On October 1, 1872, in a stimulating atmosphere of anticipation and hope, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College opened its doors to receive its first students, and to assume its modest place as Virginia's newest experiment in higher education. Little fanfare attended the occasion.
Isolated, austere and Spartan in its borning, there appeared to be some apprehension on the part of the staff and faculty as to how many, if any, students would show up. As the day wore on, however, William Addison Caldwell, of Sinking Creek, Craig County, "wandered in the front door" to investigate the offerings of the new college. He decided to enroll, was accepted eagerly, and became the first student. Within a week enrollment reached twenty-nine, by Christmas there were eighty-eight, and before the end of the session the student body had expanded to a total of one hundred and thirty-two. All were Virginians. Thirty-six counties and three cities were represented.
One new student who registered at the college wrote of his first impression: "I shall never forget my first view of the old town and college. After having been jolted and beaten for more than three hours in what by courtesy was called a hack, we came to the top of a rise in the road and looked down the long street and over the roofs of the low, unpainted houses. I caught my first glimpse of the one building that constituted the Virginia A and M College. The architect who planned it must have been a genius, for it was classic in its ugliness. While it was doubtless meant to ace the town, it gave me the impression that for some reason the building had become offended at the village and had deliberately turned its back upon it; and who could blame it? For looking to the north there was a sense of such ravishing beauty that even insensate brick and mortar would be touched by it. Rolling away to the very farthest limit of vision, range after range of the Alleghenies, verdue-covered to their summits, rose higher and higher, 'till imperceptibly their deep green melted into the blue of heaven."
Other than its farm facilities, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College began operations with the one three-story brick building which it had acquired from its predecessor, the Preston and Olin Institute. The building had to serve as executive chambers, classrooms, offices, library, chapel, literary halls, infirmary, armory, laboratories, and barracks.
All of the cadets could not be billetted and fed in college housing. A few small frame messes with kitchens were constructed on campus by the cadets, with materials furnished by the college, which accommodated some of the overflow. Many cadets, however, had to be housed and fed in local private homes, boarding houses and hostelries. The town cadets could avoid military supervision by dressing in civilian clothes during their off-duty hours, and at such times they lived and played freely. As is the wont of the young unsupervised male, pranks and carousing sometimes occurred in town in the evenings by the town students. That was true particularly in the spring of the year, to the annoyance of the local citizens. Such conditions existed until adequate barracks and mess hall facilities could be provided on the college grounds. Ultimately all cadets were required to live on campus under twenty-four hours of military supervision and control.
There was an appalling shortage of almost everything that a college needed. There was no laboratory equipment, no shop, no furnishings for the too few dormitory rooms, insufficient tables, chairs, blackboards and library books. Textbooks were sold to students from the president's office, a practice which continued for twenty years. In the early period of its history the college was looked upon more or less as an experiment. Regardless of any enthusiasm in Richmond for its welfare , the Commonwealth of Virginia, impoverished by the War Between the States and burdened with enormous debt, could give but little from its almost empty coffers. For years therefore, the new venture existed off an annual federal largesse of approximately $20,000 from land script endowment, the paltry proceeds of limited student fees, and the one-time gift of $20,000 from Montgomery County. With the political football status to which the college soon was reduced, it was nearly a toss of a coin whether or not the fledgling school would survive. In the face of such difficulties, and hampered by poverty, and confronted with the problems of creating a system of education unknown and untried in the South, the first small faculty set itself to the task with grim courage. Upon the college's opening on October 1, 1872, the staff and faculty was made up of five individuals, along with a janitor and a private physician.
The president, Charles Landon Carter Minor, received his M.A. degree from the University of Virginia in 1858. Later he received an L.L.D. During the War Between the States he served as a combat and staff officer, achieving the rank of captain in the Confederate Army. He came to the V.A.M.C. from the University of the South where he had been a professor of Latin and a director of its preparatory school. At the V.A.M.C., Minor also took a hand lecturing to classes and teaching such subjects as bookkeeping and geography. He possessed remarkable intellectual attainment and untiring energy.
James Henry Lane graduated from the Virginia Military Institute as second in the Class of 1854. He received an M.A. from the University of Virginia, and later gained his Ph. D. and L.L.D. He entered the War Between the States as a major in the 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment and later he was appointed colonel commanding the 28th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. Ultimately he was promoted to the grade of brigadier general commanding an Infantry brigade in the combat record. After the war he taught at private schools in North Carolina and Virginia. At the V.A.M.C. he performed as professor of military tactics, natural philosophy, and general chemistry.
Charles Martin, who had an A.M. degree from Hampden-Sydney College, was great in the size of his girth and love of humor. He came to the V.A.M.C. as professor of English language and literature, and ancient languages.
Gray Carroll was a graduate of the University of Virginia with an A.M. degree. He came to the V.A.M.C. as a professor of mathematics and modern languages, and was regarded by the cadets as "Professor of Good Manners."
V. E. Shepherd was secretary of the faculty, treasurer, and librarian. He also taught modern languages. He was the most silent man of the faculty. Two legends regarded him - one, that he had been President Jefferson Davis's private secretary, thereby learning not to talk, - the other, that he had been seen to smile on one occasion. The first believed, but the latter never received much credit. A prim dresser, he had many peculiar ways.
Andrew Oliver, the black janitor was referred to by the cadets as the vice-president of the college, for he constantly was on the move carrying out his duties as custodian and helper to the professors.
One of the rooms of the Preston and Olin Building was set aside for use as a college infirmary, in which Doctor (of medicine) William Buchanan Conway held Sick Call every morning after breakfast and performed most of the medical service to the college community during the years of 1872 - 1875. During that time Dr. Conway was not an employee of the college, but as a local private physician performed health care for the individual patients who showed up. The expenses incurred were the direct responsibility of the individuals involved. In 1875, Dr. Conway was appointed officially as the college physician.
Strangely, the new agricultural and mechanical college opened its doors with no professors of agriculture or mechanic arts. It was not until February 1873 that John W. Davis, B.S. and C.E. and M.E., was appointed to the chairs of agriculture and mechanics. Soon thereafter he resigned from the college.
Also in that February, M.G. Ellzey, M.D., was appointed professor of natural history an analytical chemistry, with a responsibility to lecture on agriculture.
Within the staff and faculty, President Minor and General Lane quickly emerged as the dominant figures.
The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which controlled the creation of the college in 1872, required by law that the V.A.M.C. provide schooling in three specific areas - agriculture, mechanic arts, and military tactics. From the very beginning of the new agricultural and mechanical college, the student body operated under military disciplinary supervision. The college catalog for the opening session of 1872 - 1873 stated that "Instruction in military tactics is given throughout the course, from which no student is exempt unless physically disabled; and each student not so exempt is required to provide himself with the prescribed uniform as soon as he enters the college." General Lane stated in official publications that "all of the students not physically disabled are drilled in the school of the soldier, the company, and the battalion."
A cadet Infantry type company was formed, and drill was held twice each week. As the number of incoming cadets grew, a second company was activated and drill was stepped up to a daily schedule, including guard duty. Cadets then were organized into a battalion of two companies, Company A and Company B, under the direct command of General Lane, the commandant, as was the policy of the day at West Point, V.M.I., the Citadel, and other military colleges.
In the administration and control of the battalion, General Lane was assisted by a cadet battalion staff of a first lieutenant adjutant, a second lieutenant aide-decamp, a sergeant major, and a color sergeant. Each of the two companies was commanded by a cadet captain, who was assisted by one first lieutenant, one second lieutenant, one first sergeant, and three sergeants. By the end of the first session, Companies A and B each had a strength of slightly more than sixty cadets, counting its privates, as well as its four noncommissioned officers and its three commissioned officers.
The 1867 edition of the military manual "Infantry Tactics, Double and Single Rank, Adapted to American Topography and Improved Fire Arms," by Brevet Major General Emory Upton, United States Army, was the regulation under which the battalion operated.
Upon the activation of the V.A.M.C. cadet organization, it was designated a unit of the Virginia State Active Militia, under the governor of Virginia as its commander-in-chief, and as such was armed in 1872 by the State Adjutant General. The first state issue of armament consisted of one hundred and sixty Springfield muzzle-loading, .58 calibre, cadet rifle-muskets with 18-inch triangular bayonets and scabbard, and cartridge boxes, and thirty cadet swords with scabbards, belts and plates. Two Virginia state flags were issued, one of silk as the unit ceremonial color, and the other of bunting as a garrison flag. The rifle-muskets were beautiful pieces; all metal parts were nickel-plated and the stocks were of polished walnut.
During the first few years of the new college no Regular Army personnel were assigned. The United States Army had been reduced to a total strength on only 25,000 men, and had been dispersed and overextended primarily in Indian fighting throughout the many small forts and posts of the nation's westward expansion. At the time Regular Army personnel were assigned to West Point only.
It is interesting to note that for the first four years of the V.A.M.C., its battalion carried only one color, the state flag, during its ceremonies. The college flew only one flag, the state flag, at the Preston and Olin Building. The War Between the States had been over only seven years, and feeling toward the federal government still reflected wartime patriotism. United States officials visiting the college became irritated by the obvious absence of the U.S. flag, and Washington threatened to withhold its funds to the college unless it recognized and displayed the national flag.
The thirty-seven starred national color first was carried by the V.A.M.C. Battalion at a formal review before Governor Kemper and the Board of Visitors on August 8, 1876, during commencement exercises. The cadets speculated as to General Lane's inner reaction as he commanded the battalion throughout the review, parading the color he had so often opposed in combat.
The drill field of that day was on the ridge behind the Preston and Olin Building, the area now occupied by the brick upper Quandrangle. For the first three years a small drum unit of cadets, usually composed of one snare drummer and one bass drummer, furnished the cadence for formal military formations. At routine drills, a single snare drummer provided cadence. At commencement dress parades, however, hired bands employed to furnish music. The hired band for the 1875 commencement was found to be particularly deficient, and that poor showing made quite apparent the serious need for a competent military band to provide music for the formal formations of the V.A.M.C. Battalion.
During the summer of 1876, businessmen of Blacksburg organized the Blacksburg Cornet Band. The band had nine pieces, with "Professor" J. B. Weiss, form Tazewell County, as its director. Professor Weiss recently had immigrated from Bavaria and had received a musical education in Europe. Of the nine musicians, three came from V.A.M.C. - Cadet C. C. Hawley on baritone, Cadet G. A. Bowman on the snare drum, and Dr. W. B. Conway, the college physician, as the first leader. The Blacksburg Cornet Band soon achieved a surprisingly first class reputation, and started providing music for the reviews and parades of the Cadet Battalion. The cadets quickly dubbed the group with the nickname "Gabriel's Horn."
In 1881 the Blacksburg Cornet Band was replaced by the Glade Cornet Band, another local citizen's band, which served as the college's post band until a Cadet Band was organized in 1892.
Although the academic goal of the college was paramount, General Lane sought to instill soldierly qualities into the student body. He introduced a personal conduct code into cadet life at the very beginning of the college. In those early days the code was less expressed in writing than it was enforced informally by the cadets through their own inner group actions. It was more an understanding than a system, but everyone recognized his obligation as a gentleman. The way of honesty and personal integrity soon became an established element in cadet life. That code, however, was distinctly separate from the college regulations. Youthful acts of beating the system of the regulations were not violations of the conduct code, so long as personal integrity was not involved. Breaking regulations might be regarded as sport by the youthful cadets, however breaking the code of personal conduct was considered an intolerable act.
The first cadet uniform of 1872 was designed by the V.A.M.C. commandant, General Lane, after that of the Confederate soldier. It was composed of a cap, a waist-length jacket, and trousers of gray cloth trimmed in black. The short gray jacket was just long enough to hide the waistband of the trousers, and when buttoned was tightly fitted and small in the waist. The jacket was single-breasted with one row of seven large Virginia state buttons. It had a slight V-point downward at the lower center back. The gray stand-up collar, veed at the throat, was edged all around with 1/8-inch black piping. For cadet commissioned officers, the black piping around the collar was in turn edged inside with 1/8-inch gold bullion lace. Each sleeve of the jacket had three small Virginia state buttons. For cadet enlisted grades, each shoulder had a black cloth shoulder loop, sewn at the shoulder seam and buttoned at the neck with a small Virginia state gold button. Cadet noncommissioned officers wore on the upper sleeve mounded gold bullion chevrons of grade, with points downward. Cadet commissioned officers wore U.S.Army type shoulder straps of rank on black cloth backgrounds, with mounded silver bullion rank bars within a border of mounded gold bullion. A white shirt with a stiff white winged collar and a black cravat were worn under the jacket, the stiff vertical collar projecting 1/2-inch above the gray collar. When under arms for ordinary duty status, cadet enlisted grades wore 1-3/4-inch wide black leather scabbard on the left side, and black leather cartridge box on the right side. For formal occasions, cadet enlisted grades wore white crossed belts and white waist belts over the jacket - the waist belt having a plain convex oval brass buckle at the front, and the crossed belts had a plain convex oval brass breastplate at the front, and the crossed belts had a plain convex oval brass breastplate at the front crossing. When under arms for formal wear, cadet privates and all cadet sergeants, other than first sergeants, the color sergeant, and the sergeant major, wore the bayonet and cartridge box suspended from a leather belt under the jacket and over the trousers. When under arms, the cadet first sergeants and the cadet sergeant major wore swords on their left sides, suspended from a belt sling. When under arms for both duty and dress wear, cadet commissioned officers wore a red sash beneath a 1-3/4-inch wide black leather belt, the sash ends hanging down from the wearer's left side of the belt buckle, and to just above the knee, with the front knot approximately half a knot higher than the rearward knot. The excess sash was folded and hung over the belt and outside the sash ends. A sword hung in a sling from the belt on the wearer's left side. The belt buckle on the cadet commissioned officer was of gold circular design between metal keepers, the circular portion carrying the Virginia state seal within a border wreath. White gloves were worn by all ranks when in formal dress.
For all ranks, the trousers were hight-waisted, tightly-fitted, and belled at the leg bottoms. The leg bottoms broke well over the shoes. There was a 1/8-inch black piping down the outer leg seams of the trousers. Cadet commissioned officers, in addition wore 1/8-inch wide gold lace on each side of each of the black piping of the outer seams.
In those days jackets and trousers were ironed but not creased. Ready-made clothes frequently were creased, so in smugness, tailor-made clothes were not creased.
For all cadets, the caps were of the kepi pattern in gray cloth, with a one touch wide black cloth band around the base of the cap. Up the front, both sides and rear, from the black base band to the seam of the kepi rounddisc, there were single strands of 1/8-inch black piping. On the front of the black base band, just above the visor, there was a 1/2-inch wide black leather chin strap attached at each end to the sides of the cap by a small gold Virginia state button. The lower face of the kepi disc carried the letters V.A.M.C. in silver metal in a diamond pattern, with the V at the top, the A to the viewer's left point, the M at the bottom point, and the C at the viewer's right point - the letters were contained within an open-top gold metal circular wreath which was two inces in outside diameter. Cadet commissioned officers wore the same cap as the enlisted grades, but with 1/8-inch gold bullion lace edged on both sides of the black piping on the gray crown, and also with 1/8-inch gold bullion lace on the top edge of the one inch black band around the base of the cap. The visor was of a horizontal square-front pattern of black leather.
All ranks wore hight-top black leather shoes and black socks.
For work details, the cadets wore blue fatigues. No description or photograph of such fatigues could be found.
Uniform gold buttons were changed form Virginia state buttons to V.A.M.C. gold buttons in the fall of 1874.
For approximately thirty years from the opening of the college until the turn of the century, men were busy with the task of building a strong America. Dress among its male civilians was considered to be of little importance, and empire builders and ditch diggers alike were sloppily and shabbily dressed. During that great era of American growth the military were the only smartly dressed men in the country.
Prior to the opening of the V.A.M.C., Mr. Charles Davis Cromer, the owner of nearby Crockett's Lithia Springs, negotiated a contract with the officials of the college to furnish the uniforms for the cadets. Mr. Cromer subcontracted the fabrication of the garments to his friend Mr. Benjamin Carper Hedrick, a professional tailor in Fincastle, Virginia.
The first V.A.M.C. uniforms were hand-tailored by Mr. Hedrick at his home, which still stands at 19 Murray Street in Fincastle.
The iron and the shears used by Mr. Hedrick in the making of those early uniforms still are owned by members of the family.
The military aspect of the college was a basic feature in matters of discipline, but was secondary to the principal mission of academic education. General Lane was responsible for teaching the cadets qualities of successful life which were not taught in formal classrooms - the development of leadership, self-discipline, respect for the rights of others, personal integrity, accepting responsibility for one's own acts, and other fundamental traits of character. General Lane acted as an intermediary between the cadets and the college president. Although General Lane was subordinate to President Minor, he was in reality the most authoritative man on campus in the eyes of the cadets. The relationship between General Lane and the cadets was one of friendly adversaries, but came to an understanding - one of mutual respect and fair play.
A rather awesome person, General Lane commanded great respect. One cadet wrote, "He was exact and exacting, and one of the finest teachers I have ever known. Both in the class and on the drill field, he required us to toe the mark. He not only knew the subjects he taught, but he required you to know them."
The small faculty had had to pinch-hit as substitutes in many subjects, and there was a story of General Lane teaching a Latin class. When the general entered the classroom he observed a number of verses of doggerel poetry on the blackboard which made sport of his bald head. He seemingly ignored the jest until the end of the class and the assignment for the next recitation - he announced, "On the board you will find the English for your next translation into Latin." It was a ghastly task, and the prank was not repeated.
Cadet Wade H. Harris described General Lane as "a stern old disciplinarian, not having been long from the care of Confederate troops. He handled the cadets as if he still was fighting old Grant."
The cadet rank organization, which later blended aspects of the academic Class systems, introduced the conflicting elements of duty, authority and disciplinary control over one's peers, and the simple amenities of fellowship with brother cadets. The cadet officer frequently was faced with having to discipline another cadet whose academic standing was superior to his own. In later years, a similar situation would be encountered in his dealing with prestigious athletes. Those problems, however, brought about positive leadership training through the balance of tact of official duty and camaraderie of loyalty to schoolmates. The cadet officer's situation was a difficult one, for his ultimate loyalty stood with his fellow cadets, but his official duty was to the college administration.
From the opening of the college, daily chapel attendance was mandatory, although church attendance was optional. The Blacksburg churches were centers of local social life, as well as religious life. It was reported that cadet attendance at particular churches was determined primarily by two factors - an interesting and not too talkative minister, and the present of local belles. The ratio of cadets to young ladies was a bit disproportionate as they gathered after the service to exchange glances and to join up for walks home.
Apart from spiritual values, daily chapel was a unifying influence, for it was one time in the day when all students came together for quiet reflection. In those days the staff and faculty felt keenly their duty in loco parentis, and the normal practices of family home life were emphasized. America was a God fearing nation in the nineteenth century. The ministers of the village's three churches, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist, were appointed chaplains of the college.
Initially, college costs to students were: Tuition - $30.00 per year. College fees - $10.00 per year. Room rent - $5.00 per year. Board - $10.00 per month. Uniform (i.e. one jacket, trousers, and cap) - $17.50. Contingent fee - $5.00 per year. State appointed students were not required to pay the tuition, college fees, and room rent. Rooms, when they were available, had to be furnished by the cadets at a cost of between $20.00 and $24.00, to be divided among the occupants, but could be sold when leaving the college. A number of the twenty-four lodging rooms in the Preston and Olin Building were used as classrooms and for other purposes, but the remaining ones were occupied by three cadets each, as barracks rooms. A full academic year needed not cost an individual more than $200.00 for the entire session.
In 1872, as classes settled into routine and cadet life became relatively normal, the Virginia Literary Society, a student debate and literary group was organized as an expression of youthful interest in controversial matters, particularly of topics not covered in the classroom. Its meetings were held in the college chapel located in the center of the first floor of the Preston and Olin Building. The society afforded the students opportunities to pursue more deeply the great issues of the day. In those days the standards of student life were simple and clear - honesty, fidelity, hard work, fear of God, love and loyalty to family and country, and reverence for women. Those debates quickly became big social events, with visiting young ladies cheering their champions.
Because of the rapid growth of the Virginia Literary Society, that organizations divided into two new societies on February 21, 1873, each with new names, and the old name was discontinued. The new societies were called the Sophosonian Literary Society and the Philomathean Literary Society. From then on the societies held their weekly meetings in two lecture rooms, at each end of the third floor of the Preston and Olin Building, which rooms served them until 1879. President Minor took great personal interest in the activities of the literary societies, often attending their meetings, and he always was responsive when called upon. The two societies created strong competition, and the proceedings were held with great earnestness and evident scholarship. Honors in debate and oratory were sought with seriousness and recognized jealousy. In intersociety debates, the supporters of each society would wear their colors - blue, and white for the Sophosonians, and red and white for the Philomatheans.
Literary and debating societies were an evolutionary development of American colleges of the nineteenth century. They were invaluable adjuncts to supplement developing sciences or classical curricula of the time. The societies afforded students opportunities to pursue more deeply the great issues of the day than were offered in the formal classrooms. College students of 1872 had hopes, problems, and complaints similar to those of the youth of any generation. The literary societies encouraged public speaking, declamation, reading, and creative writing. The scientific and military character of the college lent itself to such means of literary improvement.
With the advent of spring weather in 1873, instruction was started in the practical application of agriculture and mechanical techniques. A simple shop was set up in the Preston and Olin Building, and the college farm was put into operation. Much of the shop and farm equipment, as modest as it was, was given to the college by public and private donors. All cadets were assigned work projects, either in the shop or on the farm, in concert with their courses of study. In an attempt to defray student expenses, many were permitted to work at extracurricular college projects at a wage scale of seven to twelve cents per hour. In fact, much of the maintenance of the college was carried out by cadets.
On a sunny and balmy day of the 1873 spring, the Cadet Battlalion was reviewed and inspected by the Board of Visitors, with very satisfactory ratings in all categories. Considering the prominent presence of several highly ranking former officers of the Confederate Army, that critical examination approached what later became the annual spring War Department inspection.
During the early days, the campus was a gently rolling pasture. Fences ran across the meadows, and cadets lingered under the few trees on warm afternoons. The most imposing tree on the grounds was the ancient chestnut standing west of the drill area, one which horticulturists estimated was a mature tree at the time of the discovery of America in 1492 by Columbus.
Unfortunately, the village of Blacksburg, with an estimated population of six hundred citizens, offered little diversion or entertainment of the college boy, and the austere physical plant of the college proffered almost no facilities for the extracurricular needs of the cadets. During the early years there were few social or recreational activities on campus which were worthy of the name. The conscientious founders of the college innocently assumed that setting up their curricula and providing the basic facilities under the faculty's parental supervision they had done what was necessary. Youth, however, seethes with energy and passions untempered by the restraints of experience. Classes with their systematic rounds of learning did little to absorb those unbounded energies, and it was left to the cadets to devise their own extracurricular pursuits, pursuits which always have furnished both the ornaments and the besetting sins of the college boy. When the administration failed to provide the wanted outlets, the young men unhesitatingly supplied their own, often with shattering effects upon their staid elders. Pranks and other improvised amusements became commonplace, particularly among those who lived in town. Fellow cadets, faculty members, townspeople and other convenient victims all were objects of that boyish release of exuberance. One night President Minors red cow was calcimined into an unrecognizable white bovine of beauty.
The Montgomery Female College, a respected literary institution for young ladies was located at Christiansburg, but it was a very strict Methodist school the rules of which required its students "not to receive visits from young gentlemen, nor to be escorted by them, nor to correspond with them while they are members of this institution." Cadets visited the grounds of the college where there were approximately seventy students, but mostly had to content themselves with flirting form afar with the girls in the windows. At the Montgomery Female College, however, the Cleosean Literary Society and the Hypathean Literary Society did offer wedges into that cloistered sanctum. The first Friday evening of each month was set aside for lectures by outstanding speakers, in the college chapel before the literary societies, and the public was invited to attend. Those occasions were choice times for the V.A.M.C. cadets to mingle with the young ladies. Also the meetings of the V.A.M.C. literary societies were popular reasons given by the young Montgomery College ladies for request to visit the Blacksburg campus. It did not take long for the two groups of young people to work out mutual arrangements in "the pursuit of literary culture."
Other than the drab winter months, there were social life and nightly dancing at the nearby watering places. Montgomery County was known widely, especially throughout the South, for its famed springs resorts, of which there were four - the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs, the Yellow Sulphur Springs, the Alleghany Springs, and the Crockett's Lithia Springs. During torrid days of lowland summers, many sought those havens where the breezes were fresh, the shadows dense, the grass green, the mountains tall, and the waters cool. Pleasant climate and beautiful scenery drew many to its famous spas. The reputed healing value of its waters was merely an excuse for joining the romance and social whirl of the daily ritual at the spring. Womanhood was held aloft, and the days passed in graceful recreation, picnics, games, lavish dining, and delightful dancing. The sick came for health, the weary for rest, the old for sociability, and the young for pleasure, play, sporting, romance, and matchmaking. The halls, bars, and social events attracted many. The railroad brought distinguished visitors, and great stables for horses and accommodations for carriages and other turnouts were provided.
Foremost of those, just nine miles from Blacksburg was Montgomery White Sulphur Springs. Its guest capacity of six hundred attracted clientele of the best families of the nation, and even from abroad. Twenty-five buildings encircled an old and stately oak grove, with extensive drives, wide lawns, shaded walks, and fountains. Waters form three bold sulphur springs, a chalybeate, and a freestone spring were contained in marble reservoirs under elegant pavilions. The resort was said to have the finest ballroom in the South.
Four miles southeast of the V.A.M.C. campus, on the turnpike to Christiansburg was Yellow Sulfur Springs, a guest hostel started in 1810. Dr. Mormon described the setting: "In consequence of the great altitude of the spring, the climate in which it is situated is very salubrious, the air is elastic, pure and invigorating during the hottest days of the summer." The grounds had a natural beauty with magnificent old trees of towering boughs furnishing luxurious shade on sunny days. Under the gracious management of Colonel Norvell Cobb, two hundred and fifty guests could be accommodated. The centerpiece was an eight-columed, kerosene-lit gazebo spring house, with a wooden shingled roof. A boating lake extended beside a frame bowling alley. Three full rows of cottages in four-room sections with galleries reached along the verge of three sides of the lawn.
There was an old frame hotel of two stories and basement with long porches at each level, and supported by a stone foundation, with a diningroom on the first floor and a tavern in the basement. At one end of the first floor veranda, a band played for the guests.
There was a second hotel, built in 1871, a two and one-half storied, mansard roofed structure, with a full basement, all running crosswise of a stream. A wide veranda wrapped around the main floor. The building contained a dining room, a bar-room, a ballroom, a billiard room, about forty bedrooms, hot and cold baths, a post office and a telegraph office. Much of the resort life took place outdoors, and trestle tables were placed randomly under the oaks about the spring. Regarding the dining room and spring, Edward A. Pollard, the historian, had written that "the table furnished by the proprietors is one of the best in the mountains, the water is beautifully transparent, and what is better recommendation to the thirsty, it is delightfully cool, remaining at 55 in the hottest days of summer." The Richmond Dispatch stated: "Everything is couleur de rose - all is joyous, brilliant, captivating, music, dancing, wine, water, and mutton." General Jubal Early made the Yellow his summer home. His own cottage stood on the hillside to the south of the old hotel, and he was joined frequently by General P. G. T. Beauregard and other notables. One commentary of the time stated that "the social life of the Yellow is charming and particularly Southern, with little Northern shoddiness." Music and dancing graced the quiet and easygoing way of life found there. The resort's reputation was one of tasteful and unhurried comfort.
Although the road to Yellow Sulphur Springs was deep with mud during rainy times and a cloud of dust in dry weather, its social life was an immediate attraction to the V.A.M.C. community. Cadets withdrew frequently to its pleasant surroundings for moments of social relaxation. Meetings and other gatherings often were held there. Informal entertainment's, parties, dances, and other student activities took place in the comforts of the new and fine hotel which had been opened the year before. In the bleak offerings of the school and village. Visiting families and ladyloves with their inevitable chaperons, found congenial sanctuary at the Yellow during their visits to the V.A.M.C.
Most of the cadets belonged to one or the other literary societies. On May 11, 1873, the Philomathean Literary Society changed its name to the Maury Literary Society, in honor of Virginia's Commodore Matthew Fountain Maury. The next fall, the Sophosonian Literary Society changed its name to the Lee Literary Society, in homage to General Robert E. Lee. For the next half century, the literary societies exerted a profound influence upon life at the college, both literally and socially.
The literary societies had appeared as an expression of youthful interest in controversial matters. As time passed there would follow many new activities organized by the cadets themselves, such as students publications, athletic teams, social associations, dance clubs, sectional clubs, dramatic bodies, and musical groups.
No guiding hand molded athletic activities which occurred in the early days of the college, and they shaped up spontaneously through cadet initiative. Games and intramural competitions mostly were spur-of-the-moment inspirations of buoyant youth's urge for exercise and rivalry. Track types of competition enlivened many balmy afternoons. Hiking, climbing, fishing, hunting, limited gymnastics and other makeup sports were among cadet activities. The field work of the Military Department contributed in no small way to the cadets' physical development, as the sole organized physical education program of the college at that time.
On Saturday, June 21, 1873, a memorial service was held at the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs, in the decoration of the graves of the several hundreds of Confederated soldiers who had died in the hospital there during the War Between the States. The V.A.M.C. Battalion of Cadets was requested to take part in the ceremony. At 7:30 that morning, General Lane, on horseback, assembled the cadets in front of the Preston and Olin Building, in crossed-belts and under arms, and to the roll of a snare drum and the cadence of a bass drum, moved them off south down Main Street. The battalion arrived at the White before 10:00a.m., and people from Christiansburg, Blacksburg and surrounding countryside were thronging the grounds. A special and well-filled train ran from Central Depot (Pulaski today) to the springs through the courtesy of General Malone, the president of the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad, which later became the Norfolk and Western Railway and then the Norfolk and Southern Railroad. The V.A.M.C. Battalion put on a demonstration drill and then a review receiving enthusiastic applause from the mass of spectators. The Richmond Dispatch of June 23 reported: "The students went through a series of evaluations on the lawn with great precision and ease, doing both themselves and the officers a great deal of credit. They are a fine, gentlemanly set of fellows, and their behavior during the entire day evinced refinement and careful training."
After the drill, the spacious ballroom soon was filled to overflowing. The Rev. Mr. S. Keener Cox, president of the Montgomery Female College, opened the proceedings and an ode was chanted by the young ladies of the college. General James A. Walker was the orator of the occasion. The indoor portion of the ceremony was terminated by another chant by the college girls. The crowd then attended the grave decoration at three separated cemeteries.
The students of both colleges were invited to a dinner, as guests of the proprietors of the springs. An excellent epiecurean dinner it was, with a social hour after the dinner, with music and dancing. Despite the watchful eyes of chaperons, cadets and young ladies of the two colleges managed innumerable get together during the remainder of the day, and as youth will do, many trysts were sealed for the coming commencement days at the Christiansburg college. All too soon for the students present, General Lane assembled his battalion and marched it back to Blacksburg. As the cadets marched smartly off the lawn, they were cheered roundly by the college girls, many of whom tossed blooms form nearby flower beds onto the passing soldier boys.
The commencement exercises of the Montgomery Female College began the following Monday and continued through Wednesday. After classes many V.A.M.C. cadets found their ways to the Christiansburg campus, in follow-ups of the prearranged trysts of the previous Saturday. In the relaxed atmosphere of those final exercises, with many visitors and family members present, the cadets, the girls, and college faculty engaged in a spirited game of romantic maneuvering. Young ladies deftly thwarted chaperons by presenting cadets to their parents - it was great sport. On Monday there were celebrations of the two literary societies. On Tuesday there were recitations, music, and speeches. Wednesday brought commencement, with essay reading, declamations, and the Baccalaureated address.
As the first academic year at the V.A.M.C. drew to a close, final exercise were held in the Blacksburg Methodist Church, beginning on July 6, 1873, and continued until the following Wednesday, although there were no graduates. The Sunday sermon was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Williamson Harris, the local Methodis minister.
In appreciation of the fine appearance of the V.A.M.C. cadets at the grave decoration ceremony of two weeks earlier, Messrs. Calhoon, Wilson, and Cowan, proprietors of the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs, lent the college their renowned German Brass Band for the duration of the commencement exercises.
On Monday and Tuesday, the cadets gave orations and academic performances. The Board of Visitors carried out its official inspection of the college on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Professor Charles Martin addressed the two literary societies, and that evening at 8:00 o'clock a celebration of the Spphosonian Society took place, at which Cadet R. G. Gillum won the gold orator's medal, and Cadet C. W. Bocock won the gold medal as the best debater. After the awarding speeches, the crowded church was entertained by remarks from General Wharton, Judge Watkins, Colonel Roland, Colonel Penn, Judge Lyle, and theirs. The assembly was dismissed with a benediction by the Rev. Mr. Gitt.
Commencement day, Wednesday, July 9, was ushered in with a bright sun and an exhilarating breeze from the Alleghenies. At an early hour, Governor Gilbert Carlton Walker and his party drove in from White Sulphur Springs, and a lighthearted crowd began gathering at the Methodist Church, which had been decorated for the occasion. At 11:00a.m., the Cadet Battalion, marching to the rousing music of the White Sulphur Springs German Brass Band, escorted the governor to the church. On the platform, the governor was accompanied by his own staff, as well as the staff and faculty and Board of Visitors of the college. After a prayer by the Rev. Mr. Williamson Harris, President Minor presented certificates of distinction to those students who had an average of 75 percent or more on all of their examinations.
Shortly after noon, the governor gave the commencement address to an overflow audience. He spoke of the V.A.M.C.'s place in the life of Virginia and the nation: "With this day ends the first year of existence, and if its mature years fulfill the brilliant promise of its earlier days, if, in truth, the child is the father of the man, then indeed may Virginia well be proud of her latest born, and like all fond mothers, shower upon it her choices blessings." The governor expressed some personal thoughts concerning "practical education verses learning for learning's sake." He quoted the expression that knowledge is power, but added the comment that "all learning is not knowledge and the world is full of learned fools and helpless wiseacres." He stated, "What we call thought is the product of the mysterious workings of the human intellect, invisible, intangible, incomprehensible, and useless, save only to its possessor, until clothed in language or embodied in substantial form. In man's capacity for thought and expression of thought, lies his chief claim to superiority, and through its instrumentality must he fulfill his divinely appointed mission to subdue and have dominion over the earth."
Following the address, the governor was entertained by President Minor and other college and local dignitaries. At 6:00p.m. Governor Walker took the review of the Cadet Battalion at a formal Retreat parade, at which the Board of Visitors, the faculty and a large assemblage of visitors and local populace were observers. Again, the White Sulphur Springs German Brass Band provided music. After the review, the governor requested General Lane to express to the cadets his appreciation for "the honor of their superb performance." General Lane did so, and the cadets gave a cheer for his excellency. The Richmond Dispatch of July 11 described the more than one hundred cadets as "a fine looking body of young men." The parade was a grand affair and went off flawlessly, launching the V.A.M.C. Battalion of Cadetsinto its coming role as one of the major ceremonial units of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
That Wednesday evening at 7:30 o'clock, the Maury Literacy Society held its final celebration of the session.
Many cadets remained over to attend the ball which was held Thursday evening at Montgomery White Sulphur Springs. It was a brilliant affair. The large hotel was decorated with parti-colored transparencies hung all along the front piazzas, and the ballroom and parlors came to life with wreaths, pictures, and arches evergreens. Approximately two hundred and fifty guests were there, including Governor Walker and his party, as well as the staff and faculty of the college and the Board of Visitors. A rich and bountiful collation was served at midnight, and the merry company did not disperse until 3:00 o'clock in the morning.
Thus, with fitting pageantry and felicitousness ended the first session of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.
English civilization had brought colleges to the new world, but with the establishment of a unique national government of the United States, the American college fashioned its own course with its own democratic practices. The young Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College was a strong thread in the fabric of that evolution, as a pioneer in the typical American practical fields of scientific agriculture and engineering. Energy, vision, faith, and determination were integral characteristics of its foundation, as they were of the growing nation. An able and dedicated faculty molded bright and eager youthful minds. Sincerity and simplicity were staunch virtues of its contribution to education in the young county's impatient drive toward its place in the world community. Although Virginian and Southern, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College was to become stoutly national in its effectiveness.