Remembering Solitude, 1908-1914

Solitude, 1908 with Robert and Richard
Solitude, 1908 with Richard and Robert

“Blacksburg, Virginia, 1908-1914” offers a rare glimpse of what it was like to live in Solitude. The narrative is Chapter II in a larger work, We Remember, that Stevenson Whitcomb and Margaret Rolston Fletcher wrote for their children and their children’s children. Dr. Robert H. Fletcher, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Medical School (son of Steve, Jr.); his cousin Marcia Fletcher Clark (daughter of Richard); and her daughter, Lisa Snook Young have graciously permitted us to share these images and text from the narrative. The family retains copyright. Plans are underway in the University Archives to construct an Internet exhibition with more images of Solitude and the Fletcher family and a link to the full text of the Fletchers’ Blacksburg chapter.

In 1908, Professor Fletcher moved to Blacksburg with his wife Margaret and their two young sons, Robert and Richard. He came to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, as Virginia Tech was then named, as Professor of Experimental Agriculture and Director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. After a week at the frigid Blacksburg Inn and nine months in three long narrow rooms in the Library that were usually reserved for the accommodation of the trustees, “we were released on probation,” and the family moved into Solitude. Two more children, Steve and Peter, were born at Solitude.

Solitude Living Room, 1913
Solitude Living Room, 1913

Virginia Tech’s oldest structure, Solitude is the “homeplace” of the university. From humble origins as a log cabin built in 1801, Solitude grew into the colonial home of two Virginia governors and the home of Robert Preston who sold the property in 1872 to provide land for the new Virginia land grant college, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.


Winter Sports at Solitude, November 1913
Winter Sports at Solitude, November 1913

The narrative describes the setting of the lovely home:

“The yard was shaded by a number of locust trees, beneath which bluegrass grew luxuriantly, and by red maples and a giant pine, remnants of the virgin forest. The gravel walk to the house was bordered by a box hedge. There was a clump of cinnamon fern by the doorstep, and in the spring Poet’s Narcissus nodded gracefully in the breeze. Across the road was a pond on which the boys skated in winter. Back of the house was a bluegrass meadow through which meandered a little ‘branch.’ Beyond this was a wooded hill on top of which stood the President’s mansion.”

According to the account, the family lived well on Professor Fletcher’s salary: “Steve’s salary was $3,000 and house; this was equal in purchasing power to at least $9,000 today” [note: We Remember was written in 1951).


Miss Rosa Parrott's Kindergarten
Miss Rosa Parrott’s Kindergarten

Margaret Fletcher started a kindergarten taught by Miss Rosa Parrott. Robert, Richard, and Steve enrolled. “The playroom in our house was her schoolroom and our yard was their playground.” Miss Rosa Parrott later married Dr. E. B. Fred, president of the University of Wisconsin.

After Santa Came, 1913
After Santa Came, 1913

The narrative recalls how Christmas was observed at Solitude:

“In one corner of the living room, by the fireplace, stood a glittering Christmas tree trimmed with strings of white popcorn, red cranberries, shining tinsel, and net bags of red and white candy. Beneath it were piled unopened presents that had come by mail. Three pairs of stockings hung from the mantel stuffed with candy, dates, figs, nuts, and small toys, with a red and white candy cane and horn sticking out of the top of each stocking. Beneath the stockings were piled sleds, skates, drums, and other things dear to the hearts of boys. It was obvious that some mysterious and open-handed stranger had visited the house during the night; Robert looked for the track of his sleigh on the roof, but the new-fallen snow had covered it.”

To learn more about Solitude and the Preston family, or to read Professor Fletcher’s 1913 book, Three Problems in Virginia Fruit Growing: Packing, Marketing, Nursery and Orchard Inspection, visit Special Collections on the first floor of Newman Library or visit the Solitude site at The history of Solitude was discussed in an earlier blog

To visit Solitude, please contact the Appalachian Studies Program director,  Dr. Anita Puckett, at

Remembering the Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Programs at V.P.I.

George K. Frischkorn's Forestry Club patch and William Gabriel's watch chain with "keys."
George K. Frischkorn’s Forestry Club patch and William Gabriel’s watch chain with “keys.”

A recent gift from Dr. H. William Gabriel (class of 1956) lets us step back into time to the life of a V.P.I. (Virginia Tech was then called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or V.P.I) cadet and student in the Forestry and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Curriculum in the 1950s. One of the unique items in the Gabriel collection is a watch chain worn as a Senior Class and Junior Class privilege. According to the Student Life Policies, 1955-56, the watch chain “may be suspended from the watch pocket to the right hip pocket of the trousers. … The chain worn to the hip pocket may have no more than five devices suspended therefrom.” Gabriel’s chain has four “keys” indicating membership in four honor societies: Pershing Rifles (military), Phi Sigma Xi (forestry), Alpha Phi Omega (Boy Scouts service fraternity—he had been an Eagle Scout), and Phi Sigma (biology).

The Phi Sigma Xi key is unique. The forestry program then was tiny—only about 100 students—and it lacked the recognition afforded students in other curricula. In 1955 Gabriel organized an honorary fraternity for forestry students called Phi Sigma Xi. It was intended to last only a few years until the V.P.I. forestry program could qualify for membership in the established national honorary known as Xi Sigma Pi.

The fifth key on his watch chain was lost. It was a small replica of a double-bit axe representing the Forestry Club. The little pen knife at the end bears the crest of Thomas Jefferson High School Corps of Cadets and was a favor received from his date at a formal military ball there in 1951.

Because Dr. Gabriel’s own Forestry Club patch was very worn, George K. “Jim” Frischkorn (FWC ’59) donated his patch.

WIlliam Gabriel's signed "rat" belt.
WIlliam Gabriel’s signed “rat” belt.

All freshman Cadets (“rats”) were required to wear the belt buckle of brass on white web belt in place of the black leather belt. By tradition, on the last day of “rat” status, at the end of the freshman year, classmates signed each other’s belts. He defaced the buckle with a 56 and added a very faded blue and white Pershing Rifles ribbon (usually worn on the uniform shirt) and an Alpha Phi Omega pin, two organizations he joined as a freshman.

Student Budget cover
William Gabriel’s budget booklet used to record income and expenses for the 1953-54 academic year.

Dr. Gabriel’s collection also includes Student Budget: A Daily Record of the Cost of an Education in which he recorded the income and expense of his sophomore year. The booklets were sold in the college bookstore, and he used it to estimate if the War Savings Bonds bought $0.10 and $0.25 at a time would get him through college. His income for the 1953-54 academic year was $956.23, and his expenses were $807.72.

Spetember pages from budget book
William Gabriel’s budget book pages for September, 1953.

Room in the college dorm and board in the college dining hall cost $95.80 the first quarter, $110.80 second quarter, and $110.80 the third quarter. No expense was recorded for tuition because he had a $300 scholarship that covered those costs. Clothing expenses were virtually nil because he has purchased all necessary uniforms as a freshman.

His job in the dining hall paid $30 to $42 per month. In December he received $11.50 for work on a forest fire, and in May $25 as an ROTC uniform allowance. Other income came from selling his used books, selling photos he took of other students, a Christmas Saving Club account, and cashing in mature U.S. War Savings Bonds that his frugal mother, a single parent, taught him and his brother to buy and save for a rainy day.

Dr. Gabriel wrote:

The week I turned 12 years of age I got a work permit, a Social Security card, and a job that paid more than minimum wage. I had worked ever since. The summers of ’53, ’54, ’55 I hitchhiked out West to work for the U.S. Forest Service on national forests in California and Idaho. Each Christmas vacation I delivered mail from the Westhampton P.O. substation in Richmond. And so I managed to pay for my education.

Cooking for the President: Cora Bolton McBryde’s Cookbook


Cora Bolton McBryde's Cookbook
Cora Bolton McBryde’s Cookbook

Cora Bolton McBryde’s cookbook is a new treasure of the University Libraries’ Special Collections Department. The cookbook was a gift of Janet Watson Barnhill, great great granddaughter of President John McLaren McBryde and Cora Bolton McBryde. Known as the Father of the Modern VPI, McBryde served as president of Virginia Tech from 1891, when the institution was called Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (V.A.M.C.), until 1907.

President John McLaren McBryde ("Papa"), Cora Bolton McBryde ("Mamma"), and family before they moved to Blacksburg.
President John McLaren McBryde (“Papa”), Cora Bolton McBryde (“Mamma”), and family before they moved to Blacksburg. Anna is Janet Watson Barnhill’s grandmother.


Born in Richmond, Virginia on August 4, 1839, Cora Bolton, was the daughter of Dr. James Bolton and Anna Maria Harrison. Dr. Bolton was one of the physicians for Robert E. Lee and worked tirelessly in hospital in Richmond during the Civil War. Janet Watson Barnhill wrote, “I gather the family took care of many injured patients at home, so I believe she was well suited for the job of being the ‘First Lady” of VPI.’ I think women are much overlooked in history!” Cora Bolton married John McLaren McBryde on November 18, 1863, and they had eight children: Janet McLaren; James Bolton; Anna Marie; John McLaren, Jr.; Charles Neil; Susan McLaren; Meade Bolton; and Waid.

The cookbook consists of recipes in Coral Bolton McBryde’s own hand as well as pasted in recipes. Some of the recipes included are:

Apple Scones

Salad dressing

Preserved plums

Grape preserve

Sponge cake

Johnnie Cake

Coffee cake

Salmon croquettes


Browned onions

Walnut brown bread

Flora’s brown bread (a daughter-in-law)

Fish Croquettes

Hamburger roast

Apples with cornstarch

Feather coconut cake

Whole wheat pudding

Aunt Selina’s pudding

Belmar Sauce

Because the cookbook was in fragile condition, Special Collections sent it to Etherington Conservation Services in North Carolina for repairs. The treatment included disbinding, deacidification, repair and mending of fragile leaves with Japanese paper, repair of the binding, and reattaching Japanese paper/linen to the text block.


Cora Bolton McBryde (second from left), President McBryde (second from the right), and family enjoy a snack
Cora Bolton McBryde (second from left), President McBryde (second from the right), and family enjoy a snack

Plans are afoot to scan the entire cookbook and make it digitally available so everyone can enjoy the recipes. Stay tuned!


From Then to Now: An Exhibition in Two Parts about April 16th


The University Libraries’ Special Collections, in partnership with Student Centers and Activities and Ashley Maynor’s Self-Reliant Film, presents, From Then to Now: An Exhibition in Two Parts about April 16th. Part I of the exhibition will be held in the Newman Libraries’ Multipurpose room where a digital gallery of eight screens will display photos and short films. Three screens in the exhibit contain photos that were sent in after April 16th by community members, faculty and staff. Two screens display photos of the Hokies United memorials, which were created on the Drillfield post 4/16. The two films in the exhibit are by Ashley Maynor and comprise a home movie of the early Drillfield Memorial and footage of Virginia Tech from Maynor’s film in progress, The Story of the Stuff, which explores how we collectively mourn and memorialize in a time where tragedies are experienced “first hand-once removed” on the web and television. Part II of the exhibition will be held directly across the hallway from Part I, in the Special Collections room, and include a physical display of condolence items. These items were created by people from all over the world during the months following April 16th.   The two parts show how the creative process helped many move towards healing and created a path out of the darkness of grief.

The exhibit was curated by Robin Scully Boucher, art programs director for Student Centers and Activities at Virginia Tech. Ashley Maynor is an award-winning filmmaker and producer. She was named the Sundance Institute’s Sheila C. Johnson Creative Producing Fellow. Her most recent film as director is the documentary For Memories’ Sake. Tamara Kennelly, university archivist, coordinated the processing of the Virginia Tech April 16, 2007 Archives of the University Libraries

Both exhibits are on the first floor of Newman Library up the ramp from the study cafe. There will be an opening reception with food and refreshments on Friday, April 11 from 12 to 1. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Poster from A Thousand Cranes Memorial project for the victims of Virginia tech
Poster from A Thousand Cranes Memorial project for the victims of Virginia Tech

Beatrice Freeman Walker Video Interview

Image of Beatrice Freeman Walker
Beatrice Freeman Walker

In a video interview on March 12, 2013, Beatrice Freeman Walker talked about growing up in Blacksburg during segregation, the changes she has observed in the town, and the historical significance of the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall. Mrs. Walker, who died on December 31, 2013, was a dynamic community member and cared deeply about the preservation of Blacksburg’s African American history.

Born in 1926, the youngest of five siblings, Mrs. Walker grew up in Blacksburg at 202 Jackson Street. Her family’s property went all the way to Progress Street where her father, Alonzo Freeman, had his dry cleaning business. Their home was on the border of the town’s original grid of 16 blocks, which was laid out by William Black in 1797 and bounded by Draper Road, Jackson Street, Wharton Street, and Clay Street. In the 1970s, the town acquired her family home though eminent domain in order to expand the fire department, and she lived the remainder of her life in Christiansburg.

In the interview she recalled that when she was growing up, the children were “unconscious of segregation.” There were blacks on one side of the street and whites lived on the other. The problem, she said, “It isn’t the children. It’s the parents.”

At various times, her family also owned a beauty salon, an ice cream parlor where they served homemade hand-cranked ice cream, and a recreation place called Paradise View on what was then Grissom Lane, but is now called Nelly’s Cave. “Daddy just owned it because we had croquet, horseshoe, badminton, bands, and sandwiches and sodas,” she said. “They would go up there for recreation. It was open on Saturdays and Sundays. People as far as Bluefield, West Virginia would come in and down there.”

Among other jobs, Bessie (Briggs) Freeman, Mrs. Walker’s mother, traveled in order to encourage membership in the St. Luke and Odd Fellows. This organization was important to the African American community because it helped people find opportunities for learning different trades and it sold insurance that people could borrow from when they wanted to send a child to college or when there was a death. The St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall, built in the early 1900s, provided a gathering place for meetings, social events, and fundraisers.

Junior class, Christiansburg Institute, 1942. Beatrice Freeman, a class officer, is second row, second from the right.
Junior class, Christiansburg Institute, 1942. Beatrice Freeman, a class officer, is second row, second from the right.

After graduating from Christiansburg Institute in 1943, Mrs. Walker did civil service work in Washington, D.C. Later, she returned to Blacksburg and worked for several local businesses including Spudnuts (later called Carol Lee Doughnut Shop) on College Avenue, Litton Poly-Scientific, and in 1975, Volvo White Motor Company in Dublin, Virginia. While at Volvo, she was active in the United Auto Workers (Local 2069) and a strong advocate for her fellow employees.

St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall
St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall

Beatrice Freeman Walker was instrumental in the renovation of the Order of St. Luke’s and Odd Fellows Museum Hall in Blacksburg. In 2004, Mrs. Walker, Walter Lewis, and Aubrey Mills were appointed as trustees.

Beatrice Freeman Walker’s video oral history interview, which was conducted at the St.Luke and Odd Fellows  Hall, may be accessed from Virginia Tech’s institutional repository, VTechWorks, managed by the University Libraries at Mrs. Walker’s granddaughter, Latanya Walker, was present at the interview conducted by Tamara Kennelly. Scott Pennington was the videographer.

To learn more about the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall visit

Irving Linwood Peddrew, III, First Black Student at VPI


Sixty years ago in September 1953, Irving Linwood Peddrew, III was the first black student admitted to Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI). Everett Pierce Ramey applied to VPI in 1951, but his application was refused because he wished to study business. Black students were considered for admission only if they wished to pursue a curriculum, such as engineering, that was not offered at Virginia State, the black land-grant state school near Petersburg. Once admitted, a black student was not permitted to change his major from engineering to another course of study.

In November 2002, Peddrew did an oral history interview with Tamara Kennelly, University Archivist, in which he spoke of the loneliness of desegregating Virginia Tech. Just this year he released the interview to the public. The interview is available at

Peddrew was not permitted to live on campus or eat in the cafeteria with the other cadets. He boarded with the Mr. and Mrs. Hoge about a mile away from campus. He had to lug his cadet gear back and forth each day and change in another cadet’s room to be prepared for the meticulousness of military bearing. Several students requested him as a roommate the following year, but that was not permitted.

In the fall of 1954, three more black students entered Virginia Tech: Lindsay Cherry, Floyd Wilson, and Charlie Yates. They too had to live and eat their meals off campus. In 1958 Yates became the first black student to graduate from Virginia Tech. Yates earned his doctorate from Johns Hopkins. He later returned to Virginia Tech and taught first in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and then in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. For more interviews, images, and information about the first and early black students at Virginia Tech, visit


In 2003 New Residence Hall West, which was built in 1998, was renamed Peddrew-Yates Hall to honor Irving Linwood Peddrew, III (on the right) and Charlie Yates.

Treasures from the McBryde Family Papers

Members of the McBryde and Bolton families sitting on the front steps of the president's house on Christmas
Christmas at the President’s House, 1891
Front, from left, Susan “Susie” McLaren McBryde, James Bolton McBryde, Belle Campbell Bolton, ?, Charles Neil “Saint” McBryde; back row, Maria Lawson Bolton, Anna Maria McBryde (Davidson), Channing Moore Bolton, Elizabeth Hazelhurst Bolton, Meade Bolton McBryde, Cora Bolton McBryde, President John McLaren McBryde, and Dr. Robert James Davidson, far right

A recent gift of images and family papers from Larry McBryde, great grandson of former Virginia Tech President John McLaren McBryde, helps us to step back in time to 1891 when John McLaren McBryde accepted the presidency of V.A.M.C. at age 50 and the campus looked very different. The collection includes images of the campus as it used to be.

Campus view including president's house
Virginia Tech President’s House, 1891
distant view of Virginia Tech president's house in sepia tones
Elevated rear view of  the Virginia Tech President’s House, 1891
Campus view with presidnet's house seen from a distance.
Distant view of the President’s House. House is gabled building to the right.

A Difficult Decision for President McBryde

Letters included in Larry McBryde’s gift illuminate a very difficult decision in President McBryde’s career. His letter of May 12, 1904 to his son Charles “Saint,” tells of his decision to decline the offer of the presidency of the University of Virginia (UVA). The UVA Board of Visitors voted unanimously to elect him president and to allow him to dictate his own terms. McBryde had strong ties to UVA as he had studied there until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 when he returned to his birthplace of Abbeville, South Carolina and joined a Confederate volunteer company.  After the war he moved to a 1,000-acre farm near Charlottesville in 1867 and took an active part in organizing a Farmers’ Club.

image of letter written by Presidnet McBryde to his son, Charles "Saint"
President McBryde’s letter of May 12, 1904 to his son Charles “Saint”

President McBryde’s letter to Carter Glass about his “faltering decision” to decline the offer and to continue as president of Virginia Tech includes reflections on the role of president.

In his gracious reply to McBryde’s letter of refusal, Carter Glass asserts, “I believe the V.P.I is getting to be a greater institution for Virginia than any other.”

Image of the letter from Carter Glass to McBryde regarding his declining the presidency
Carter Glass’ letter in response to McBryde’s declining the UVA presidency
image of Presidnet McBryde outdoors with two dogs
President McBryde c.1920s

McBryde, “Father of the Modern VPI,” resigned as president effective July 1, 1907. He was given the title “President Emeritus” and granted the first honorary degree awarded by the college, the honorary Doctor of Science degree. The first graduate degree for completion of studies beyond the bachelor degree was the Master of Science (M. S.), awarded in 1892 to his son, Charles (“Saint”). We invite you to view these and other historical materials in the Special Collections Reading Room in Newman Library.

Could That Horsewoman Be Mary G. Lacy, the First Professional Librarian at Virginia Tech?

IMage of Susan and John, Jr. on horseback with young lady behind John, Jr. and two other ladies nearby
Susan (“Susie”) and John, Jr. on Horseback with Friends

Larry McBryde identified two of President McBryde’s children in the photograph, from left, Susan “Susie” McLaren McBryde and John McLaren McBryde, Jr., his own grandfather. Since he knows that Susie was friends with Mary G. Lacy, the first professional librarian at Virginia Tech, Larry McBryde wonders if she might be one of the other young ladies in the picture. Mary G. Lacy served as Head Librarian from 1903 -1910. She was followed in that position by her sister Ethel A. Lacy, who served as assistant librarian from 1907-1909 and then as librarian from 1910-1913. Mary Lacy also had the assistance of Mary A. Ernst, later Mary Ernst Phillips, cataloguer, from 1904-07. The very first head librarian at Virginia Tech was Professor V. E. Shepherd, who also served as treasurer and secretary of the faculty from 1872-73 to 1874-75. Professor Shepherd went on to serve as professor of Latin, modern languages, and book-keeping. Students, including R. J. Noell (1883-84, 1885-86), W. H. Graham (1886-1887), and A. W. Drinkard (1891-92), were librarians until Mary G. Lacy took up her post. The current head Librarian at Virginia Tech is Tyler Walters, who is the Dean of the University Libraries.

Any further images of or information about Mary G. Lacy would be gratefully received by the University Archives. Please contact Tamara Kennelly, University Archivist, 231-9214,

–Tamara Kennelly