Sometimes our local stories seem too far out to be true. One example is Warren Souder’s story from his Souder family history book about his cousin, Robert “Rufus” Souder 1881-1963. Warren wrote,
“Rufus passed the teacher’s examination and was assigned to a school near Helmick’s Rocks on the Shenandoah Mountain in Hardy Co., WV. This school became known as “Souder’s Tan Yard” because Rufus whipped each and every one of the students. Soon, student after student stopped attending the school. Rufus held classes, timed the beginning of school, recesses, etc., and did not give up the “ship” until after the building burned to the ground.”
The old expression, “I’ll tan your hide” meant “I am going to give you a whipping” (probably with a switch). Rufus’ whipping or spanking of every student would qualify the school as a tan yard. When I typed the story for Warren, I thought he must have highly exaggerated it.
Until last week. I was researching the Hoover School (located on present-day Genoa Road near its intersection with Hopkins Gap Road) and ran across an article in the Harrisonburg Daily News, February 12, 1913. It contained a similar story, only with a different location.
“The Hoover schoolhouse, located above Genoa, in Brocks Gap, west of Little North Mountain, was burned to the ground Saturday night. The building is located in Linville district and the school board and county superintendent G. H. Hulvey have been notified. The flames are believed to have been of incendiary origin. There had been some trouble over the securing of several teachers in that section of the country. Prof. Maiden, of the Bridgewater neighborhood, secured the position as teacher at the Hoover school but later he was succeeded by Rufus Sowder, who contracted with Clerk A. A. Howard, of the Linville district school board, and who went to Hoover and took charge of the school.
It is generally understood that a number of the patrons did not think the services of Sowder favorable to the school with the result that all of the scholars were sent to other schools. Sowder appealed to the school board, it is understood, who were, of course, powerless to stop the scholars from attending other schools and a great deal of dissatisfaction was felt among the patrons and the teacher.”
I posted the story on Facebook with the question, Do you think this is the same incident, but Warren was confused about the location and wrote Helmick Rock instead of Hoover school? Or did Rufus repeat his disciplinarian ways at a second school, leading to another schoolhouse burning?
I searched some West Virginia newspapers but did not find any Helmick Rock school burning articles. I was about to conclude that Warren just confused the school location, when a reader wrote that her father had related a similar story that he had been told, only it was the Wilkins School on Branch Mountain in Hardy County. Sure enough, a history of Hardy County schools recorded that “once the school burned down because a teacher was coming to school that they did not want to teach so some students burned the school.” In 1976 the existing school was located near the home of Waldo Wilkins. The history book did not record the name of the teacher.
I hope that if [my cousin] Rufus continued to teach school, he learned to use other disciplinary methods besides the hickory switch.
More on the Hoover school
A school was in the same area of Genoa Road/Hopkins Gap Road by 1858 or earlier. Brethren minister Elder John Kline recorded in his diary that he had held preaching services at Hoover’s Schoolhouse in Brocks Gap in 1858. This 1850s Hoover schoolhouse would have been a private one supported by the family and neighbors.
A newer Hoover school building was built in the 1880s. School Superintendent George Hulvey wrote in 1886 that the Hoover school house was new. That 1880s building would have been the one that burned in 1913. It was rebuilt.
In January 1923, county organizations bought rat poison “to kill every rat in the city and county” according to the January 16, 1923 Daily News-Record. All school children were invited to kill rats and bring the tails to school to be eligible for prizes. At the end of the contest, Ray Hoover of Hoover School won the first place prize for turning in 90 tails. The county agent estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 rats were exterminated during the ten-day rat war.
Hoover school closed sometime before 1936 when the building was offered for auction by Rockingham County School Board. After that time, the building was used at least occasionally for preaching services. It was still standing in 2022