Wilson Memorial – A Unique High School

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by Mary Jo Shannon

In September 1948, students from four Augusta County high schools were joined together in one huge consolidated high school.  That was my junior year. I remember the shock of moving from a small school, with only about fifty in my class to a large sprawling school where my class consisted of almost 200 – of which 150 were strangers! And a long ride to school – about ten miles to Beverly Manor, where elementary students were unloaded, then another ten or more to Fishersville, where we disembarked at Wilson Memorial High School.

During World War II, the government built Woodrow Wilson General Hospital in a rural area near Fishersville to care for wounded soldiers.. After the war ended, the 223-acre site and 58 buildings were declared surplus property by the U.S. and the site was transferred to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The state kept half and gave the other half to Augusta County. The county’s big question – how to use it? The supervisors decided to create a consolidated high school. Four rural schools within a ten mile radius were selected: Beverly Manor, Stuarts Draft, New Hope and Fishersville. They immediately appropriated funds to remodel the wards and create classrooms.

The wards were strung along three lengthy corridors, A, B, and C. Each ward was divided into three classrooms, creating traffic patterns through classrooms in the middle. Students needed to remember the “addresses” of their classes (A-20, B-17, etc.) and they  joked about needing roller skates to navigate those long corridors. The Officers’ Club was converted to a Social Hall, where club meeting and parties were held occasionally and where we learned ballroom dancing.

You might expect such change to bring chaos; and perhaps there was at the very beginning, but young people adapt easily, new friendships form, and soon we were united. The student body melded around football and basketball, cheering the Green Hornets on to victory. Now, 62 years after graduation, the Class of 1949 still meets to remember old times, show our colors, (green and white), and look up our pictures in our yearbook, The Hornets’ Nest.

We had “regular” reunions with special events at five-year intervals until that magic number 50. Then we decided to simplify the get-together and just meet annually for lunch and conversation – find out how many of us survived the year, how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren we bestowed to society, and what new hobbies –or ailments—we’ve acquired. This year thirty-nine of us gathered at Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant near Fishersville.

I was shocked when I signed in to learn I was expected to provide entertainment after lunch! I learned my classmate, Bonnie Craft Cale, who was assigned entertainment, wanted me to read my column about my first day of school in 1939. (Her husband attended Mt. Sidney, the school where I began my education.) Fortunately, she had a copy and I agreed to share it after lunch. Most of the group identified with my experience, although they had started first grade in other schools. One thing I noticed that I think is significant, considering the way our class melded, is that most of us did not remember which parent schools our friends attended. We were all Wilson alumnae/i.

The old school no longer exists. A new Wilson Memorial High School has been built on the site —  modern, without the long corridors and jammed together classrooms. But its students will never have greater memories than the graduates of that unique high school, our alma mater.