Liberty Hall Academy Ruins
N 37° 47.478 W 079° 27.158
17S E 636242 N 4183787
Quick Description: Liberty Hall Academy was the predecessor of Washington College (later Washington and Lee University). The ruins of Liberty Hall Academy are preserved on the Washington and Lee University Campus.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 12/14/2006 10:17:10 AM
Waymark Code: WM11F7
In 1749, Scotch-Irish pioneers who had migrated deep into the Valley of Virginia founded a small classical school called Augusta Academy, some 20 miles north of what is now Lexington. In 1776, the trustees, fired by patriotism, changed the name of the school to Liberty Hall. Four years later the school was moved to the vicinity of Lexington, where in 1782 it was chartered as Liberty Hall Academy by the Virginia legislature and empowered to grant degrees. A limestone building, erected in 1793 on the crest of a ridge overlooking Lexington, burned in 1803, though its ruins are preserved today as a symbol of the institution's honored past.
In 1796, George Washington saved the struggling Liberty Hall Academy when he gave the school its first major endowment--$20,000 worth of James River Canal stock. The trustees promptly changed the name of the school to Washington Academy as an expression of their gratitude. In a letter to the trustees, Washington responded, "To promote the Literature in this rising Empire, and to encourage the Arts, have ever been amongst the warmest wishes of my heart." The donation--one of the largest to any educational institution at that time--continues to contribute to the University's operating budget today.
General Robert E. Lee reluctantly accepted the position of president of the College in 1865. Because of his leadership of the Confederate army, Lee worried he "might draw upon the College a feeling of hostility," but also added that "I think it the duty of every citizen in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony." During his brief presidency, Lee invited Judge John White Brockenbrough to bring to the College his Lexington Law School, which he had established in 1849, encouraged development of the sciences and instituted programs in business instruction that led to the founding of the School of Commerce in 1906. He also inaugurated courses in journalism, which developed by 1925 into The School of Journalism--now the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. These courses in business and journalism were the first offered in colleges in the United States. After Lee's death in 1870, the trustees voted to change the name from Washington College to Washington and Lee University.
The text of the historic marker reads:
LIBERTY HALL ACADEMY
"Just north stand the ruins of Liberty Hall Academy’s stone academic building, which was constructed in 1793. Founded in 1749 near Greenville as Augusta Academy the school was reestablished in 1776 at Timber Ridge and patriotically named Liberty Hall Academy. It moved here to Mulberry Hill in 1782, when the Virginia General Assembly chartered it as a college. In 1796, in honor of President George Washington’s endowment gift of James River (canal) Co. stock, it was renamed Washington Academy. Fire gutted the building in 1803, prompting the college to move to its present location in Lexington, where it is now known as Washington and Lee University."
Marker Number: I-22
Marker Title: Liberty Hall Academy Ruins
Marker Location: Nelson Street (Route 60) at the entrance to the Law School at Washington and Lee University
County or Independent City: City of Lexington
Web Site: [Web Link]
Marker Program Sponsor: Department of Historic Resources - 1998