This detailed article about an early Albemarle school was written by Robert Hall Burch in 2019. Robert attended Midway as a young boy and went on to graduate from Miller School in 1954. In his illustrious career, Bob briefly attended the University of Virginia and in 1956 joined the United States Navy. From there he completed a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice at Florida State University. This achievement launched a career in civil service as an investigator for federal agencies that included Naval Intelligence and the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission from which he retired in 1993. Bob passed away on December 26, 2020 and we are grateful for his written contribution published in this month’s Gazette and preserved in the Albemarle County Historical Society archives. Thanks also to Clover Carroll for bringing the school to my attention and taking current photos, Austin and Jackie Jamison for donating the manuscript, and Bob’s sister, Betty Mawyer and sons Brad and John for photos and permission to print. Because of its length, I have taken the liberty to shorten the original.
Midway School at Midway, Virginia, was a grade one through four elementary education facility of Albemarle County. The school I attended, is a second, probably a third, generation school building under the same name. There were definitely two separate school buildings on this same acreage, both known as Midway School. These may have existed prior to the last building that became operational in the 1930s. Linda Burton and her two sisters, Jean and Ann, were longtime residents of the hamlet community called Midway and provided the 1919-1920 school photo as well as a copy of an artist drawing of the early school. Their father, Gordon Burton, purchased the school and property from the Albemarle Board of Education after it was closed and renovated it into their family home.
Geographically, Midway School and Pugh’s country grocery market, along with a few scattered residential homes, was essentially all that comprised the community in the 1930s and 1940s. Located almost halfway between Crozet and Batesville (thus the name Midway), the settlement is in the extreme western section of Albemarle, nestled snuggly near the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains on what is locally known as Miller School Road.
The Midway School building was not large by any means. It measured maybe 30-40 feet wide and 70-80 feet in length. It was situated on the expansive open and wooded plot of ground. The inside of the classroom had a number of large windows along the east side of the building that provided our lighting system, our air conditioning, and our only view to the outside. The time period about which I am writing is the very early 1940s, and electric service had not made its way to Midway yet, and on dark, dreary days the students along the west wall didn’t have as much light to work in. The entry way, and exit, was a single door with four or five steps to the ground level. Upon entering, students encountered a small coat closet and combination supply and lunch storage area, separated by a partition behind the teacher’s desk. Adjacent to this space, and just inside the entrance, was a wooden stand on which sat the galvanized drinking water container. This water was retrieved daily from a nearby spring close to the school. There were no indoor bathrooms and the boys and girls had separate outdoor toilets of the three-hole variety on the school grounds. I noted there was a large Montgomery Ward or Sears Roebuck catalogue in each outhouse and rarely do I remember having toilet paper. The interior furnishings were simple but adequate: a teacher’s desk, a potbellied stove, a large chalk board and maps on the west wall, with desks for the 25-30 students who went there.
The Midway School campus playground and classroom building of this tiny 20th century one-room, four-grade educational facility was quite unique. For a school so small, the playground was a vast open and partially forested parcel of land. It was slightly more than one and a half acres. It permitted students opportunities for imaginative and diverse outdoor play and recreation activities. We had no playground supervisor or adult overseer; it was just the teacher and students. We had no playground equipment either; no swings, slide or merry-go-round. There was a thin circle of cement at ground level, maybe twenty-five feet in diameter which served as a dodgeball court. The boys frequently utilized the wooded area of the campus to build forts and make-believe military camps as the United States was in the midst of World War II. For other types of play, there was jump rope, marbles and jacks. Two recess periods were granted each day; one called little recess in the morning, and a bigger recess in the afternoon. I do not recall any major disagreements, arguments or fighting among students. We were a harmonious bunch and very even tempered.
My first cousin, Foster Wray Morse, was also once a student at Midway. His family lived in a particular section of the tidewater area that had a large military presence and apparently, the constant sirens, air raid warnings and other loud military noises were stressful for many school-age children and he came to live with his grandparents in Midway. Our grandfather occasionally allowed him to ride one of his work horses to school and on the way, he would offer a ride to those walking. If they said “yes”, he steered the horse into a ditch where the walking student(s) climbed aboard the horse and rode the remainer of the way to school. I remember Foster arriving at school with as many as three students, including himself, astride the old work horse. He would put the horse in a stable-like structure near Pugh’s Store and after school, he rode the horse back to the farm. The unusual thing about this was his age; only 7 or 8 years old. Can you imagine parents today sending a child that age to school riding a horse?
This narrative is as much about a single individual named Vada Coiner Foster, who was the teacher at Midway School during the time I attended there. I recall every morning she would have the students stand, place their hands over their hearts and repeat the pledge of allegiance. Vada was the teacher, the law enforcer and policy maker, the safety and security person, school nurse, principal, caregiver and queen of the 12-inch ruler. In the winter months, Vada came early and loaded the potbellied stove with coal so the building was warm when we came in. In my years at Midway, no one was ever burned or had any type of serious injury caused by the hot stove because Vada didn’t allow any students to come near it. When recess periods concluded, Vada stood on the small front porch and rang a large handheld bell. Students were allowed only what seemed like nano-seconds to be inside and seated. If they dawdled, they would incur the wrath of Vada and she would inform parents of any misbehavior.
That punishment would be far more severe than anything Vada would do. We had an afternoon rest period which Vada monitored very closely. The students knew better than to talk, raise heads to look around or do anything other than rest quietly and motionless. Vada had a way of enforcing rules in the classroom. It was called a wooden ruler and she carried it everywhere she went. When there was a rule violation, the offender was given the ruler treatment. This meant the offending student would put their hand in Vada’s hand, palm up, to receive several severe and hardy whacks with the ruler. This “corporal punishment” was not forgotten quickly and kept us in line.
Once, my sister Betty was supposed to be resting in a desk seat but continued to wiggle and squirm, making the desk squeak. After several ignored warnings, Betty was the recipient of the ruler and the matter was resolved. Not only was Vada Foster a good teacher and strong disciplinarian, she was a great human being and surrogate parent to many different personalities for at least eight hours every day.
These are my recollections of the tiny Midway School. Midway closed its door for the final time during the late 1940’s when Albemarle began consolidating area schools.