Q: There was once a college in Daleville. What is known about it?

Mark Richardson

Blue Ridge

A: Botetourt County’s record of public education is a sterling one. The county’s two high schools — Lord Botetourt and James River — routinely send graduates to the state’s and nation’s top institutions of higher education and then on to community and professional leadership.

Academics is not the only arena in which the county’s high school students excel.

LB’s Cavaliers won their first six football games this season, the volleyball team is pursuing another state championship, and golf had one of its strongest showings in recent years of state competition.

James River is perennially accomplished in track and field, both girls and boys. Volleyball, softball, basketball, baseball and golf are among the sports that have all had big seasons at one time or another for the Knights.

Daleville College, which also had other lives as a private primary and secondary school, embodied all the best traditions of scholarship and athletics as the county’s modern schools, but did so a century before.

The seat of the county’s first court in the 18th century, what is now known as Daleville, is just north of the intersection of U.S. 220 and Interstate 81 . It was first called New Amsterdam. The old campus was just south of Lord Botetourt High School and original structures still stand.

The school served a select community. The rich land along Tinker Creek was settled mostly at first by German Baptists, or Dunkards, who arrived from Pennsylvania.

So we are told in “Places Near the Mountains” by Helen R. Prillaman. Part of the history therein deals with the rise and fall of the school at Daleville.

The private “Select” school opened in 1890 under the sponsorship of two prominent local Dunkards, Benjamin F. Nininger and George Layman Jr., whose families’ children were the institution’s first pupils.

That education was of prominent concern to the Niningers and Laymans is self-evident. Benjamin and his wife, the former Ann Maria Denton, had three sons and six daughters. Layman and his wife, the former Albina Denton, had eight sons and three daughters.

Nininger was a successful orchardist, one of the county’s pioneers in that regard. Layman was said to be a talented singer and was for many years the “song leader” for the Valley Church of the Brethren.

Another of the school’s benefactors was Theodore C. Denton, Albina and Ann Maria’s brother, who married a Nininger. Theodore and Lula were childless, but adored young people and had resources to share.

Not only did Theodore C. Denton serve as the Valley Church’s minster and elder, he farmed, raised fruit, owned a large cannery, and was a banker.

The Dunkards were known to have had issues with the county’s early public schools, yet Nininger and Layman had no problem going to Roanoke schools to hire away I.N.H. Beahm from that system as the select school’s first teacher.

Serving an inaugural class of 12, the instructor was identified by historian Prillaman as “Professor” Beahm. Sessions took place in both the Nininger and Layman residences that first year.

Initial success was such that other families became interested in enrolling their children. With that, Nininger donated land and a new two-story schoolhouse was built in 1891. Over 70 students were present at the start of the academic year and three extra teachers were hired to preside.

The name changed to Botetourt Normal School. By 1897, the school had grown to the extent that a second building had to be added. Called Central Building, it housed a kitchen and dining room on its first floor, classrooms on the second and a girls dormitory on the third.

The original building became the boys dorm. That structure perished in flames in 1903; Prillaman mentioning no casualties. Denton and Nininger funded construction of the replacement Denton Hall, the boys’ new quarters.

Those young dudes paid for their schooling with more than their parents’ tuition. Until 1909, when construction of a power plant that provided heat, lights, and water to the campus was finished, boys were charged with fetching firewood for the winter warmth of all.

Also in that year, the school’s mission changed, and it became Daleville College. Three years later it affiliated with the Church of the Brethren.

By 1911, a gymnasium was built. “Physical activity was always part of the curriculum,” wrote Deborah Alderson McClane in “Botetourt County Revisited.” Student athletes competed outdoors on well-appointed tennis courts, as well as croquet and baseball fields.

A picture of those facilities with Tinker Mountain as a dramatic backdrop, as well as team portraits of women’s tennis and the serious-looking young men of the baseball nine, are included with McClane’s account of the college.

So is a photograph of the fine-featured and well-dressed young men and women of the Columbian and Aristotelian Literary Societies gathered on the steps of the Central Building, presumably to discuss their organizations’ publication of periodic literary magazine called the Daleville Leader.

Bridgewater College’s special collections department, from which the photo was sourced, identified the pictured 1921-23 magazine staff members as Newton Akers, Benton Alderman, Kathryn Eller Peters, Katie Bowman, Elizabeth Brubaker Clingenpeel and Miriam Ikenberry Duffy. Two other scholars are unidentified.

Bridgewater absorbed the Daleville school in its last years of operation. Then it became a high school, at last operating under the name of Daleville Academy. The school closed in 1933.

Prillaman concluded by opining such a school would not suit sensibilities of modern young people (her volume published in 1985).

“Discipline was strict — character building was important. A school such as this would offer little diversion for today’s youth.”

Former students were said to regard a trip across the road to Ikenberry’s Store as an event.

To think, they didn’t even have cellphones.

If you’ve been wondering about something, call “What’s on Your Mind?” at 777-6476 or send an email to whatsonyourmind@roanoke.com. Don’t forget to provide your full name (and its proper spelling if by phone) and hometown.

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