The initiative for a prep school came from the citizens of Liberty, Virginia (now Bedford City). One cannot tell how much went on behind the scenes in the way of propositions between Smith, various board members, and the townsmen. Obviously, the board heard from Smith that the local people wished to establish a preparatory school there to be called the Randolph-Macon Academy. Ownership and sponsorship would be by the college's trustees. In return for the privilege, the town would offer thirty-seven acres and a subscription of $10,000. The building would be supplied (through a four-inch main) free water in perpetuity; the grounds and buildings would be exempt from taxation; and the street leading to them would receive electric lighting. All of this, presumably, would increase the prestige of the town and bring in new revenues to the local merchants. Smith argued that the school would bring in more than a hotel. On January 3, 1889, the board accepted the offer, noting That we recognize the importance of establishing a Preparatory School in Connection with Randolph Macon college, as a feeder to that institution and as a means of thoroughly qualifying candidates for entrance in to the College, as well as of maintaining a high standard of Collegiate instruction. The anomaly in the situation came from the distance between Ashland and Bedford City: 117 miles in a direct line and something like 140 miles by railroad.
When it plunged, the board plunged deeply. The total cost of the Bedford building, including furniture and grading, came to $61,000. The very large and imposing Romanesque structure had all the modern conveniences, more so in fact than anything at the college, including electricity. The architect was W. M. Poindexter of Washington, D.C. Of its costs, $10,000 came from the citizens of the town and county, $5,000 from President Smith, $5,000 from Governor Jackson of Salisbury, Maryland, and $4,600 from sundry persons in the Baltimore Conference. Smith's large contribution suggests that his role in the whole scheme went beyond titular leadership. In any case, the amount collected did not go far enough. The committee in charge of the building had to borrow $25,000 to ready the project, and even at that, the west wing with its gymnasium and dormitory for forty students went unfinished. The trustees dedicated the structure, on July 4,1890; it opened for pupils the following September. Pettyjohn Hall at the Ashland campus, completed the same season, could not compare to it in size, style, or amenities. (It is unlikely that the trustees could have generated the same support for an equivalent building at Ashland, given the roles of local and regional boosterism.) The success of the Bedford City academy sparked emulation among the Virginians in the Baltimore Conference. (Bedford lay on the western marches of the Virginia Conference.) In October 1890, four months after the dedication of the academy, the Randolph-Macon trustees found themselves in Middleburg, Virginia, learning, from a certified copy, propositions from the Winchester District Conference in reference to the establishment of a [Baltimore] Conference Academy in Connection with R.M. College and under control of its Trustees. The board resolved that an Academy ought to be erected in the bounds of the Baltimore Conference whenever sufficient financial considerations are furnished. The district conference pushed for Winchester as the site, but that town was outbid by its neighbor seventeen miles to the south, Front Royal. Middleburg itself offered fifteen acres of land one-third of a mile from a railroad station, 160 lots estimated at $200 each, and $4,000 in cash. Front Royal offered, through the Front Royal and Riverton Improvement Company, five acres and one-fourth of the construction cost, provided the Conference spend not less than twenty thousand dollars and not more than one hundred thousand dollars on the academy.
Apparently, the board got the Front Royal burghers to up their ante, for Smith reported to the board that in June 1891, they had $59,000 in cash and notes, plus $7,000 in land to be sold for money and a construction site of fifteen acres with a guarantee of water from the water works free of charge forever. The whole was valued at $90,000, with the trustees pledged to add $10,000. He expected the building to cost $75,000. Naturally, the building cost more than the estimates. In June 1892, almost fifty thousand dollars had been paid out and twenty-nine thousand was still owed. The Front Royal Academy, also a Poindexter building, opened in September 1892. Again, the great edifice of the academy outdid any single building at the college in Ashland, and again the same local sources could not have been tapped for a facility at Ashland-90 miles away as the crow flies, or 140 miles by rail. The academies acted indeed as feeders to the college. In the entering class of 1914, for example, fifteen of seventy-nine freshmen (about 19 percent) came from Bedford or Front Royal.
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Reprinted from Professor James Scanlon's Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History 1825-1967