Before the Civil War, Jefferson County had free public schools for white children and several all-white private schools which were segregated by gender. However, in the antebellum era not one institution of higher learning had a Jefferson County, Virginia (still Virginia until 1863) address. That would quickly change following the war, and within a decade there were two colleges founded in our county—Storer College at Harpers Ferry in 1867 and Shepherd College at Shepherdstown in 1872. Previously, I discussed the importance of McMurran Hall at Shepherd College. The focus of this article will be another building with historical significance—Anthony Hall at Storer College.
At war’s end, the Freedman’s Bureau estimated that over twenty thousand formerly enslaved men and women found refuge in the Lower Shenandoah Valley. With passage of the 13th Amendment, the Bureau turned its attention to the urgent need to minister to this growing population.
Housing and employment were of immediate concern, but there was also a critical need for schools and teachers. To meet that demand, the Freewill Baptist Home Mission sent Reverend Nathan Cook Brackett, a Freewill Baptist minister, to Harpers Ferry to establish and oversee a school system for the newly freed men and women. By year’s end, Superintendent Brackett had twenty-five teachers at work in new schools from Harpers Ferry in the north to as far south as Lexington.
Harpers Ferry was Brackett’s base of operations, and he got a school underway in one of the deserted armory residences on Camp Hill. Originally known as Building No. 32, it was built in 1847 as the quarters for the armory’s paymaster. When the armory was abandoned in June 1861, the former paymaster’s house was uninhabited and became headquarters for a succession of Union officers while stationed at Harpers Ferry during the Civil War.
Locally, the paymaster’s house was known as the Lockwood House, a reference to Union Brigadier General Henry Hayes Lockwood, who had his headquarters there following the 1863 Gettysburg campaign. Brackett received permission from the War Department to utilize the old Paymaster’s Quarters, and in October 1867, the Freedmen’s school in Harpers Ferry opened its doors “with nineteen pupils all above the second reader, one as high as the fifth…”
As news of the school spread, the numbers of students continued to grow and demand soon outstripped supply. The positive response was great news, but there were just too many students for the number of available teachers and classrooms. Nathan Cook Brackett was a problem solver, not a quitter, and he set about to develop a plan to overcome these obstacles. To increase the supply of teachers, Brackett determined to train some of his students to be educators. From his vantage-point on the back porch of the Lockwood House, Brackett could see not one or two but three former armory residences now sitting vacant—each could provide more classrooms for training new teachers.
In January 1867, John Storer, a Maine philanthropist, made a proposal to Dr. Oren Burbank Cheney, President of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Storer offered to donate $10,000 if Cheney would “found a school which might eventually become a College, to be located in one of the Southern States.” Aware of the Freewill Baptist’s missionary work in the Valley, Storer added further conditions. First, he required that “youth could be educated without distinction of race or color.” The second condition was tougher. Storer would donate his $10,000 if, and only if, “the friends of the colored people in the Free Baptist denomination would raise an equal amount previous to the 1st of January 1868.” Like Storer, Cheney immediately thought about Nathan Cook Brackett and his work underway at Harpers Ferry. Although West Virginia supported the Union during the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Free Will Baptists recognized that Harpers Ferry and Jefferson County were once part of Virginia and thus qualified as “one of the Southern States.” Harpers Ferry would be the perfect location for Storer’s “school which might eventually become a College.”
Cheney advised Brackett of Storer’s offer, and Brackett went to work. He approached George Koonce, a Republican who represented Jefferson County in the West Virginia House of Delegates and convinced Koonce to assist him with the movement intent on establishing a normal school on Camp Hill for formerly enslaved men and women. On October 14, 1867 West Virginia Secretary of State John Sheshol Witcher signed the articles of incorporation for Storer College. Five months later, on March 3, 1868 “An ACT to incorporate the Storer College” was ratified by the West Virginia Legislature. The legislation stipulated that the new school was created “‘for the purpose of establishing and maintaining an institution of learning, embracing a normal school, an academy and a college, for teaching all classes of persons, without distinction of color.” Brackett’s goal of establishing a teacher-training school at Harpers Ferry was accomplished. In addition, both of Storer’s conditions were met—technically, the new school was founded in the south and from the start, Storer College enrolled students “without distinction of race or color.” The last remaining piece of the puzzle was Storer’s demand to match his $10,000 ante, and by 1870 the Storer College Catalog affirmed, “terms were met, and quite a sum of money was raised in addition.” The Normal School at Storer College was a reality, but Brackett still needed more space.
By 1868, the War Department had decided that the gun factories at Harpers Ferry would not be rebuilt. This was a terrible blow to Harpers Ferry’s economy, but a blessing to Brackett and Storer’s trustees. Thinking that the armory buildings on Camp Hill might soon be declared surplus, Storer’s trustees approached federal officials and inquired about plans for the armory buildings on Camp Hill. They received an answer in December 1868, when the US Congress passed “An Act providing for the sale of lands, tenements, and water privileges belonging to the United States at and in Harper’s Ferry, in the county of Jefferson in West Virginia.” To the delight of Brackett, Section Two of the act authorized the Secretary of War to convey “the buildings, with the lots on which they stand, numbered thirty, thirty-one, and thirty-two, and also building numbered twenty-five” to Storer College, “an institution of learning chartered by the State of West Virginia.” For the next nine decades, this land and those buildings would serve as the campus of Storer College.
With the acquisition of Buildings 25, 30, and 31, Storer’s campus began a gradual migration west. The Lockwood House, Building No. 32, began to transition from the school’s headquarters and its first classroom to a dormitory for men.
Thanks to the B & O Rail Road, Harpers Ferry had become a summer tourist destination, and tourists needed a place to stay. During the summer months when classes were in recess, the Lockwood dorm was vacant. As an experiment, in the summer of 1876, rooms in Lockwood House were offered to tourists. The trial proved to be a win-win-win. By 1880, Lockwood’s “rooms were filled to overflowing” which provided additional funding for the college, as well as summer jobs for Storer’s students.
Brackett went to work to refurbish each of the war-worn buildings. All had suffered wear and tear by the constant ebb and flow of soldiers and officers moving in and moving out during the war, while Harpers Ferry was their base of operations. When ready for occupation, Building No. 30, formerly home to the Paymaster’s Clerk, and Building No. 31, the old Superintendent’s Clerk’s residence, were set aside as dwellings. Reverend Alexander Hatch Morrell and his family moved into No. 30 while Brackett and his family made No. 31, next door to the Lockwood House, their new home. Today Lockwood House, Brackett House, and Morrell House are part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and each retain names which are reflective of their association with Storer College and its heritage.
Reverend Brackett decided that Building No. 25, the former Superintendent’s Quarters, would be the new headquarters for Storer College. Like many small colleges, funds were always scarce at Storer, and each time a building was renovated or a new building was built, the school relied on the considerable largesse of the Freewill Baptist Church and its philanthropic members to assist with the finances. The renovation of the old Superintendent’s Quarters is a good example of this process. As it stood, Building No. 25 was not unlike the Lockwood House—basically a two-story brick box with four rooms on each floor, adequate for a residence and OK in a pinch for use as a school, but inadequate to meet the needs of the growing college. Reverend Brackett sounded the call for funds to renovate the old armory residence, and in 1880 the President of the Free Baptist Home Mission Society answered Brackett’s plea.
Deacon Lewis Williams Anthony, a successful Providence, Rhode Island businessman and philanthropist, pledged more than $5,000 (approximately $125,000 today) for the renovation project. In addition to refurbishing Building No. 25, Anthony’s donation was used to expand the old dwelling to more than twice its original size. A new wing, which was a mirror image of the old superintendent’s quarters was constructed, and then the two wings were joined together by the construction of a center section, two and a half stories high, with a “pedimented gable designed in the Greek revival style.” Brick for the expansion project was provided by Martinsburg contractor George W. Buxton. The Spirit of Jefferson noted that the work at Storer College was one of several construction projects underway in Harpers Ferry and offered the hope that “the old town in the near future assume and exceed the prosperity known there in days of yore, is our earnest wish.” When complete, the new building, now called Anthony Hall in honor of its principal donor, provided space for “a chapel, lecture room, recitation rooms, library, quarters for the principal’s family, treasurer’s office, and janitor’s rooms.” Anthony Hall was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1882 during Storer’s commencement exercises. Reverend Ransom Dunn, Professor of Christian Philosophy at Hillsdale College, delivered the address to the Class of 1882, and the sixteen graduates received their diplomas from Colonel Bernard Lee Butcher, West Virginia’s Superintendent of Free Schools.
Located at the summit of Camp Hill, Anthony Hall is visible from each of the three heights which ring the town, and it quickly became one of Harpers Ferry’s most prominent buildings. With its spacious lecture halls, Anthony Hall was in demand as the perfect venue for public meetings. When the Sunday School at St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church planned a fundraiser, Anthony Hall was the site for an evening’s “Entertainment - Dramatic and Musical, Recitations and Readings.” Storer College was not the only organization to acquire an old armory building. In 1870 Virginia Lodge No. 1 Independent Order of Odd Fellows purchased Armory Dwelling No. 23 just across Fillmore Street from Anthony. The lodge needed funds to renovate their new home, and the Calliopean Club of Bolivar sponsored a concert at Anthony Hall with proceeds “to go toward help paying for extensive repairs that are being made to the Odd Fellows Hall.” In the summer of 1889, the Peabody Institute of West Virginia held their convention on the grounds of Storer College and in a resolution tendered its thanks “to the faculty of Storer College for the use of Anthony Hall.”
Anthony Hall would become the heart of the school, fondly remembered as “Hope on the Hill.” However, the story of Storer and the account of Anthony Hall did not conclude in the 1880s—that narrative will continue for seven more decades.
Doug Perks, a retired history teacher and Shepherdstown resident who serves as the historian at the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, is a contributor to the Spirit of Jefferson.