The Crush

A Young Blacksburg Woman Falls Victim to Infatuation

We may be just a little late for Valentine’s Day, but of course the subject of love is never passé. And that brief, trite introduction leads us to the 1919 diary of a young Blacksburg woman named Olivia Tutwiler. Pouring her heart into a small composition book, this young schoolteacher gave vent to the frustration and consternation caused  by a crush that she had on a cadet at nearby Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute—now Virginia Tech. Along the way, Tutwiler provides us with some insights into what life was like for a young woman in a small, sleepy college town a century ago.

The diary spans the first two months of 1919 and was written by Tutwiler while she was away from work—her school in nearby Riner, Virginia, apparently having been closed during an influenza outbreak. Purchased at a local estate sale 95 years later, the diary was donated to Special Collections last year. Whether Tutwiler maintained a journal only during this short period or was a lifelong diarist, we don’t know.

Tutwiler’s diary is somewhat unusual in that the entries are written as though addressed to the object of her affection.  The entry for January 1 sets the tone for much that follows: “So dear boy I saw you again to-day and spoke to you too. … Oh boy if you only knew how much I love you.” On the following day, Tutwiler provides a description of the young man: “I couldn’t help thinking of you. I like your black hair its [sic] so nice and crisp with just a little bit of curl and blue eyes. What makes you have dimples and be so altogether good looking and adorable,” she writes.

For the next several weeks, Tutwiler chronicles her failed attempts at winning the affection of this young man. Each time romance seems about to blossom, however, her desires are waylaid by a a miscalculation, the cadet’s reticence, or Tutwiler’s own pride and code of conduct. On January 5, she summarizes the challenge of her lovelorn melodrama:

You’re really the most extraordinary boy I’ve ever seen. No one seems to be able to get anything out of you one way or the other. I used to think you cared a lot for me but I’ve evidently been mistaken from all I hear and see. Its [sic] a funny thing how boys will be in love with one girl and still try to make all the others think he’s wildly in love with them by acting if not speaking. They all seem to do it and I suppose youre [sic] no exception to the rule.

Frustrated by the young man’s seeming hesitancy and insincerity, Tutwiler on January 14 reports taking the as much initiative as she dared within the strictures of polite society of the day:

I had to see you so I called you up to come down tomorrow night so I could see about the bastket-ball game + candy pull…. And you’ll never know that it was mostly to see you. How your voice changed when you knew it was me over the phone. Like you were so glad. Were you? I do hope you will take me to one of the games. And I went in the drug store just to see you too. Foolish and crazy but you don’t know so what difference does it make?

Just who was this reportedly handsome fellow, who won the heart of at least one steadfast  admirer? Unfortunately, his identity will have to remain a mystery. Throughout her diary, Tutwiler refers to her beloved only as “dear boy.” She slips on one occasion (January 18) and uses his given name, Charles. A little digging found that there were no cadets named Charles in the VAMC class of 1919. There were two in the class of 1920, but neither had black hair. The class of 1921, however, had no fewer than five students named Charles—plus a Charlie—all with dark hair. Of these, only Charles Thornton Huckstep had hair with “just a little bit of curl.” Though his hair doesn’t appear jet black in his photo, he  seems the most likely candidate.

Charles Huckstep, class of 1921. Could he have been the "dear boy" to whom Tutwiler was writing?
Charles Huckstep, VAMC class of 1921. Could he have been the “dear boy” to whom Tutwiler was writing?

Given the lengthy discourses about her crush, we might be excused for imagining Olivia Tutwiler pining away alone in her room and for expecting her diary to hold nothing of interest. In fact, however, Tutwiler lived a very active social life, and her diary would be of interest to local historians as a record of a young woman’s activities in Blacksburg early in the 20th century. Tutwiler frequently attended VAMC basketball games, parties (including her own Valentine’s Day party), and movies. She also picked up some temporary work at the Extension Service and was active in her church.

Also of interest to local historians would be Tutwiler’s mentions of the flu epidemic, soldiers returning from service in World War I, and road and weather conditions. Researchers might also benefit from her passing comments about acquaintances, such as this catty remark on January 7: “Miss Logan has her spring hat already [sic]. Doesn’t it seem foolish to be wearing one with snow and ice on the ground?” She also briefly shares her opinion of a number of cadets.

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Even as Tutwiler set her heart on an unobtainable suitor, so too did she inspire unreciprocated feelings among several other young men. January 5: “I like Bush a lot and I believe if I’d fall in love with him.” January 17: “Its [sic] funny that you and Fred should both like the same picture isn’t it. He insisted that I give him one this afternoon but I didn’t.” January 23: “[Johnnie] asked me if I wanted to wear his V.P.I. class ring.” January 25: “Oglesby insisted on one of my pictures but nothing doing.” February 9: “I didn’t know [Pat]’d ever try to kiss me but he did twice and I had to tell him a few things.” February 17: “Had a letter from Hampton to-day and he said … how much he loved me…”

When Tutwiler finally returns to her school on February 2, we learn something of her experiences as a young teacher in a rural community, as she navigates between parents and school officials. At her boarding house, she endures local gossip and less-than-desirable living conditions, while at work, she contends with a crowd of indifferent and unruly students, as in this entry from March 4: “Gee but I’ve had a time to-day. I just got so mad at dinner when two of my kids set the field on fire. The seventh grade just doesn’t seem to know a thing…. I kept Frank and Fred in until 4:30 to day [sic] and made them learn poetry. They certainly are bad. I had to slap both of them to-day.”

Never far from Tutwiler’s thoughts, however, is the elusive cadet.

By January 27, Tutwiler is already questioning her feelings: “Do I love you or do I not?” Her entry of February 6 reflects deeper thoughts, as she questions her motivations: “I want you oh so much dear dear heart or is it only what you stand for now.” Her February 25 entry finds the young teacher looking into the future, wondering what it will bring: “I would like to know how all this is to turn out and whether you’ll ever love me or I’ll ever love Bush. We may all drift apart and perhaps I’ll fall in love with some one else.” By this time, just a few weeks after commencing her diary, Tutwiler seems ready to admit a temporary defeat and look for love elsewhere.

Mentioned only a few times in passing within Tutwiler’s diary is the name “Bunker.” Henry Harris “Bunker” Hill, a native of Scottsville, Virginia, obtained both his bachelor’s (1907) and master’s degrees (1909) in chemistry at VAMC. By the time Olivia Tutwiler was pouring her deepest feelings into a composition book, Hill had already been employed as a professor with the university for a dozen years.

hhhill
Henry Harris “Bunker” Hill, VAMC class of 1907.

In 1922, Olivia Tutwiler married Hill, and the couple would have two children. She continued to teach, eventually opening a school of her own in the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. She retired from education in 1969, following a 50-year career. Of teaching, her obituary quotes her as saying “I certainly have had a good time teaching and I surely do hate to quit. I have been most fortunate, not only to have a job I like to do but to be paid for it.” Though things didn’t take the direction she wanted in 1919, Olivia Tutwiler seems to have had a happy life. One has to wonder, though, whether she sometimes took out her diary after a long day and pondered over her youthful infatuation.

You can read Olivia Tutwiler Hill’s diary in its entirety here. We’ll soon add a complete transcript of the text. The diary’s finding aid contains more biographical information on Tutwiler. We also hold the papers of “Bunker” Hill, the finding aid for which may be found here.

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Uncovering Hidden Histories: African Americans in Appalachia

One of our many roles in Special Collections is to shed light upon hidden histories, uncovering communities that are traditionally marginalized or forgotten by time. The long history of African-Americans in Appalachia, for example, has traditionally been overlooked. Through the communities of New Town, Wake Forest, and Nellie’s Cave (among others), Montgomery County has a particularly rich legacy to explore. We work with historians, genealogists, community members, and other institutions to document and preserve these stories for future generations.

Newman Library currently hosts “New Town: Across the Color Line”, an exhibit documenting  a predominantly African-American community that bordered the Virginia Tech campus until the late 20th century. Developed by the Virginia Tech Public History program, the exhibit includes items from the Blacksburg Odd Fellows Records (Ms1988-009) held by Special Collections. The exhibit will be open from October 5 through November 20.

Brochure for New Town Exhibit on display in Newman Library, October 5 - November 20

The Odd Fellows Records help document an important African-American civic institution in early 20th century Blacksburg. Researchers interested in the experiences of African-Americans in Montgomery County and greater Appalachia can find many other resources in Special Collections. Manuscript collections, photographs, oral history interviews, and rare books provide insight into the experiences of African-American communities from antebellum times through the present day. The Christiansburg Industrial Institute Historical Documents (Ms1991-033) represent a collaboration between the Christiansburg Industrial Institute Alumni Association and Special Collections to document the prestigious institution that educated generations of Virginia students from the 1860s through school integration.

Black and white photograph of Baily-Morris Hall, a building on the campus of Christiansburg Industrial Institute. Several African American teachers stand on a staircase in front of the building.
Baily-Morris Hall on Christiansburg Institute campus with teachers, date unknown.

Another collection, entitled “Hidden History: The Black Experience in the Roanoke Valley Cassette Tapes and Transcripts” (Ms1992-049), includes approximately forty-six interviews with African-American residents of Roanoke, Virginia about the “cultural, social, and political history” of their community. The research papers of historian and community activist Richard Dickenson (Richard B. Dickenson Papers, Ms2011-043) include a wealth of information about local African-American history, including the free communities of antebellum Montgomery County and the many civic institutions of Christiansburg. The John Nicolay Papers, (Ms1987-027) include research files and oral histories that provide insight into churches, local institutions, and the historic African-American community of Wake Forest.

These collections represent a small fraction of the primary sources and publications that document African-American history in Special Collections. More importantly, these resources point to an abundant history still waiting to be uncovered.

Of Triple Deckers, Hell Row, and Late-Night Dumps

The New Student Experience, 1872-1902

As with any college town, August brings to Blacksburg a sudden shift from near-dormancy to feverish activity. Streets clog. Parking spaces disappear. And piles of modern life’s necessities—from box fans to microwave ovens, from flat-screen TVs to mini-fridges—align sidewalks as families and volunteers move new students into their appointed dorm rooms.

In the early years of Virginia Tech—then known as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College—student move-ins were much different. In 1872, the school’s inaugural year, the new, non-local student arrived by train unaccompanied, alighting at the station near Christiansburg. The additional eight-mile journey by hired carriage to Blacksburg could take as long as three hours on roads that were sometimes nearly impassable. It wouldn’t be until 1904 that a spur line—the “Huckleberry Railroad”—would allow for a much easier (though, at a scheduled 40 minutes, still-lethargic) trip from Christiansburg.

Upon arriving, the more sophisticated freshmen were probably unimpressed by their new surroundings. Blacksburg was barely a spot on the map at the time and couldn’t provide much comfort and entertainment to young men far from home. The campus itself consisted of but five acres and a single building. Though it rose above the surrounding countryside, the three-story edifice was less than grand. Samuel Withers, who entered the school in early 1873, uncharitably wrote, “The architect who planned it must have been a genius, for it was a classic in its ugliness.”

Former home of The Preston & Olin Institute, the lone VAMC campus building included classrooms, offices, a chapel, and student lodging.
Former home of The Preston & Olin Institute, the lone VAMC campus building included classrooms, offices, a chapel, and student lodging.

The building contained only 24 lodging rooms, which made for cramped quarters. Even after packing three cadets to a room, fewer than half of the first year’s 172 students could be accommodated.

This photo of “triple-deckered” bunks was taken around 1902, another of the school’s many growing-pain periods. Note how the bunks are tied together with rope.
This photo of “triple-deckered” bunks was taken around 1902, another of the school’s frequent growing-pain periods. Note how the bunks are tied together with rope.

As sometimes still happens today, with enrollment exceeding available rooms, students had to find alternative, off-campus lodging. Many acquired room and board in private homes. Others took up residence in structures hastily built by local entrepreneurs who saw in student rentals a potential windfall. One such building, at the corner of Church and Roanoke streets, was officially named Lybrook Row. The building apparently gained a somewhat notorious reputation, however, and was more familiarly known to cadets as “Buzzards’ Roost” and “Hell Row.” Still, these first-year cadets of what was then an all-male military school could take some comfort in living off-campus, where they were less subject to the control of upperclassmen.

Though Lybrook Row had fallen into disrepair by the time this photo was taken, one can see that it was a very basic affair and likely deserved the appellation “Hell Row.”
Though Lybrook Row had fallen into disrepair by the time this photo was taken, one can see that it was a very basic affair and likely deserved the appellation “Hell Row.”

As there were initially no dining facilities on campus, students took meals with local families or at the nearby Luster’s Hotel. Others formed their own private messes to provide for themselves. By mid-1873, however, the college had erected a mess hall; after the addition of more lodging in 1881, the school required all students to live and eat on campus.

The fare in the early mess halls could best be described as basic, and though the college claimed to make every effort “to provide good materials, and to have them properly cooked and neatly served,” the mess didn’t have the reputation of today’s Virginia Tech Dining Services for culinary excellence. In the 1881/82 catalog, administrators noted apologetically, “[N]ecessarily, the living at seven and a half dollars per month must be plain.” After one too many poorly prepared meals, one student expressed the frustration of many when he wrote in the 1900 Gray Jacket: “I am so weary of sole-leather steak / Petrified doughnuts and vulcanized cake / Weary of paying for what I don’t eat / chewing up rubber and calling it meat.”

Mess hall interior, ca. 1900.
Mess hall interior, ca. 1900.

1888 saw the opening of Lane Hall (then known as Barracks No. 1), able to house 150 students. While the accommodations were still meager by today’s standards, the new building contained such appreciated amenities as steam heating and, on the ground floor, hot and cold running water. Electric lighting was added in 1890. The furnishings, made by students in the college shops, included austere bedsteads, tables, chairs, and bookcases. Students provided their own mattresses, linens, water- and slop-buckets.

The spare furnishings of a barracks room included a straight-backed chair, a washstand, and a bed that appears somewhat less inviting than the floor.
The spare furnishings of a barracks room included a straight-backed chair, a washstand, and a bed that appears somewhat less inviting than the floor.
Then as now, students personalized their rooms with decorations. With no members of the opposite sex to be seen on campus, many male cadets adorned their walls with the female form—or at least as much of the female form as was allowed by Victorian-era strictures.
Then as now, students personalized their rooms with decorations. With no members of the opposite sex to be seen on campus, many male cadets adorned their walls with the female form—or at least as much of the female form as was allowed by Victorian-era strictures.

As with students immemorial, the VAMC cadets participated in many unauthorized activities and pranks. Though regulations forbade it, they drew water from the barracks radiators to fill the washtubs in their rooms for a hot bath on Saturday nights. And with the new availability of its primary ingredient, the water bomb soon became a campus mainstay, to the chagrin of pedestrians near the barracks.

The housing of all students under one roof brought with it unintended results. Hazing—or the “application of ‘extra-curricular controls’ over the behavior of the freshmen,” as Douglas Kinnear called it in his 1972 history of Virginia Tech—became ritualized after the construction of Lane Hall and probably caused many a first-year cadet to wish he’d never heard of Blacksburg.

In the middle of any given night, a new student was likely to be “dumped” from his bed, a favorite practical joke inflicted by upperclassmen. This scene, probably staged, was photographed in 1899.
In the middle of any given night, a new student was likely to be “dumped” from his bed, a favorite practical joke inflicted by upperclassmen. This scene, probably staged, was photographed in 1899.

Despite all of the inconveniences and discomforts endured by the new students, they came to love their school devotedly and, as alumni, to remember it fondly and support it proudly. It must have been exciting for that first generation of students to watch the continual improvements made in the campus and to see it grow into the university it had become by the mid-20th century. There can be no doubt, though, that when they visited, they could be heard to comment upon how easy their successors had things.

The University Archives contain a wealth of materials that offer glimpses into the early days of Virginia Tech. The photographs, campus maps, student scrapbooks, and published histories in our collections trace the school’s evolution from a one-room school to the dynamic, modern research university that it is today.

Two Upcoming Events!

If you’re in or around Blacksburg, there are two upcoming events you may want to know about! On March 24, 2014, the University Libraries is co-hosting the Third Annual Edible Book Contest with the Blacksburg branch of the Montgomery-Floyd Public Libraries. There’s still plenty of time to register for the event (and we won’t turn you away at the door, either). You can visit the website to find out more and sign up: http://tinyurl.com/AEBC2014. Even if you don’t want to enter, please come to the Blacksburg Public Library from 6-7pm on March 24th. It’s your votes that will help us determine the winners in each category!

3rd Edible Book Contest

And, on March 25th from 5-7pm, the University Libraries will be hosting the Second Annual Appalanche. Appalanche is a celebration of Appalachian culture. This year, the event will include music and food, as well as displays and information about wildflowers, quilting, apples, the Wilderness Road Museum, and more! Be sure to stop by and visit us on the first floor of Newman Library that evening!

Appalanche2014digitalsign

Blacksburg, A Century Ago (Give or Take)

It’s the start of a new school year here in Blacksburg. The library, like the rest of campus, is seeing plenty of students, both new and seasoned.  Our post this week is for those of you still learning your way AND those of you who think you know all the secrets. We’re taking a trip back in time and sharing some photographs of Blacksburg from about 1895-1925. As you’ll see, things have come a LONG way!

Before 1900, Main St. saw its fair share of horse traffic. This photograph was taken from the road, looking at the old Preston and Olin Building/then VAMC machine shop.
Before 1900, Main St. saw its fair share of horse traffic. This photograph was taken from the road, looking at the old Preston and Olin Building/then VPI machine shop.
Far int he distance at the center of the frame is the VAMC machine shop. This photograph was taken on Main St. looking west, possibly near the Post Office.
Far in the distance at the center of the frame is the VPI machine shop. This photograph was taken on Main St. looking west, possibly near the Post Office.
C. 1900, the Post Office and Hack Depot shared a building on Main St., several blocks away from campus.
C. 1900, the Post Office and Hack Depot shared a building on Main St., several blocks away from campus.
If you stood smack in the middle of Main St., right past the College Ave. intersection (think: right in front of Moe's--please don't try it!) and looked up hill, this is what you'd see in 1900. No Main St. or Alumni Mall entrance to campus. The building, which had been the original Preston and Olin Institute, was then being used as the machine shop.
If you stood smack in the middle of Main St., right past the College Ave. intersection (think: right in front of Moe’s–please don’t try it!) and looked up hill, this is what you’d see before 1900. No Main St. or Alumni Mall entrance to campus.
Ellett's Drugstore was on the corner of Main St. and College Ave, in the current Sharkey's space.
Ellett’s Drugstore was on the corner of Main St. and College Ave., in the current Sharkey’s space.
Blacksburg, c.1904. In those days, Main Street ended at College Ave. The brick building on the left is where you'll see Sharkey's today.
Blacksburg, c.1904. In those days, Main Street ended at College Ave. At the bottom center of the frame are a set of metal gates–essentially the entrance to campus! The brick building on the left is where you’ll see Sharkey’s today. The building on the right is the current Moe’s. And hey, at least VPI won the game!
This image is actually the front of a postcard, sent in 1917. By then, the metal gates from the 1904 photograph were actually brick structures with a sign and Main St. was no longer a dead-end, but an entrance to campus!
This image is actually the front of a postcard, sent in 1917, but taken before then. By then, the metal gates from the 1904 photograph were actually brick structures with a sign and Main St. was no longer a dead-end, but open to traffic!
By 1930, some more familiar surroundings were build in Blacksburg. The 5-10-25 Cent store is at the current site of Moe's. To the right of it, on College Ave., you can see The Lyric Theatre in current home.
By 1930, some more familiar surroundings were build in Blacksburg. The 5-10-25 Cent store is at the current site of Moe’s. To the right of it, on College Ave., you can see The Lyric Theatre in current home.

Our historical photograph collection in Special Collections covers a wide variety of University and local history places and spaces. It can show you a lot about how Blacksburg and Virginia Tech have changed. And even if you can’t visit us, you can check out a large selection of images online: http://imagebase.lib.vt.edu/index.php. There’s plenty of history to discover!

Love in Wartime

I dont know how much pleasure it affords you to go over these days of the past, but to me they will ever be remembered as days of felicity. And how happy the thought that years increase the affection & esteem we have for each other to love & be loved. May it ever be so, and may I ever be a husband worthy of your warmest affections. May I make you happy and in so doing be made happy in return. A sweet kiss and embrace to your greeting.

But maybe you will say it looks ridiculous to see a man getting grayhaired to be writing love letters, so I will use the remnant of my paper otherwise…
Yours affectionately H Black

Harvey Black (1827-1888) was a physician in Southwest Virginia. When the Civil War broke out, he was attached to the 4th Virginia, 1st Brigade, known as the Stonewall Brigade. In 1863, he wrote a love letter to his wife Mary (who he affectionately called “Mollie”)  in Blacksburg, recalling their courtship. The quote above comes from the last few lines. You can see a transcript of the letter online, and you can read more about the Black family and their papers at Special Collections here.

Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!