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Monday, June 29, 2015

Chancellor High School, 1912-1940

Chancellor High School, about 1920

     In June 2005, a reunion was held by the surviving students of Spotsylvania's first high school. In commemoration of that event, 90-year-old Orene Dickinson Todd (whose name has previously appeared in Spotsylvania Memory in this intriguing post) wrote a detailed history of the school. Her research is the basis for much of what appears here today.

Orene Dickinson, 1933 (

     On August 12, 1912, two acres at the intersection of modern Andora Drive and Old Plank Road were purchased from Benjamin Polglaise for $200. This money was raised by a group of civic-minded citizens, since there were no public funds available. Additional money was then committed to the construction of a four-room building, which accommodated the elementary grades and two years of high school. And so was born Chancellor High School, the first to exist in Spotsylvania.
     Within five years, the school had doubled in size to eight rooms, four on each side of a wide center corridor. Two additional years of high school instruction were made available, and the first class of seniors who benefited from all four years graduated in 1919. The senior class that year consisted of Mollie Orrock, Inez White and Winnie Mason Winn. Mollie taught at Chancellor Elementary school for more than 40 years (I was privileged to be one of her students).

Mollie Orrock (
     In 1925, a second building was erected to accommodate the growing number of elementary school students. This building remained in use until the new Chancellor Elementary School was built on Route 3 in 1939.
     For many years, most of the children got to school by walking or on horseback, some of them from as far as four miles away. A shed was provided to stable the horses. In the late 1920s, "converted farm trucks, equipped with long benches and roll-up curtains, came into usage. They were driven by older high school boys and financed by parents whose children were passengers."
     During the 28 years of its existence, there were nine principals at Chancellor. They were:

Viola Spitzer (1912-1914)
Lillian Todd (1915-1917)
Virginia Isabel Willis (1918-1920)
Katie Gill (1921)
Elmer Grant Barnum (1922-1924)
M.A. Waldrop (1925)
Elmer Grant Barnum (1926-1931)
Mildred Starnes (1932-1936)
Nora Crickenberger (1937-1939)
Emma Frances Baker (1940)

     Shown in the picture at the top of today's post is principal Virginia Isabel Willis with her students. She was a graduate of Mary Washington College. In 1920 she married Hansford Herndon Rowe, a noted veterinarian and a son of Josiah Porter Rowe, who served as mayor of Fredericksburg 1912-1920. Dr. Rowe died tragically in Richmond in 1945, when a shotgun he was carrying in his car fell over and discharged its load into his chest.

Virginia Isabel Willis (

     Also shown in the group picture above is Mildred Barnum, who attended Mary Washington College. Mildred taught math at Chancellor. During the 1930s, she wrote a number of surveys of the historic properties of the Spotsylvania area for the Works Progress Administration.

Mildred Barnum (

     Mildred was the daughter of Reverend Elmer Grant Barnum, Chancellor's longest serving principal. Reverend Barnum was a graduate of the University of Rochester and the Rochester Theological Seminary, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He and his family came to Virginia in 1909 and he served as minister at the following Baptist churches: Eley's Ford, Wilderness, Flat Run, Zoan, Salem and Goshen.

Reverend Elmer Grant Barnum

     During the existence of the school, approximately 200 students graduated. The last graduating class consisted of 11 students. The valedictorian was my aunt, Nancy Humphries.

Nancy Humphries

     On August 18, 1940, the Chancellor school property was sold to Allen Thayer Crawford, who renovated the elementary school into a house for himself. The first dollar I ever earned, which I still have, was made by cutting Mr. Crawford's grass more than 50 years ago. His younger daughter, Marion, and her husband Tom Thorburn, were instrumental in establishing dial-up service for the Fredericksburg & Wilderness Telephone Company.
     The original Chancellor school building changed hands several times over the years, and ultimately became the Chancellor Community Center in 1968. Ten years later it was donated to Spotsylvania County.

Chancellor basketball team, 1935

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