Beginning of West Virginia State University

History of Education in West Virginia, by B. S. Morgan and J. F. Cork. (Charleston: Moses W. Donnally, 1893), pp. 189-94


Among the many perplexing questions which arose at the close of the great civil struggle, was the one, ''What shall we do with the 4,000,000 unlettered freedmen?"

A far-seeing philanthropist made the following wise answer: "Give the negro books and tools; teach him the use of both and he will take care of himself."

Acting upon this grandly humane and practical principle, schools for the industrial education of the Negro have been established in almost all, if not quite all, of the southern States.

In these institutions the student is given not mere text-book theory. In the machine shop, amid the hum of wheels and the sound of hammer and saw, or on the farm, following the plow or gathering the ripened harvests of "Summer's blessing hand," he is working out the salvation of a race.

Learning the useful lessons of honest toil, he is converting himself from the worthless loafer into the industrious, intelligent mechanic and farmer.

When a citizen takes up hoe or hammer we need not fear for his future as a member of "the body politic." The West Virginia Colored Institute belongs to this class of institutions.

It was established by an act of Congress, approved August 30, 1890, entitled "An act to apply a portion of the proceeds of the public lands to the more complete endowment and support of the colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts established under the provisions of an act of Congress approved July 2nd, 1862."

By this act West Virginia received as her share an annual appropriation of $18,000. Of this sum, by an Act of the Legislature, session of 1891, $15,000 were given to the West Virginia University and $3,000 to the West Virginia Colored Institute, established by the same act. This sum was divided thus between the white and colored populations of the State as an equitable division based upon the enumeration of the white and colored youth of school age.

The $3,000 thus appropriated to the Institute was to continue for five years, at the end of which time it is to be increased to $5,000 annually, the maximum sum.

When the bill locating the Institute was pending, an earnest effort was made by the trustees of Storer College, at Harper's Ferry, to secure for that institution the appropriation thus made. In fact, the name of Storer College was inserted in the original draft of the resolution, which had reached its third reading, when James H. Ferguson, member of the House from Kanawha, at the request of the most prominent Negro citizens of his county, moved to amend by striking, out the words, "Storer College, county of Jefferson," and insert "some institution to be established in the county of Kanawha[.]" The amendment prevailed and a new institution was secured to the State and the West Virginia Colored Institute was secured to Kanawha county.

An appropriation of $10,000 was made with which to purchase a farm of not more than 50 acres, and to build a suitable building for such an institution.

At first it was thought best to purchase the property known as Shelton College, situated on the lofty hill overlooking the village of St. Albans. But the committee appointed, after investigation, reported adversely. It was then decided to build at some suitable location a building.

Finally, 30 acres of level bottom land were purchased from Mrs. Elijah Hurt, near Farm, on the Great Kanawha river. This land is a part of the estate left by Samuel Cabell, deceased, a former wealthy slave owner, who was assassinated at the close of the late war. The price paid was $2,250. Upon this farm the Board of the School Fund proceeded to have erected a building. Col. John Fulks, of Charleston, was the architect in charge. Marble Kyle, of the same city, was awarded the contract.

Ground was broken August 25, 1891, and the corner-stone was laid on Sunday, October 11th, of the same year, under the auspices of the Charleston Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, Grand Master W. H. Robinson, of Parkersburg, presiding. Orations were delivered by Rev. C. H. Payne, of Hinton, and Principal W. H. Davis, of the Charleston public schools.

The building was completed about the first of April, 1892, and was received by the Board of the School Fund on April 20th.

The building is three stories (including the basement) and is built of red brick and native blue stone. It cost $9,546.

The basement takes up the whole ground plan of the building and is divided into two rooms, a small one containing the boiler and a very large one containing the engine and wood working machines.

The next story has the class rooms, which by the use of the sliding partitions, can be thrown into one very large room. On this floor just across a wide hall is the printing office, containing the printing press and material for the teaching of practical printing. At the rear of this and opening into the wide hall just mentioned is the Principal's private room and office.

In the third story on the left of a large hall is the lecture room, 60x20. Across the hall, the Principal at present has apartments.

The building is heated throughout by steam.

The Institute and its surroundings present a pleasing and a picturesque appearance. Situated on a slight rise in the center of its thirty-acre farm which gently, almost imperceptibly falls away from it on all sides, it is open to the view in every direction for miles.

At the rear of the building is a large grove of grand old beeches. At the foot of one of the largest of these, bubbles up the cold, clear water of the famous "Old Cabell Spring." Local tradition ascribes to it medicinal virtues. Whether the drinking of its waters gives long life or not, certain it is that the old spring has found and holds concealed the secret of eternal vitality for itself. For the drouths of the hottest summers have never dimished [sic] its generous flow.

Quite a distance to the front of the building, (just far enough to make a pretty foreground to the pleasant picture), stand the pine and oak-clad hills, called in local parlance "The Mountains." In the back ground flows the Great Kanawha river.

At the rear of the Campus just beyond a deep ravine, through which the river at some prehistoric upheaval tore its resistless way, is an object of interest to the antiqarian [sic]

It consists of a tract of land, almost if not quite half an acre in area; which has been cut off by a moat such as surrounded the castles of medieval England. This was until quite recently filled with water.

The tract thus enclosed is in the form of the accompanying figure and is laid off as correctly as though by geometrical measurement.

The land adjacent to this, slopes gently away from it as though for drainage It is known locally as the "Old Indian Fort." But the writer has not the slightest doubt but that this interesting object was cons[t]ructed by hands other than those of the Indians. The correctness of the work and the fact that in sight, looking from the Institute building, can be seen five or six of those interesting mounds whose erection we ascribe to the pre-historic people, called for want of a better name - "Mound Builders," is conclusive evidence to the writer that the same skillful hands which beaped up those huge piles of earth as mausoleums to their distinguished dead, devised this for their protection. The moat which surrounds it was at one time doubtless twenty-five or thirty feet wide and ten or fifteen feet deep. The tract of land thus enclosed was an island as the moat was filled with water. On this island lived this strange people who have left such scant record of themselves.

The mounds to which I referred have been opened by an agent of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington. In the largest mound, the skeleton of one who when alive could have contended with the "Sons of Anak," was found Lying beside him were the skletons [sic] of two others, evidently wives of this Mound-Building "Og of Basham."

The Principal of the Institute has given strict orders for the preservation of this "fort" of the Mound Builders. .

* * * The Board of Regents, consisting of Col. B. W. Byrne, Charleston, President; Col. S. R. Hanen, McMechen, Secretary; Hon. C. H. Turner, Parkersburg, Treasurer; Prof. John A. Myers, A. M., Ph. D., Director of the Government Experiment Station at Morgantown, and Hon. B. F. Wyatt, Charleston, appointed by His Excellency, Gov. A. B. Fleming, elected at their meeting April 1, 1892, J. Edwin Campbell, formerly Principal of the Langston School at Point Pleasant, Principal of the Institute and Professor of Mathematical Science, Byrd Prillerinan, Assistant Principal in the Garnett School at Charleston, Professor of English Language, and T. C. Friend, Practical Farmer. The Board was unable to secure a Professor of Mechanics at this meeting. At a later date, J. Cantty, of Marietta, Ga., was appointed to the position, and Mrs. Mary Champ-Campbell Instructor in Vocal Music and Drawing.

The institute was formally opened May 3rd, 1892, in the presence of the Board of Regents and an audience of over four hundred people. The Principal delivered his inaugural address, "Negro Industrial Education." Rev. G. B. Howard, of Charleston then spoke upon "A Complete Education," and Col. Hanen and Dr. Myers, for the Board, spoke of the aims of the institution.

In the experimental term which followed the opening, twenty students were registered.

The curriculum embraces: 1. A course in Pure Mathematics; Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry.

2. A course in the English Language.

3. A course in Natural and Applied Sciences, Philosophy, Chemistry.

4. A course in Practical Agriculture.

5, A course in Practical Mechanics.

Pure Mathematics, the Sciences and the English Language are divided into two departments: Preparatory and Academic, with three years' work in each.

By a contract with the State Superintendent, Hon. B. S. Morgan, signed on September 5, 1892, a Normal Department under State patronage was added to the Institute.

This distinguishes the institution as not only the Negro Agricultural and Mechanical Institute of the State, but as the Negro State Normal School as well. The Normal Course is identical with that of the State Normal Schools.

The Mechanical Department of the Institute possesses $3,000 worth of wood-working machinery: One 20 power boiler, one 15 power engine, one universal wood-worker, one planer and matcher, one chair mortiser and borer, one scroll saw, one tool grinder, one emory grinder, one rocker carver and three turning lathes.

In the printing office connected with this department is a complete printing outfit. A monthly journal will shortly be published from this office.

The Agricultural Department has a splendid team and all the implements of practical farming. The products of this branch of the Institute work the first season exceeded $220 in value.

The present registration of the Institution is thirty-five, the majority of these having come quite a distance. The boys have assisted themselves materially by their labor as they are allowed 8 cents per hour for all work performed. An interesting literary society, called in honor of the sweet New England poet whose "Voices of Freedom" makes the name strikingly appropriate the "Whittier Literary Society," is been organized by the students and is doing much to cultivate an excellent literary taste among them. They have also, actuated by the laudable desire to do something themselves to build up the Institute, worked energetically, and by concerts and other methods raised money sufficient to purchase a fine $105 chapel organ.

A building comprising boarding hall and dormitory will be erected in the spring.

Such is the history of the West. Virginia Colored Institute, an institution, the corner stone of whose building was laid just a little over one year ago and which has been open for students but nine months.

Shall we not confidently hope for it a useful and therefore successful future?

Teaching the lessons of industry and economy; teaching the mind to intelligently conceive and the hand to skillfully execute; teaching the beauty and the glory of a manly manhood and a womanly womanhood, God's favor is secured. Out from it shall go intelligent mechanics and intelligent farmers to become the leaven of thrift in the communities in which they ply their manly callings; teachers not in name merely but teachers who teach; men and women who shall honor the Institute, honor themselves, their race and country and honor their God.


West Virginia Archives and History