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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

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bivouac of the Dead

Bloody Angle, Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield

     Soon after the Civil War's fighting came to an end, hundreds of men with the First Veteran Volunteers came to Spotsylvania on a mission quite different from that of the tens of thousands of soldiers, both North and South, who had fought here. These Volunteers were charged with the responsibility of locating the remains of United States soldiers in the Spotsylvania region, and re-interring them in what is now known as the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
     While going about their grim task near the McCoull house at what history remembers as the Bloody Angle, a sign was crafted from one of the  thousands of headboards that were made by the Volunteers and was affixed to a bullet-scarred tree. Written on it was part of a stanza from a poem written years earlier by Theodore O'Hara to commemorate the dead of the Mexican War:

     On Fame's Eternal Camping Ground
     Their silent tents are spread
     And glory guards, with solemn round
     The bivouac of the dead.

On August 25, 1866, George Washington Estes Row, a Spotsylvania native who had fought with the 9th and 6th Virginia Cavalries during the Civil War, rode down Brock Road from his house to this place, and stood at the very tree pictured above. He carried with him a small memorandum book which he had captured in 1864 from a trooper of the 5th New York Cavalry. With his pencil, he wrote the words from that head board:

     During a recent visit to Spotsylvania, I met my friend, historian John Cummings, at Bloody Angle. John brought with him a replica he had made of the head board, made of old pine and of the exact dimensions of the one in the picture above. John situated me at the location of where that tree once stood 149 years ago, and took a picture of me from the perspective of where my great-grandfather stood when he copied the words of that famous poem.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Zouaves Come to Chancellorsville

The Collis Zouaves at the Jackson monument, May 1899

     Unlike their first visit to Chancellorsville in May 1863, the Collis Zouaves received a friendly welcome when they came to the Fredericksburg area 36 years later for the dedication of their monument at the Chancellorsville battlefield.

Charles H.T. Collis, left (LOC)


     Charles Henry Tucker Collis (1838-1902) was an Irish immigrant who arrived in America in 1853 and began his law practice in Philadelphia in 1859. Soon after hostilities commenced between the United States and those in rebellion in the South, Collis was authorized to organize a regiment of volunteers, the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who called themselves the "Zouaves D'Afrique." Like a number of other regiments of the time, the 114th Pennsylvania adopted the stylish uniforms of the zouaves, French light infantry units which served in North Africa in the mid-19th century. These uniforms typically sported fezzes or turbans, short colorful jackets and billowy trousers.

Members of Company H, Collis Zouaves at Petersburg, August 1864 (LOC)

     The 114th Pennsylvania distinguished itself in a number of engagements during the Civil War. Colonel Collis was particularly noteworthy during the battle of Fredericksburg, and was belatedly awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1893. In May 1863, the Zouaves were positioned near the Chancellor house and took very heavy casualties during the battle, losing three officers and 35 enlisted men. Colonel Collis, suffering either from malaria or typhoid fever, had to be carried from the field on a stretcher when he could no longer stand.

114th Pennsylvania at Germantown (LOC)

     In early May, 1899, several surviving members of the Zouaves, including Charles Collis, came to Spotsylvania for the dedication of the monument commemorating the names of their 38 comrades who had fallen at Chancellorsville. I have not seen it, but I believe this monument is on the south side of Route 3 just east of the NPS Visitor's Center.
     Collis and his fellow veterans were accompanied by members of the Chancellorsville Battlefield Park Association, with Vespasian Chancellor acting as their guide. Vespasian showed them around the local battlefields and posed with them for a picture taken at Stonewall Jackson's monument. I am pretty sure that is Vespasian leaning against the tree at far right.

Vespasian Chancellor (Photo taken by Tom Myers at the NPS Visitors Center)

     Vespasian's grandfather, George Edwards Chancellor, was the original owner of the grand house known to history as Chancellorsville. It was built as a wedding gift for him and his wife, Ann Lyon, by her mother's step-brother, wealthy Baltimore merchant William Lorman. During the Civil War, Vespasian Chancellor served in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, and was for a time attached to the headquarters of J.E.B. Stuart as a scout. In 1893, he married his cousin, Sue Chancellor, who (with members of her family and others) had been made prisoner in her own home, Chancellorsville, during the time that General Hooker made it his headquarters.
     Charles Collis appreciated the warmth and kindness he received while in Spotsylvania, as mentioned in this article which appeared in the May 11, 1899 edition of The Free Lance:


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Past Meets Present in West Chester


     Three years ago I wrote an article describing the dramatic events that occurred at Oakley, the farm of Leroy Wonderful Dobyns, during the battle of the Wilderness. Based on a letter written by Leroy's daughter, Maria, to my great grand aunt, Nannie Row, this remains one of my more popular pieces, as Maria describes in cinematic detail the level of suffering and violence experienced by one family on the the periphery of the major fighting that took place in Spotsylvania in May 1864.
      One of the actors in that drama was Major William B. Darlington of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was shot off his horse near the Dobyns' house. Major Darlington was taken to the nearby home of William Shelton Buchanan, where his leg was amputated by Dr. Taylor,  the surgeon of General Wade Hampton. He survived his ordeal, and after the war  was appointed postmaster of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
     Recently it was brought to my attention that Malcom Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District, wrote an article on the history of the West Chester post office, in which he cited Spotsylvania Memory's article. His piece can be read here.
     It is always satisfying when events from the past can be utilized to amplify our understanding of the present.

Monday, March 16, 2015

John P. Kale

John P. Kale, about 1846 (Polk County Memorial Museum)

     The story of John Kale has its beginnings in the Alps of Switzerland, where John's father, Anthony Kale, was born about 1790 in Chur, the capital of the canton Graubunden. A candy maker by trade, Anthony made his way from landlocked Switzerland to a port city in western Europe. Once there, he boarded a sailing ship and crossed the Atlantic. Whether he came alone or with relatives, at what city in America did he arrive, and exactly what year he undertook that perilous journey are questions that have remained unanswered.
     However, by some time after 1810 Anthony Kale was living in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His name first appears in the written record on April 10, 1816, when his marriage to Catherine Estes was announced in The Virginia Herald. Catherine Estes was one of ten children born to Richard and Catherine Carlton Estes of Greenfield, a plantation in western Spotsylvania County.
     Anthony Kale owned property at 706-708 Caroline Street; those buildings survive today as the Fredericksburg Visitor Center and Beck's Antiques. At No. 706 Kale ran a confectionery and grocery, and his family lived on the floors over his store. The seven children of Catherine and Anthony were born there. The youngest of their three sons, John, arrived in 1824. (More can be read about the Kales here).

706-708 Caroline Street

     Little is known of John's early life, other than he apparently received a good education, given the early success he enjoyed in the newly minted Republic of Texas. In 1846, the 22-year-old John left Fredericksburg and went west.

Letter of John Kale, February 1847

     On February 19, 1847, John wrote a letter from Liberty, Texas to his uncle Absalom Row of Spotsylvania. He began by mentioning how much sickness there was out there, from which he was not immune: "I have not been well two weeks at a time since July last." John was teaching school then, but in the sparsely settled section northeast of modern Houston, there was not much money to be made in that profession. John made some observations on recent elections in Virginia and then indulged in a wistful look back at the life he had left behind in Virginia: "You cannot imagine what it is to me to hear from you all every one and all things about home are ten times dearer to me than they ever were before. Your fine healthy faces would be a show in this part of the world, and little George I no doubt remembers how the squirrel's tail was played about his nose." The little George he referred to was my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row.

George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883)

     By 1850, John Kale was living in the tiny town of Livingston, Polk County, where he was clerk of court. He was one of the earliest American settlers in that area and over the years enjoyed success as clerk, town merchant and farmer.
     John married Mary Winifred Hicks in Polk County on August 10, 1852. Their marriage was short-lived and tragic. Their first child, a daughter, died at birth in 1853. Their son suffered the same fate in 1854. Mary Kale died two weeks after the death of her son on September 6. All three are buried near her parents in the Abell Cemetery in Liberty, Texas.
     By 1860, with an aggregate wealth of $56,000, John Kale was one of the wealthiest men in Polk County. But that statistic does not tell the whole story. After the death of his wife and children, John was in a mental where he could not be left alone. He moved to Denton, Texas to stay for a time with his brother, Richard. For the 1860 census taken in Polk County, his occupation is given as "undefinable," because he was living in Denton at the time.
     John enlisted as a private in Company K of the 5th Texas Infantry on August 24, 1861. Now 37 years old, he was considered an old man by some of his fellow recruits. The 5th Infantry was part of the famed Texas Brigade, commanded by General John Bell Hood. Within two months of his enlistment, the  5th Texas was transported to Virginia, where it encamped on Neabsco Creek near Dumfries. Here, the older and more experienced John worked as a nurse in the General Hospital.
     John fought with his regiment during the Seven Days Battles near Richmond in 1862. The Texas Brigade, along with Longstreet's Corps, then marched west toward Culpeper in order to link up with Stonewall Jackson's troops and confront the army of General John Pope.
     On August 26, 1862, John Kale was put on picket duty, along with future Texas judge John W. Stevens and Nathan Oates. This episode was recounted in a book written by Judge Stevens 40 years later: Reminiscences of the Civil War, Hillsboro Mirror Print: Hillsboro, Texas, 1902, 51-52:

     "Kale was about 45 years old [actually, he was just 38] and a little hard of hearing, we three were carried down by an officer and posted in thirty or forty steps of the enemy's line, in high corn. The mud was awful, the air was quite cool after nightfall...Our orders were if the enemy attempted to advance, to wait until they were in twenty feet, then fire into them and fall back, we were not to speak above a whisper. We were so close to the enemy that we could hear their feet pop in the mud as they moved around in line. We could hear, all night, the low rumbling sound of their voices in suppressed tones as they conversed.
     "Kale, poor fellow, could not hear as well as myself and Nath, which was a great discomfort to him, and us as well. The slight breeze that came through the corn, sawing the blades against one another, made a noise very much like a man slipping up on us. Kale, every few minutes would insist that the rascals--as he called them--were coming and at times we could hardly restrain him from raising his gun to fire."

     Four days later, John Kale was shot during the battle of Second Manassas. He was taken to the Receiving and Wayside Hospital (General Hospital No. 9) in Richmond, where he remained for two months. He was then transferred to Hospital No. 21. From there he was transferred to "private quarters October 29, 1862, having furnished a substitute."
     Not much else is known of John Kale's activities during the Civil War. In a letter written by his sister Kate in July 1864, we learn that John and his brother Richard (who had begun the war as a trooper with the 15th Texas Cavalry) were "now in the same company. John is in the commissary department. He says the State [Texas] is full of refugees and everything is high. Sugar is not to be had at any price."
     The war now over, John returned to Polk County. Although his wealth was now less than half of what it had been before the war, he was still better off than most of his neighbors. He opened a dry goods store in Livingston. On March 21, 1867 he married a 30 year old widowed school teacher, Isabelle Wallace Sharp.
     Isabelle, or "Belle" as everyone knew her, had been the second wife of John F. Sharp, who had died during the war. Belle was raising John Sharp's son by his first marriage, John, Jr. Belle came from a distinguished Delaware family. Her grandfather, Caesar Augustus Rodney, had served in the House of Representatives and had been Attorney General of the United States.
     John and Belle had four children together. The first, Iola Rodney, died in 1871 at age three. Annie Rose was born about 1869, Louise "Lutie" was born in 1870 and Katherine "Kate" Carlton (named for her grandmother) in 1872. On May 15, 1873, Belle Kale died while giving birth to her fifth child, who also died.

Anna Rose Wallace Vaughan (courtesy of Felicia Gourdin)

     After Belle died, John Kale made the decision to send his three surviving daughters to live with Belle's sister, Anna Rose Wallace Vaughan, in Yalobusha, Mississippi. Anna Vaughan, a widow with four daughters of her own, taught school there.  In the photograph below, Anna is seen with her daughters and the younger Kale girls who are identified by the numbers: 1-Lutie, 2-Kate, 3-Annie Rose.

Courtesy of Polk County Memorial Museum

     In 1880, John Kale was living alone and farming. For a man who had been twice married and the father of eight children, it must have been lonely. He was still close to his adopted son, John F. Sharp, Jr., who acted as guardian for the daughters of John Kale after his death on February 14, 1886 at the age of 62.

     As John Kales' daughters became old enough, they were enrolled in the Ward Seminary for Young Ladies (modern Ward-Belmont College) in Nashville, Tennessee. There, on Christmas Eve 1887, Annie Rose Kale was killed in a dormitory fire.

Kate Kale (Courtesy of Polk County Memorial Museum)

     Kate Kale married Kentucky banking executive James Florian Cox in 1892. They never had children. In 1910 James left Kate for the much younger Virginia Lee Harris of New Orleans.

The Daily Star 28 February 1894

     Lutie Kale married lumber wholesaler Edward Lewis Edwards in 1894. Their wedding announcement made the social page of the Fredericksburg papers. She and Edward settled in Dayton, Ohio and had one daughter. After her divorce, Kate moved to Dayton to be near her sister. Lutie died in 1922, Kate in 1926. They are buried at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Annette Houston Harlow

Annette Houston Harlow with her son, Finley

     Today I am showcasing the colorization talent of graphic artist and friend of Spotsylvania Memory, Deborah Humphries. Beginning with the original image shown below (provided by Elizabeth Robinson), Deborah was able to bring to life my cousin Annette and her young son, Finley Houston Harlow, in late 1913 or early 1914.

     Annette Willson Houston (1878-1960) was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, the daughter of Finley and Grace Alexander Houston. Finley Houston, one of the leading citizens of Lexington in his day, has been the topic of a previous post, which can be read here.

     In September 1905, Annette married Washington & Lee graduate, Benjamin Franklin Harlow, Jr. (1873-1961). Ben Harlow's father was an attorney, Civil War veteran and publisher of the Greenbrier Independent in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Ben and Annette were married at 'Clifton,' her family's home near Lexington, Virginia. In the family portrait taken on the day of their wedding, Ben and Annette are standing at far right, their eyes turned to the camera lens. Her parents are seated, her sister Mary stands at center, and sister Bruce and her husband William Emrys Davis stand at left:

     After they were married, Annette and Ben moved to Roswell, New Mexico, where Ben worked in the printing business until early 1917. Ben also taught Latin at the New Mexico Military Academy, whose superintendent was Annette's cousin, James William Willson.

     Once the Harlows came back to Lexington, Virginia, Ben became the publisher of the Lexington Gazette. After his retirement, he was succeeded by his son Finley, who held that position until his death in 1972.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Slaves at the Museum

Display at the Chancellorsville Museum, National Park Service

     Last week, while in Virginia doing some research and making headway on my upcoming book, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Park Service's  recently updated contact station at Chancellorsville. I was interested in seeing several of their exhibits, including this one. Please click on the images in my blog for enlarged viewing.
     This particular exhibit speaks to the exodus of slaves from the Spotsylvania region while Union troops were nearby. Among those enslaved people who escaped to freedom were a number from Greenfield plantation in western Spotsylvania. Their flight to freedom in 1862 was documented by my great great grandmother, Nancy Estes Row, in this list of runaways written in her own hand:

List of runaway slaves from Greenfield

     My great great grandmother had the foresight to include the last names of those "servants," which made it possible to discover the fates of three of these people, whose story appears here. The story of another Greenfield slave, Ellen Upshur, who had been given as a present to a relative in 1857, can be read here.