Berkeley book a chronicle of school days past

December 29, 1997

Berkeley book a chronicle of school days past


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Staring out from page 54 is a group of youngsters, now almost certainly gone, posing stiffly before the one-room Tuscarora School in 1907.

"An Architectural and Pictorial History of Berkeley County, Volume IV," is 252 pages of school days long past and up to the present. Dorothy C. Myers, secretary of the Berkeley County Historical Society, spent four years compiling the photos, records, memories and newspaper clippings chronicling 250 years of education.

"One of the most surprising things I learned was that the early settlers who came to Berkeley County valued education and learning. Along with their guns and plows, they brought their libraries," the retired banker said recently.


In the mid-18th century, learning was mostly confined to the home because so few people lived in the county. As the population grew, settlers would band together to form "subscription schools," with families paying a few dollars each to a schoolmaster, according to Myers.

Many teachers, all men in the early years, came from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. When women began to enter the profession, "only widows and single women could teach," Myers said.

Boys might expect an education preparing them for careers in law, the clergy or medicine, Myers said. Girls, expected to be wives and mothers, were schooled in the "3 Rs" and learned domestic skills at home, according to the book.

"At one time, German was required in the schools of Berkeley County because so many people spoke the language," she said.

"Many blackboards were just painted black. Slate was too expensive," she said. Paper was also in short supply and students went to school with small slates hung around their necks, she said.

The book notes that free schooling was not the law until 1846. Prior to that, The Literary Fund was established to pay for the education of the poor.

Unfortunately, an early report noted there were 360 children whose parents were unable to afford schooling and funds "sufficient to educate only 62."

After the Civil War, the state provided for the free education of black children, as well. Myers noted that seven of the 83 schools in the county were for blacks. The first black high school in the Shenandoah Valley was Sumner School.

It began as a log cabin but, in an ironic twist, was later rebuilt with bricks from the Harpers Ferry Arsenal, where a decade before John Brown had attempted to start a slave insurrection.

The one- and two-room schoolhouses over the decades were consolidated into larger schools. The book lists the Swan Pond Colored School, the Soho and Mingo schools among those that no longer exist.

Others have taken on new roles. Sumner School became the Ramer School, which is now Ramer Memorial, a vocational and community center, according to the book. The John Street School is now the Berkeley County Magistrate Building.

As the title indicates, the book is as much about the buildings as the students and teachers who learned and taught in them. Published this year, the $45 volume is up to date with information about schools that are still under construction.

Berkeley County Historical Society President Don Wood said this is the fourth in a series of books about the county's history. Previous publications included a general history of the county, a book on Martinsburg and another on Bedington, Knipetown and Falling Waters, W.Va.

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