Allegheny Collegiate Institute
Alderson, West Virginia
The best source of information on Allegheny Collegiate Institute is Kenneth D. Swope’s 1964 “Schools” history for the Greenbrier Historical Society. The link to this history comes from The Aldersonian website, edited by Barry Worrell. The Aldersonian also has a number of photos of the school and students. Another good source of information is the 1993 National Historical Register application prepared by consultant Michael Gioulis.
Gioulis notes that the Allegheny Collegiate Institute was “both privately and church owned.” ACI was founded in 1888 by three Alderson men—the Reverend J. H. Light, Chase Bare, and Frank Follansbee. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South had wanted to create a “District High School” at Alderson and adopted ACI as such. Through the years the school underwent numerous ownership changes but maintained an association with the Methodist Church.
It had 50 students that first year. Available copies of the West Virginia Educational Directory show enrollment as low as 82 in 1912 and as high as 125 in 1920. Since two teachers in 1908 were listed as primary teachers and two in 1920 were listed as preparatory teachers, this might suggest that ACI served students at all grade levels.
The 1909 Educational Directory shows six faculty members, only two of whom had A.B. degrees. Reverend L. G. Shires, the “Resident Principal,” taught Bible as well as math. N. G. Caldwell, the “Lady Principal,” was one of the primary teachers and also taught French and German; another instructor taught English and history; another taught business subjects as well as art; another taught piano and voice; the final one taught expression.
By 1920 the faculty had grown to 10—in addition to a chaplain and a business manager. The most conspicuous addition was the commandant of the military department—who also taught science, math, and mechanical drawing. Swope notes, “At some time in the years after 1912 the school had added a military department for the boys in order to inculcate erect bodily carriage and obedience.” In 1912 The Daily Telegraph reported that 29 ACI students with officers attended a week-long military encampment at Charleston.
Gioulis says that ACI offered a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1897. However, the 1909 advertisement in the Highland Recorder describes ACI as a “College Preparatory and Finishing” school. In addition, it offered programs in business, art, elocution, and music.
We have little news of student activities. Swope reports, “There was a fine school spirit and the students published a school magazine, The Sentinel.” In 1905 an ACI student names C.E. Sloan participated in an oratorical contest with a subject entitled “American Home Influences.”
The 1924-25 school year was the school’s last.
The Actress Dorothy Gish attended ACI in 1913. Image from the Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2006680361/
A postcard view of the ACI campus. The Methodist Church is to the left and the dormitory to the right of the main building. The dormitory remains. Image courtesy of The Aldersonian http://www.min7th.com/ahs/as.html last accessed 12-6-2017
Bricks and Mortar
The campus was located at the base of the mountain on the south side of the Greenbrier River. The 1909 ad notes “three well-equipped buildings,” and commends the “healthfulness and beauty of surroundings.” The three buildings, designed by Frank Follansbee, were completed in 1889. The dormitory burned in 1893 and was rebuilt in 1894. Swope notes that after the school closed, one building became a small hospital. Later it was cut up into apartments and remains today. Under the name Alderson Hospitality House it provides temporary housing, meals and other services for the families of those incarcerated in the Alderson Federal Prison Camp.
The 1909 advertisement shows that ACI had “tennis, boating, basket-ball, etc.” While I have been unable to locate games or results, ACI fielded football and basketball teams, having a natural rival in Alderson Academy. Swope mentions both a gymnasium and a drill ground, both of which would have supported sports programs.
1913 ACI football team. Image from the 1914 Spalding Football Guide. https://archive.org/stream/officialnational06nati#page/286/mode/1up last accessed 12-6-2017