Presence of the Past
Professor of Anthropology, Founder of the Longwood Archaeology
was a bustling place in the autumn of 1839 - the stage coach from
Washington, D.C., to Halifax, North Carolina, stopped eight times
a month at the Eagle Hotel on Main Street, bateaux docked daily
at the tobacco warehouses on the Appomattox River, there were
four churches and eight taverns within the town limits, and the
town council had just petitioned the state legislature to allow
a railroad to be built from Petersburg to Farmville to Danville.
In 1839, the citizens raised more than $30,000 to finance the
construction of a "seminary building" and the cornerstone was
laid - so proud were they that the subscribers had a brass plaque
bolted to the cornerstone with the inscription, "Farmville Female
Academy, built by joint stock company A. D. 1839." This building
- the first structure of Longwood College - was dedicated at a
public ceremony on May 26, 1842, and was described by the academy
principal John B. Tinsley in 1852 as "spacious and comfortable
and for beauty of situation surpassed by few in the country."
building stood and served until its destruction by fire on April
24 and 25, 2001 - we knew it as the hallway which connected the
Rotunda to West Ruffner Hall.
under the northeast corner of this building, workmen accidentally
uncovered the cornerstone and plaque. It was discovered that the
plaque hid a square hole in the cornerstone and within that hole
was found a copy of the New Testament (which faded away after
being exposed to the air), a newspaper which was not legible,
three silver coins, and a Masonic emblem. The cornerstone plaque,
now mounted in the president's office, remains as our solitary
physical link to the birth of our College in 1839.
in the earliest days were as proud of their campus as we are today.
Here is a letter describing "the College Building," 19 years after
was received in due time and I take the liberty of answering some
of your inquiries through the columns of the Laureola. In regard
to the location of the college - It is in an elevated part of
the town, entirely apart from scenes of excitement. The College
Building is large, Dining Room, Parlors, Chapel, and Recitation
rooms spacious and complete in all their appointments; the rooms
for boarders, of which you would know more particularly, are neat
and comfortable, nicely, even prettily furnished, provided with
fires, lights, and almost everything conducive to the health and
happiness of their occupants.
But, as seems
to be the case with both people and institutions, misfortune mixes
decades into its life, the Farmville Female Academy was threatened
by the Civil War. For years the students had enjoyed regular outings
to High Bridge, the world's tallest and longest railroad bridge
located just five miles from the campus. On the morning of April
6, 1865, however, the spot was the scene of a deadly affair.
direction of High Bridge the students could hear the firing of
artillery and musketry, and soon news arrived that General Robert
E. Lee's army was in full retreat. All classes were suspended
morning, a great battle could be heard raging at Sailors Creek.
Nearly a third of Lee's army was forced to surrender. The rest
retreated in the only direction that was possible, westward through
Farmville following the cold and muddy banks of the Appomattox
evening and night, disorganized elements of the Confederate Army
traveled through Farmville. Letters surviving from the time indicate
that many of the 80 young women at the College stood at the second
and third floor windows of the main building, waving to the Confederate
troops as they passed by on High Street.
In the middle
of the night, the 1st Virginia Cavalry rode up High Street, firing
behind them at the first units of the pursuing Federal forces.
Lead Minie balls fell around the front of the College building.
Some of these bullets have been recovered by archeology students
in recent years from beneath tree roots on the Rotunda lawn.
next morning, two regiments of Federal troops camped to the rear
of the College, where the Graham Building is now located. Bottles
of various sorts and metal items eroding out of the ground from
time to time attest to the location of the encampment.
Federal soldiers, at about midnight on April 9, 1865, the College
students and professors learned of General Lee's surrender at
Appomattox Courthouse. The Union Army officer who read the Order
of Surrender said, "Now you are without an army, and without a
country, and what is more, without a school."
were begun again in the fall of 1865, but only 35 of the 80 previous
year's girls could return to the Farmville Female College, as
it was now named. For the next 10 years, a post-war depression
gripped the South and especially Virginia. John C. Page of Farmville
wrote in 1875:
was never more gloomy, than at present, in this portion of Virginia
- in fact, not one farmer in fifty is paying expenses. Tobacco
is lower than was ever known before. Consequently, this portion
of Virginia is in a sad financial condition."
of the Farmville Female College decided to sell the College property,
pay off all debts, and distribute the proceeds, if any remained,
to the creditors. At nearly the last minute, on April 7, 1884,
the property of the College was deeded to the State of Virginia,
and at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees two days later,
Dr. William Henry Ruffner was elected college president and principal.
was to be called the State Female Normal School and thus became
the first state institution of higher education for women in Virginia.
Dr. Ruffner later wrote:
"On the opening
date, October 30, 1884, all that we had was a principal, an appropriation,
a rough scheme, and an old academy building. Not a teacher, not
a book, nor a piece of furniture or apparatus, and more things
to be done than any human mind could foresee ... the building
had to be repaired and added to."
Ruffner's guidance and leadership, and then that of Dr. John Atkinson
Cunningham, the "Normal" blossomed into a period of robust growth
and vigor. Buildings, students, and teachers increased in number
decade after decade. Dr. Joseph Leonard Jarman became president
in 1902, and then in almost the exact middle of his 44-year tenure,
in the winter of 1923, disaster struck. Dr. Jarman reported to
the Board of Trustees:
About 5 a.m.
on November 17, a fire broke out in the South Wing immediately
behind the Rotunda which totally destroyed the dining room, kitchen,
pantries, storerooms, cold storage, bakery, and the servants dining
room, besides dormitory accommodations for a hundred students.
The origin of the fire is unknown. It made rapid headway, but
on account of the excellent behavior of the students and the system
with which the matter was managed, every student escaped unhurt
and very little was lost in the way of clothing, etc.
Fire Company did wonderful work; companies from Lynchburg and
Crewe were telegraphed for but the fire was under control before
they arrived ... The people of the town did everything in their
power to assist; the students were invited to private homes for
breakfast; telegraph and telephone operators were untiring in
their efforts to get messages through for them; the ladies prepared
dinner for them in one of the churches; the hotels of the town
were put at their disposal; the railroad put on extra coaches,
and through all the excitement, the conduct of the students was
worthy of the highest praise. By evening, they were all on their
returned to campus the week after Thanksgiving and made up the
missed two weeks of classes by remaining in Farmville during the
Christmas holidays - only on Christmas Day were classes cancelled.
Just 26 years
later, in 1949, fire again brought destruction and near tragedy
to Longwood. During the winter and spring of 1949 the campus was
caught up in a great debate concerning the name of the school,
which had been since 1924 The State Teachers College at Farmville.
Three weeks before Longwood College was reborn under our present
name, a terrible fire broke out about 2 a.m. Sunday, March 6.
The fire was called the "East Wing Fire" and destroyed a building
identical to our Grainger Hall, which stood in what is now the
Sunken Garden and visually balanced the five buildings facing
Wing fire destroyed the school auditorium on the first floor and
the clothes and all the possessions of the 46 students who lived
in rooms above it. The Farmville Red Cross cared for the immediate
needs of the students, and town citizens raised $5,000 in contributions
by March 7 to assist them in replacing their clothing and books.
In a most
fascinating series of ways, our patron saint at Longwood, Joan
of Arc, has been involved in all our fires. Joan herself was executed
by being burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, having been captured
by the English army after she had led the French army to victory.
days when a person was to be burned at the stake, normally a last
mercy would be shown by allowing the executioner to pile a large
quantity of green wood around the feet of the condemned. The smoke
from the burning of this green wood would normally cause quick
suffocation so that death would occur before the flames touched
the skin. In the case of our Joan of Arc, however, only dry wood
was used. As the flames climbed higher and higher, Joan could
be heard commending her soul to God and calling on her angels
and archangels to be with her at this last moment. Then, according
to an eyewitness, "at last came the word Jesus seven or eight
times repeated, followed by a moment's pause by a last loud cry,
then silence save for the crackling of the flames."
to the legends and the oral traditions which grew up shortly after
Joan's execution, an unusual thing now happened. The executioner
ordered that the embers be pulled away from the body when the
flames had died down so that everyone in the crowd could see that
Jeanne d'Arc, the Maid of Orleans, the sorceress, was dead. When
this was done, it was discovered that her heart had not been burned,
much to the shock of the executioner. He ordered that a great
quantity of oil and sulfur be poured onto the fire and that all
the embers, and even a new load of dry wood, be placed around
the heart once more. That fire burned all the rest of that day
and throughout the night. The next morning in the darkness before
dawn, the ashes and whatever remained of Joan of Arc were gathered
up secretly in a blanket and thrown into a river so that no relic
of her life would remain.
Both of our
Joan of Arc statues on campus have been a part of our fires. The
Joan of Arc statue in the Rotunda, which was presented by the
senior class of 1914, is a reproduction of the famous one chiseled
in 1870 by the French sculptor, Henri-Michel-Antoine Chapu of
Paris. He called it "Joan of Arc Listening to the Voices." Today,
the original stands in the Museum of Luxembourg in Paris. We in
Farmville refer to this famous statue more informally as "Joanie
on the Stony." On the night of the South Wing fire in 1923, students
moved this Joan out of the Rotunda and across High Street to protect
her from the flames.
In the 1949
East Wing Fire, our other Joan statue played a role. The equestrian
Joan statue in the Colonnades was given in 1927 by the internationally
renowned sculptress, Anna Hyatt Huntington. The original of this
Joan statue had been completed for Riverside Church in New York
City just the year before, and the sculptress, upon hearing of
the admiration of the students at the State Teachers College at
Farmville for this work, determined to present them with the first
reproduction. Since its unveiling in Farmville by Mrs. Huntington
on April 27, 1927, it has been affectionately called "Joanie on
the Pony." This Joan statue originally sat nearer to French Building
in the Colonnades than it does now, and you can still see the
original location by a mark there on the walkway left from the
marble base. On the night of the East Wing Fire in 1949, Joanie
on the Pony, unable to be moved from her base, was so close to
the fire that she glowed red from the heat of the blaze.
is said, how inadequate are our words alone to express the magical
bond we all feel to our Rotunda, our Joan of Arc, our Alma Mater,
and our College. That bond comes alive in our minds in the remembrances
of the special features of our Rotunda - the way the stairs creaked
and gave ever so slightly under your footsteps, the thought every
time you opened the Rotunda door of the millions upon millions
of footsteps, like your own, that wore the threshold stone of
strongest slate into the shape of a cradle.
Few of us
could realize the first time we stepped upon that threshold stone
that we were being taken captive - having once entered that mystical
Rotunda, the spirit and heart can never leave. We cannot leave
the Rotunda, and it will never leave us, because we are all its
Dr. James William Jordan, Professor of Anthropology
and Founder of the Longwood Archaeology Field School,
pictured here with the Longwood College Bell.