Memories of the teaching Foutz sisters of Salem in last week’s column spawned another question.
Q: I’m particularly interested in a small aspect of the article where it mentions Gladys Foutz’s service at Mountain Mission School in Floyd County. My wife and I graduated from Mountain Mission School at Grundy in Buchanan County. We weren’t aware of another school by the same name. Do you have more information about the Floyd County school?
A: There were a number of these schools in Floyd and surrounding counties. It is unclear at which of these that Gladys Foutz, the youngest of the four sisters, worked.
A member of Salem Presbyterian Church, Gladys Foutz was not the only member of the congregation who worked at the Mission School. Among others, according to church historian John Hildebrand, was Lucille Hood Middleton, wife of Norwood C. Middleton, the late author of “Salem: A Virginia Chronicle.” Mr. Middleton, as I knew him, was also a distinguished and longtime managing editor at The Roanoke Times.
“The mission schools were organized through the Montgomery Presbytery to be available to the children of the rural parts of this region,” said Ann Shank of the Floyd County Historical Society.
The Rev. R.G. See, a Presbyterian minister of Floyd, led the effort to incorporate these schools in 1913. The schools were named in honor of another education-minded Floyd County Presbyterian minister, John Kellogg Harris, says the biographical information accompanying the guide to the Harris Mountain Schools 1913-1961 Collection within Virginia Tech’s Special Collections holdings at Newman Library.
The guide listed the schools as Shooting Creek, Ferrum, Cannaday, Christiansburg, Buffalo Mountain, Sylvatus, Pippen Hill, Boone’s Mill, Taylor’s Mountain, Thaxton, Cave Mountain, Greenlee, Algoma and Franklin.
Locations of the schools were identified as Montgomery, Floyd, and Franklin counties in the guide’s biographical information. Thanks to the generous assistance of archivist Marc Brodsky of Virginia Tech’s Special Collections , we were able to add to the locations of the schools in Carroll, Bedford and Rockbridge counties.
During the same era, the Rev. Bob Childress was establishing six Presbyterian schools and churches in Floyd, Carroll and Patrick counties. Evidence seems to indicate some, if not all, of those churches were part of the Harris network.
A letter in Virginia Tech’s Harris collection dated Jan, 28, 1961, links the Buffalo Mountain school to the Harris network. A teacher at the school, Houchins referred to materials collected “after he [Childress] took over” operations there.
The 1913 incorporation date of the network and the 1929 building of the stone Buffalo Mountain church, suggests the school predated the church.
“The schools tended to precede the churches,” said the historical society’s Shank . “The churches emerged out of the community that used the school for a worship place or a Bible study place. The schools were often community centers for a variety of purposes.”
Western Virginia writer Su Clauson-Wicker confirmed the school preceded the church in a story about Childress in the Fall/Winter 2012-13 edition of High Vistas Journal. Childress brought his family to Buffalo Mountain in 1926 in order for him to supervise the mission school, she wrote.
“He built a proper Buffalo Mountain Church within three years.”
The Grundy school and presumably the Harris schools were linked to progressive social and religious movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rachel Rebecca Hood’s 2007 master of arts in history thesis at East Tennessee State University, entitled “Reclaiming the Child: Mountain Mission School as a Successful Appalachian Home Mission,” detailed the connection.
Hood described efforts by reformers to mitigate poverty in northern slums through social programs offered at so-called “settlement houses” in those unfortunate neighborhoods. That concept eventually found its way to Appalachia.
“The settlement movement in the South … focused on education,” wrote Hood, who had worked at the Grundy school since 1993.
Mountain Mission School was an independent institution founded by local millionaire Sarmuel Robinson Hurley in 1921.
“The school’s purpose to ‘reclaim’ the child from material and spiritual poverty lay in Hurley’s desire to develop a child’s mind, body, and soul through a Christian, industrial education,” Hood wrote.
The founding of the Floyd County mission schools was referenced in the November 1912 edition of the “Presbyterian Survey Volume 2.”
“The Presbytery of Montgomery wishes to place two Mountain Mission Schools in Floyd County, Va, one at Shooting Creek, another near Pizarro. They are to be called the Harris Memorial Schools in memory of Rev. J.K. Harris, who for more than thirty-one years labored in Floyd County.”
Shooting Creek is a magnificent area in which to go to school. It is also a splendid trout stream. Legendary angler and Ferrum College football coach Hank Norton, who died in February, is known to have worked those chill waters to great effect.
I know the stream well. It’s at its best now. Leave the trout alone during summer. Normally during that season, there’s barely enough water to keep the poor darlings wet.
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