Dale Enterprise School
A talk presented to the Harrisonburg Unitarian-Universalist Church
on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Schoolhouse.
July 19, 2009
Fifty-seven years ago last month, another centennial celebration was held in this very building. In June 1952 a large celebration was organized to mark 100 years since Walnut Grove School opened down the hill from here, just on the other side of Cooks Creek. The event was organized to celebrate all the schools that had served children in the Dale Enterprise community. Former teacher Annie L. Heatwole gave an address about the history of education in the community. She was a daughter of Lewis J. Heatwole, who also taught for a number of years in these schools. Miss Heatwole also mentioned that the earliest schools were often held in “unused shops and other private buildings.” She added that the teachers were usually men who were known as “schoolmasters.”Because teaching was considered a “soft job,” teachers were often those who were not physically fit for hard manual labor.
Let’s take a brief look at the three schools operated closest to this community: Walnut Grove, Pine Grove, and finally this Dale Enterprise building. The name Dale Enterprise, by the way, was chosen for the post office name of the village in 1872. The previous name had been Millersville, named for the Miller family that ran an early store here. After the Civil War, Mr. J. W. Minnick started a new mercantile “enterprise” at the crossroads of Silver Lake Road and Route 33. Minnick’s store was located near a “dale,” so the chosen name became Dale Enterprise.
Walnut Grove was a log schoolhouse located in a grove of walnut trees at Dale Enterprise in the 1850s. It was opened about 1852 as a neighborhood school 18 years before public education became a reality in Virginia. Since it opened before public education had begun it operated during the time that most local schools were part of Virginia’s “Common School” system. This system was designed to allow poor children to get a basic education paid for by money from the State Literary Fund. Walnut Grove Schoolhouse was located just east of Cooks Creek along the old roadbed of the Harrisonburg & Rawley Springs Turnpike. The school lasted only about seven years. When it closed, the building was sold to Albert Fishback in 1859 or 1860. Fishback, the village blacksmith, used it for his dwelling. A report about the log building, written by Jim Duncan in 1979, told that the old structure was later used as a repair shop and garage and even as the community post office for a short time. The building eventually formed the nucleus of the Raymond Burkholder house here at Dale Enterprise.
Pine Grove School
Pine Grove School, sometimes called Piney Grove, was located here at this location. In 1877, Peter S. and Nancy Reiff Heatwole deeded 80 square poles of land for the Pine Grove School along the “Harrisonburg and Rawley Springs Turnpike” to the Central District School Board. Abraham Swartz, who was also a trustee of the school, built the schoolhouse.
The school was called Pine Grove because of the many yellow pine trees surrounding it. The schoolhouse was constructed from the salvaged lumber of the earlier Fairview School, which was located where Belmont is now. Foundation stones from the old Weaver’s Schoolhouse were also used in the construction of Pine Grove.
Pine Grove School was intended for those children in the community who lived west of Cooks Creek, while those east of the creek were assigned to Weaver’s School. By the 1908–09 school year, the year it closed, Pine Grove was very crowded with 42 pupils in its single room, but amazingly two teachers, Lewis J. Heatwole, mentioned earlier, and his daughter Elizabeth (Lizzie M. Heatwole), were both teaching in the building. In a report that year, Mr. Heatwole described the building as “an old, weather-beaten school house, with rattling windows, leaking roof and old-fashioned furniture.”
Patrons of the school were already well aware of the need for a new schoolhouse. During Pine Grove’s February 1908 Patrons’ Day gathering, plans were made to meet later in the month to discuss securing a new schoolhouse. Interested citizens from the Dale Enterprise community, who attended the meeting, decided that a larger, three-room graded school was needed and that it should be built on the same site as Pine Grove. George F. Senger, L. F. Ritchie, and E. W. Burkholder were appointed to help raise money for the new schoolhouse. Patrons at the meeting immediately pledged more than $400 toward the building.
Dale Enterprise School
In March 1909 Pine Grove patrons met with the Central District School Board to ask for the construction of a new schoolhouse on the same site. Later that year Pine Grove was replaced by the new, brick Dale Enterprise School. For some years traces of Pine Grove’s foundation remained visible a little closer the road and slightly west of the new schoolhouse.
Thus the building we are assembled in today was built in 1909 to replace the Pine Grove Schoolhouse. It cost $2,400. Students for the new school came from Weavers School, beside Weavers Church; with some students from Noble Center School, on the southern foot of Mole Hill; the school at Hinton; and the school at Coakleytown, to the west of Mole Hill.
Since I have been mentioning Mole Hill, let’s think contrary to the norm and make the proverbial mountain out of a mole hill. One could not easily overlook the fact that this former schoolhouse, and the earlier Pine Grove School, were built in the shadow of Mole Hill. I believe the hill was named for the Mole family that lived in the area before the American Revolution. Here is a related riddle: how is the Dale Enterprise Schoolhouse like the ancient city of Pompeii? The answer is that they both sat at the base of a volcano. But luckily for Dale Enterprise residents, a volcano did not destroy this building or the community. Does everyone present today realize that Mole Hill represents the remnant of an extinct volcano? What we now witness behind us is the eroded remnant of what was an active volcano about 47 million years ago. This age, as volcanoes go in the east, is very young, making it one of the younger volcanoes on the East Coast. There is a similar extinct volcano in Highland County.
But back to the schoolhouse—
As I mentioned, the new Dale Enterprise School was located on the same property as the Pine Grove School that had been deeded to the Central District School Board by the Heatwoles in 1877. Lumber recycled from the dismantled Pine Grove School was used in building the new schoolhouse, with plans and other materials provided by P. S. Suter of Mt. Clinton. Will Rhodes, with help from John Corbin and Ike Cole, built the schoolhouse.
By November 1909, after the new school was already in operation, it had yet to be officially named, and the county and locals were informally calling it “Pine Grove,” a carryover name from the old schoolhouse. Several suggested names for the new building were “Mole Hill Academy,” “Grand Heights Institute,” and “The Outlook School,” but it was finally thought that the name for the new schoolhouse should be the same as the community in which it was built.
The building had been built with a belfry, and the community agreed to purchase the bell for it. They bought a 400-pound bronze bell and wheel cast by the C. S. Bell Company of Hillsboro, Ohio. It was ordered from Sears, Roebuck & Company and shipped by train to Harrisonburg. The large bell made the final leg of its journey from the railroad station to the schoolhouse on a horse-drawn spring wagon. It has been said the bell was rung all the way from the station to the schoolhouse. The 1914 History of Rockingham County Schools described Dale Enterprise as “a beautiful three-room brick house with water supplied from the Harrisonburg mains.”
Sometimes it helps one put things into better perspective to know what else was going on at the same time as the construction and opening of this schoolhouse. Most of the more important educational happenings were taking place in Harrisonburg in 1909. At that time Harrisonburg schools were still a part of Rockingham County Schools. Harrisonburg Schools began kindergarten classes that summer, one of the earliest kindergarten programs in Virginia, and the progressive city has continued the program to the present. Out in the county new schoolhouses were built at Swift Run, at the foot of the mountain beyond Elkton, and at Tunis Creek, down Runions Creek north of Cootes Store. The most important educational news for the area may have been the opening of the new college officially named the “State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg” which has gone on to become James Madison University, one of the best universities in the Southeast.
We can be justly proud of the 100 years of service this building has offered for Dale Enterprise and for the extended community at large. It has been a public school, an alternative school, a private school, a Society of Friends meeting, a Lutheran church, and a Unitarian-Universalist church. Could the community leaders in 1909 have ever imagined all the important events this building would have witnessed during its first century of service?