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History of Stephens City’s early school days



Byron C. Smith’s article, “Where is the Grave of Samuel Kercheval? And Other Matters Relating to the Life of the ‘Herodotus of the Valley,’” Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society Journal, (2015), makes known that Stephensburg Academy was the first formal school in Stephens City. The article informs that in December 1808, the Virginia General Assembly recognized Samuel Kercheval along with twelve other prominent men from the Stephensburg community as trustees of the Stephensburg Academy. When in September 1809, and again in December of the same year, Kercheval wrote as the Secretary and a Trustee of the Academy to Thomas Jefferson requesting money to support this new community school, Jefferson politely declined.

Students who attended Stephens City Academy private school at Captain Joseph Long Tavern are standing on the front steps of this building on Main and Locust Streets in 1899. Photos courtesy of Stone House Foundation.

Old Public Schools Report of Frederick County, VA, undated, compiled by James V. Hutton, Jr., cites the following; “prior to the establishment of public schools in Frederick County in 1870 pursuant to the act of the Virginia General Assembly of 1869-1870, there were many private, subscription and community Old Field schools.”

As early as 1846 a state law passed allowing Virginia counties the option of establishing “free” schools, however local voters opposed them in both 1847 and 1856. In the pre-war years and throughout the nineteenth century, many citizens preferred to minimize state involvement regarding the education of children. They believed education for all was not a function of government. Instead, they maintained such training came within the scope of the home as a family responsibility. On the family farm, parents needed their children for planting and harvesting crops, tending farm animals and a multitude of other survival chores.

In Thomas Kemp Cartmell’s book, Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and their Descendants, Chapter XXX, Educational Developments, published in 1909, Cartmell cites “When the Civil War closed, the changed conditions of the State, with her new Constitution, provided for a free school system through special taxation. We may endorse freely the principle, though we condemn much of the mismanagement, throughout the State; but in late years the subject has received more careful attention by our legislators; and rapid strides are now being made in this laudable work.”

The James V. Hutton, Jr. document cites, ”the first public schools placed in operation in 1870—1871 are not known. It is known that by the spring of 1871, the district school trustees of Stonewall, Gainesboro, Back Creek and Opequon (Shawnee had not been formed yet) established about seven free schools per district.”

Captain Joseph Long Tavern on right and McArtor store on left about 1880.

Most, if not all, were private schools converted to public use, primarily small one-room buildings, built with brick and later rusticated concrete block. The first three in the Opequon District nearest Stephens City were Canterburg, built in 1879 on Route 522 near Nineveh (conveyed by James H. Canter and wife), Painter Hill, built in 1886 on south side of Marlboro Road 2 miles west of Stephens City (conveyed by Lemuel Painter and wife) and Deerfield, built in 1888 on Marlboro Road, 4 miles west of Stephens City (conveyed by Harvey A. Richard).

During this time period, citizens of various communities had constructed many of these schools without tax monies from general county funds. Frequently land had been loaned by the owners with the understanding that it was to be used for educational purposes, reverting back to the owners if use was discontinued. Back then before busses and improved rural roads, the schools themselves had to be scattered out within walking distance of the students’ homes or they did not attend school. These community-based schools contributed to the small village cohesiveness and allowed students of farming families to travel to school by foot.

A Rosenwald elementary public school for African Americans in Stephens City was built on the northeast corner of Grove and Martin streets in 1921. The school was destroyed by arson on December 26, 1939. African American students then attended class at the St. John’s Baptist Church on the south end of Main Street until a replacement school was built at the same site in the early 1940s. Students who finished the seventh-grade then attended Douglas School in Winchester, built in 1927, which had upper grades (up to 11th grade by 1941) and was the only African American higher-grade school in Frederick County. The Douglas school closed after Winchester schools were integrated in 1966.

Stephens City Academy brochure for 1897-1898 school year.

According to the first annual Frederick County Public School Report, the average monthly teacher’s salary in 1871-1872 was $27.30. By 1885, the teacher’s salary had increased to $30.00 per month and in 1921 the monthly salary was $55.00.

An 1874 First Grade Teaching Certificate for the Commonwealth of Virginia required proven ability in the subjects of spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, gramma and geography. The teacher would need to furnish satisfactory evidence of professional ability, zeal, experience and good morals and general fitness.

Byron C. Smith, Executive Director & Curator for the Newtown History Center, provided insight about local oral tradition. Tradition maintains there was a time in the late 1800s, through 1920 when children attended school buildings that served more than just students and teachers. In the rural Opequon School District which included Stephens City, churches and even private homes doubled as classrooms. One of the earlier buildings leased by the Stephens City Academy, was a brick house that once resided where the Methodist Church now stands on Main and Locust Streets. Known in the period as the old Captain Joseph Long Tavern, it was a brick Federal-style house built and licensed as a tavern in 1835. Like many hotel buildings at the time, it was used by local militia and magistrates and by town trustees for frequently scheduled meetings.

“The Joseph Long Tavern served as a private school from approximately the 1870s until 1913,” Smith said. This building was demolished to make way for the current Methodist Church which was completed in 1915. “Oral tradition also maintains that in the time between the demolition of the old Joseph Long Tavern School building in 1913 (to make way for the Methodist Church) and the opening of the Stephens City elementary/high school (5516 Main Street), students were spread out around town in different houses and buildings that leased space for classrooms,” Smith said.

One of them was at 5381 Main Street (Thornton McLeod wainwright building) where the upstairs room on the brick side of that house (warehouse space) was used as a classroom. Smith continues with local lore. “At one time there was an exterior stairway that ran up the south gable of the brick side of that house. At the top of that stairway was a door that opened into that room on the second floor. Today there are louvered shutters covering that doorway on the outside. This is the one known occurrence for buildings used as classroom space between 1913 and 1916. There could be others but we do not have any written or oral traditions about them.” It would not surprise Smith if the churches here in town served as temporary classroom space during that transition period between the demolition of the Long Tavern and the opening of the Stephens City School.

Vaucluse Train Station just south of Stephens City where both Claude and Harry Strickler attended school on the second floor in the early 1900s. A school house called High View was later built near Vaucluse in 1920. Photo courtesy Mark Gunderman.

At Vaucluse just a few miles south of Stephens City, a second-floor room of the train station functioned as a public-school classroom (approximately 1900 through 1920) for children of that neighborhood. Smith recalls a Sessions Oak Cased Drop Octagon “Schoolhouse” clock which was donated by a former Stone House Foundation board member, David Powers. Powers received the clock from the Claude Strickler estate. Powers informed Smith that both Claude and his bother Harry Strickler attended school on the second floor of that railroad station. Claude and Harry spent many afternoons watching and anxiously waiting for that clock to signal the end of the school day. Claude became a collector of railroad antiques and rescued the clock from the Vaucluse Station before it closed.

Compulsory school attendance laws were first passed in Massachusetts in 1852 and invariably spread to other sections of the country. Virginia passed its first compulsory school attendance laws in 1908. The first high school in Stephens City was built in 1916, however, children had to acquire their own transportation in order to attend. Since Frederick County was an agricultural area, many children completed their education, received their certificates at the end of 7th grade and went to work on the family farm.

During the early 20th century, the school was in session just seven months a year. Even so, attendance remained a serious problem; parent cooperation, integral to getting children to attend school, was less than robust. The state responded to the problem in 1922, when the General Assembly enacted legislation requiring student attendance and providing for the distribution of textbooks. Although mandatory attendance in Frederick County schools was not initially imposed, by the 1920s the idea of sending one’s child to school rather than to work not only was legislated and implemented but also was promoted and voluntarily accepted by increasing numbers in society.

The Later School Years

Kim Begnaud, a resident of Middletown explains how her families attending Frederick County Schools reflect their gradual evolution through the years. Her grandmother Mildred Luttrell Christian grew up in Shockeysville, Virginia and attended the Salem School (built in 1889) near Timber Ridge. The building closed in the 1930s. Her dad Jerry Christian was raised up on Cedar Creek Grade and attended Mt. Airy School until it closed in 1950, then finished up at Stephens City School. Kim lived on Perry Road and attended Stephens City Elementary until it closed in 1975, then moved on to Bass-Hoover Elementary, then Aylor Middle and James Wood High (both Amherst and Ridge Campuses), graduating in 1983. These days Stephens City students attend Sherando High School, opened in 1993.

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School Board approves pending $1.9M in bonuses for WCPS employees



The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, May 18 meeting, unanimously approved more than $1.9 million to be used to pay a one-time bonus to all full-time and part-time employees of Warren County Public School (WCPS). The Warren County Board of Supervisors also must weigh in on the request.

School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Board Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted yea to the recommendation from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger to approve giving full-time employees a net payment of $1,500 and part-time employees a net payment of $750. Employees hired on or after January 1, will receive a net payment of one-half of the approved amount, Ballenger said.

WCPS Superintendent Dr. Chris Ballenger recommends a one-time bonus for division employees. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The superintendent pointed out that the School Board’s approval is contingent upon the Board of Supervisors approving the necessary transfer of funds between categories for the School Board to execute the payments.

The estimated cost of the bonus ($1,908,452) would be paid with approved fiscal year 2022 budget savings primarily generated from the inability of the school division to fill several positions during the school year, lag pay savings from when an employee leaves and their replacement is hired, and staff turnover savings said Ballenger.

The School Board also, on Wednesday evening, unanimously approved other purchases contingent on the appropriation of funding from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

For instance, board members voted to approve a $343,600 contract award to Black Stone Roofing LLC, which will replace the membrane roof at the Blue Ridge Technical Center.

WCPS Director of Maintenance Greg Livesay told the board that the existing membrane roof has developed multiple leaks over the years, with previous repair attempts being unsuccessful. He said WCPS staff posted bid invitations online at the end of March, and a pre-bid meeting was conducted on April 13 that brought in eight contractors.

Livesay said five bids were received on April 29, with Black Stone Roofing “being the lowest, most-responsive bidder at $343,600.” The project could to ready to start in early to mid-June and completed within a four-to-six-weeks timeframe, depending on the weather, he said, adding that the contractor has the needed materials in hand, “so there are no lead time issues getting this project started.”

The board also approved the $96,117 purchase of additional Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) kits for all elementary schools and Brighter Futures. WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who is also the principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, said LLI was implemented this school year at all elementary schools to help address the reading gaps that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on learning.

The Fountas & Pinnell LLI System is an intensive, small-group, supplementary literacy intervention for students who find reading a challenge, Rudacille said, adding that the goal of LLI is to lift the literacy achievement of students who are not achieving grade-level expectations in reading.

“Schools have requested the purchase of additional LLI kits to support more students in the coming school year and, in the case of Hilda J. Barbour, which has used the program for many years, to also update and replace worn materials,” said Rudacille.

Additionally, the School Board approved a contract to New Virginia Tractor of Winchester, Va., in the amount of $27,903.26 to purchase two John Deere Zero Turn Mowers.

“In order to assume responsibility for the grounds maintenance for both high schools effective July 1, the Facilities Maintenance Department will need to purchase two zero-turn mowers,” said Livesay. “The existing equipment that was provided to Warren County when they assumed responsibility will remain in use by the County as they are responsible for the grounds maintenance at the middle and elementary school until April 2023.”

The board also approved a WCPS recommendation that the superintendent is authorized to request that the Warren County Board of Supervisors approve several fiscal year 2022 Operating Fund category transfers.

WCPS Director of Finance and Clerk of the School Board Robert Ballentine said the funds transfers between different categories must be made to balance the books.

“It’s an evening up of the money. A bookkeeping move to move money into the right categories so that we don’t overspend,” said Ballentine.

New scholarships

Additionally, the School Board approved, with gratitude, two new scholarships.

The Limeton United Methodist Church Scholarship will offer $2,500 to one graduating senior at both Warren County High School (WCHS) and Skyline High School (SHS) to attend Lord Fairfax Community College, which soon takes on its new name, Laurel Ridge Community College. According to Ballenger, additional criteria is that one scholarship will be awarded at each school; students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in high school, and awards will go to students in need due to financial hardship.

Reaching Out Now (RON) will provide $500 scholarship awards through the creation of its new Harlee Anne Hire Scholarship Program to support and encourage student-athletes at WCPS. Two awards of $500 each will be made during the 2021-2022 academic school year through the RON Endowment Program to a student-athlete at WCHS and at SHS, said Ballenger. The program’s main goal is to offer financial support to a current senior athlete at WCHS and SHS and “to encourage serious and deserving students to continue their studies after graduation,” he said.

The new scholarship program is named for Hire, 16, who died earlier this month. She would have been a 2024 SHS graduate. Ballenger said she played right field and was a catcher for the SHS Varsity Softball team. “Harlee loved sports” and “also had a servant’s heart,” said Ballenger, noting that Hire had earned the most service hours volunteering for the RON Girls of Destiny Program.

School Board Chair Kristen Pence tables action on forthcoming VSBA revised policy.

For next time

The School Board tabled action on the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) revised policy GCL Professional Staff Development.

Every employee holding a license issued by the Board of Education is required to complete cultural competency training, in accordance with guidance issued by the Board of Education, at least every two years, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith.

Each employee required to complete cultural competency training also must complete at least one such training no later than the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, Smith told School Board members, noting that this was a July 2021 policy revision of the approved May 2021 GCL policy.

WCPS staff have communicated with representatives from the Virginia Department of Education for an update on the module that has been approved and revised by Gov. Youngkin’s administration, which Smith said is set to release the new module “within the next week or so.”

Board member Salins suggested tabling action on the item because the new module has not been released yet. “We would be voting on something that we can’t even read yet,” she said.

But board member Lo said that because teacher licensure is attached to the policy action, “it’s not up to us; we have to pass this.”

Board Chair Pence said that action on the item can be taken by the School Board during its work session in June when members should have a copy of the module.

Click here to watch the Warren County School Board Work Session on the exclusive Royal Examiner video.

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Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services: 10-A-Day Smoke Alarm Challenge



The Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services has renewed our partnership with the American Red Cross – Virginia Region and will participate in their “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life” campaign. The Department will be conducting a “10-A-Day Campaign” to assist their endeavor.

Our “10-A-Day Campaign” will challenge our staffed stations to complete these activities each day during the week of May 23 thru May 30, 2022, with the focus on:

  • Visit at least ten homes each day
  • Provide lifesaving education on smoke alarms to a minimum of 10 people each day
  • lnspect a minimum of 10 existing smoke alarms for appropriate working condition, appropriate placement, and adequate date
  • Replace a minimum of 10 out of date alarms or install new alarms where needed

The Department plans to assist the “Sound the Alarm, Save a Life” goal of 50,000 smoke alarm installs during May by challenging our staff to install 60 smoke alarms a day during the week campaign for 420 smoke alarms installed.

According to the Red Cross, “Home fires claim seven lives every day, but working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death by half.” Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue is committed to reducing the number even further by partnering with the Red Cross, educating the community, and providing free smoke alarm installs.

For a free fire and life safety home evaluation and to receive your free smoke alarms, please get in touch with 540-636-3830 or visit


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Post Elections for the Giles B. Cook – American Legion Post 53



Election of Post Officers for the Giles B. Cook – Post 53 of the American Legion 2022-23 term will be on Thursday, June 9, 2022. Polls are open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at the Post, located at 22 West 8th Street, Front Royal, VA.

Absentee ballots are available; arrangements must be made with the Post Adjutant to receive an absentee ballot. All Members must have a valid 2022 membership card to vote.


  • Commander – Rick Kinsey
  • First Vice Commander – Roy Unger
  • Second Vice Commander – Jimmy Brinklow
  • Adjutant – David Kaplan
  • Sergeant at Arms – Lalit “Pip” Piplani
  • Chaplain – Charlie Goddard
  • Historian – Charles Mills
  • Finance Officer – Open – nominations will be accepted at June’s meeting if no nominee is designated beforehand

Executive Committee (4 at-large members needed):

  • Jorge Amselle
  • Jodi Jones
  • Ed Canas
  • TBD – the final position is open

Members may vote for the nominees or write in a candidate of their choice.

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Hundreds of Elementary students get excited about their community



Last year, Warren County Public Schools created Elementary Gifted Resource Teacher positions to enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children through education, advocacy, community building, and research. At A.S. Rhodes Elementary School, our publisher Mike McCool met two of these teachers, Faith Falkenstein and Justyne Louk.

WCPS Superintendent Dr. Chris Ballenger asked these teachers to have a year-long project to inspire students to learn about their community. Faith and Justyne got excited about the project and came up with a plan after some brainstorming activities. The overall theme is called Footprints. This project instills an appreciation for the incredible things students can see and do (and protect) in their community.

This project included over 100 third to fifth-grade Enrichment/Gifted students from all five of our elementary schools and included:

  • Researching the person each school is named
  • Pick a place in the community to research
  • Create a Google Slides presentation
  • Record the presentation
  • Built 3-D representation of what they researched
  • Create QR codes that linked the projects to the presentations
  • Create a walking tour/scavenger hunt for students and parents that cover Chester and Main Streets in Front Royal
  • Create Google Earth Tour which linked top the projects and places researched

On Sunday, May 22, 2022, the students will display their projects and share the information they researched at the Town Commons Pavillion from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

This project was made possible by a grant provided by the Warren County Educational Endowment, which allowed the teachers to purchase a 3-D printer and supplies for each elementary school.


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RED Day: Give Where You Live



Every second Thursday of May, Keller Williams agents, leadership members, and associates step away from daily business duties, proudly donning their red KW gear and venturing into the communities they serve with three goals in mind: renew, energize, and donate.

Widely known as RED Day, this annual day of service took shape in May 2009 to celebrate Keller Williams vice-chairman Mo Anderson’s birthday. Thirteen years later, it continues to grow momentum as the Keller Williams family unites under a shared commitment to philanthropy.

This year’s RED Day took place on May 12, and the local Keller Williams staff met at 219 Orchard Street in Front Royal, where the Warren County Habitat for Humanity is working with the Bushrod Family to build their home.

The Bushrods are grandparents raising their school-aged grandchildren and are excited about building a stable and safe place to call home. Building a home that will provide a secure future, knowing that this home will forever change the generations to come, is a dream come true.

You can still help the Warren County Habitat for Humanity and the Bushrod’s with your donation. Click here to download the form.

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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Northern Rough Greensnake



A species first for us at the Center, a Northern Rough Greensnake, came in for care this week!

Photos / Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

This patient was found by a hiker on the Appalachian trail after a mild jaw injury and blood in the mouth was spotted. It was in care for only a few days on cage rest with staff monitoring the injury, and after making a full recovery was released back at its found location!

This small, docile, harmless species is a primarily arboreal (tree climbing) species, residing in deciduous forests, mixed hardwood-pine forests, field and thicket areas, and the border areas of bodies of water.

They are active during the day and spend nights sleeping coiled on tree branches. If you come across a green tree snake (as they are commonly called), allow it to cross your path and be on your way!

This species only eats invertebrates (including grasshoppers, caterpillars, snails, spiders, and wasps) and have had significant decline in the last decade due to pesticide usage and domestic animal attacks.

This spring season brings good reminders to refrain from chemical plant and insect control on your property and to keep your domestic animals secured/monitored when outside.

The snakes and other native species will thank you by providing you with free, natural pest control!

Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.

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