warren Heritage Society.