St. Albans School
The best source of information about St. Albans School is the Promus yearbooks, archived and digitized by Radford College. The National Register application for St. Albans Hospital contains a history of the school as well as of the later hospital. Today St. Albans Sanatorium is the subject of numerous internet sites devoted to paranormal investigations.
Sr. Albans School, named for the famous English school, was founded by George W. Miles in 1892. Miles, a 30-year-old graduate of the University of Virginia, had been a college professor at Emory and Henry before starting the school. St. Albans opened for 22 boys and five masters in 1892. It offered a classical preparatory curriculum, heavy in languages and mathematics, to prepare boys “for university or for business.”
St. Albans offered facilities for fifty boys. A survey of the new boys or “rats” of 1898-99 shows that almost all were from the South. One—a younger brother—was only ten; one was already 21—the age of some of the faculty. Given that 32 of fifty students were new, the turnover would have been relatively high. Most students quickly acquired nicknames; some such as “Bess,” and “Fanny,” and “Miss Maud,” as well as “Shortie,” suggest that the boys were quick to exploit what they saw as effeminate characteristics or physical shortcomings.
Apart from athletics, the main student group at St. Albans was the German Club. The club organized the three formal dances sponsored by the school. Female dancing partners usually came from Hollins Institute, a private girls’ school at Roanoke. Each of the state or regional groups at the school had a club. The Glee and Mandolin Club provided entertainments both on and off campus. There was also a dramatics club and a literary society.
Miles sold out his interests in the school in 1902. The last Promus was 1904. The school continued under various owners at least through 1909. This is the period noted by the national Register application when then school became infamous for bullying of students and faculty abuse.
Bricks and Mortar
Classes began in September 1892 in new buildings. Miles had acquired 56 acres of land outside Roanoke and commissioned Philadelphia architects to build a classroom building and a dormitory in Classical Revival style. The buildings were 60 feet apart
Both buildings were two-story brick structures over limestone basements. Both had hip roofs and slate shingles. The larger East Wing featured an entrance hall 34 feet wide with a central staircase.
After the school closed, the campus was purchased by J. C. King, who opened the St. Albans Sanatorium for the treatment of mental and nervous disorders in 1916. It remained thus until 1985 when a state psychiatric hospital was opened.
The buildings are not now in use. Paranormal interests emphasize that the school grounds had been the site of a 1755 Shawnee massacre of settlers, that the later history of St. Albans school was one in which bullying was “not only tolerated but encouraged,” and that the sanatorium was a place where “vulnerable patients were subjected to cruel and inhumane experimental treatments.” These interests claim St. Albans to be “among the most active paranormal locations on the East Coast.”
The buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2020.
The East Wing today. Image from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Team Name and School Colors: Crimson
For a prep school of fifty boys with their teachers (who seem to have been hired for their athletic reputation), St. Albans was a power in football and baseball. The University of Virginia was a regular opponent—as were present D-1 powers Virginia Tech, Virginia Military Academy, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee. The Crimson twice defeated Georgia Tech in Atlanta and defeated Tennessee 38-0 on 1895. The Crimson was much more successful against smaller four-year schools such as Washington & Lee, Richmond, King, Hampton-Sidney, Emory & Henry, and Roanoke. The Promus claims such scheduling was necessary because area prep schools and academies refused to play the Crimson.
Tennis apparently was played at intramural level.
The 1901 football team compiled a 5-1 record, losing only to the University of Virginia. Image from the 1902 Promus. McConnell Library Archives and Special Collections, Radford University, Radford, Va.)