Growing up, I always loved school so when I had a chance to visit Caplinger School near my grandparents Albert and Bessie Dove’s house in Criders, Virginia, with Deborah Ritchie, whom I knew from Valley View Mennonite Church where I often went with my grandparents, I was excited! Back in those days, having a young girl from West Virginia go to school in Virginia for a day wasn’t an issue! According to Dale MacAllister, retired educator and local historian, Caplinger School closed in 1957. When I told Dale that I was interested in writing an article on Caplinger School, he kindly shared research which he has compiled for a future book on Rockingham County Schools.
According to Dale, the first mention of a school called Caplinger’s was in minutes of a school board meeting for “Brocks Gap Township” in 1871 at William Caplinger’s near Criders. Dale noted “In March, 1880, The Old Commonwealth newspaper printed a large article about a debate challenge that Dovesville School had issued to Caplinger’s School-House.” The next mention of Caplinger School that Dale found was “a one-room building identified as Plains District School No. 32 in Lake’s 1885 Atlas of Rockingham County” which opened in 1881-82. Perry Zirkle of New Market taught there in 1882-83, but closed the school in early April, 1883, because students had quit coming during the “sugar making season.” Superintendent George Hulvey wrote about the schools in Rockingham County in the Rockingham Recorder in the fall of 1886, “Again we leave the warm stove and start for Caplinger’s schoolhouse, No. 32. J. Luther Wittig teaches here and his pupils seem to be more advanced than those of some other schools.”
The present Caplinger School building, a two-room frame structure, was built in 1919 by John F. Wagner on land deeded by William H. and Victoria Yankey and cost $2300. This building was beside the earlier school house and Caplingers United Brethren Church (now United Methodist.) Because it was located near the church, it was sometimes called “Caplinger’s Chapel School.”
One interesting thing that Dale found was that in the 1920s, parents in the area grew dissatisfied with Caplinger School and the education offered there, closed the school, and “set up a private school in an old, log house on the Amos Hottinger place and hired Joseph Stultz, who ran Crider’s Store, to be the teacher. Local carpenter Harvey E. Dove built benches for the students. The log building, on current Low Place Road, was called ‘Punkin Center’ School because it sat in the middle of a pumpkin patch.” This school evidently operated for part of a year, and Caplinger School resumed operation the next year, and continued as a school until it was permanently closed when the new Bergton School opened in 1957. Lewis and Mary Yankey bought the former school building in October, 1958, for $3000, and it was used for hay storage. Donnie Yankey owns the old school building today.
Lois May Rhodes shared with me that her mother, Goldie Turner, who taught grades 1 through 3 at Caplinger School in 1930, after attending Eastern Mennonite College the previous year, boarded with Joe and Dare Stultz at the Criders Post Office (Dare was Goldie’s double first cousin) and walked to school from the Post Office. Edna Heishman also taught the upper grades there that year. Rhodes says that her mom only taught one year before marrying Howard “Friday” May when school was out (May 1, 1930) and did not return to teaching until the 1950s!
Delores Ritchie Reed, who grew up near Criders and attended Caplinger School during its final years, shared some memories of the school. She notes that it was a school for grades 1 through 7, with the little room for younger students and the bigger room for older students with the grade levels in each room varying year by year. The school was heated by a coal stove for each room which was near the “cloak room” towards the back. The large blackboard was at the front of the room for teachers to write on for their lessons, and the wooden student desks were attached together with the seat and a tabletop with space underneath to hold books, paper, pencils and crayons. Because the school had no cafeteria, the students took packed lunches. An outside pump provided water. A boys’ toilet and a girls’ toilet were outside since there was no indoor plumbing. Swings and seesaws were on site for recess play. Students played games like Annie Over and tag. Delores says “I must have been quite the chatterer because I remember I had to write 50-100 times on a paper that ‘I will not talk in class.’ “She also remembers the teacher standing students in the corner as a punishment; she says some of the boys were “full of mischief” but didn’t do anything destructive. There were no busses providing transportation to Caplinger School; students either walked or their parents took them.
My most vivid memory of my visit to Caplinger School was being asked by the teacher in Deborah’s class (I think it was Vada May) asking me to read. I stood up and read which I could do very well, having been taught to read by my great-grandfather Jesse Stultz before I started school. After I read, the teacher asked if we stood up to read at my school; they must not have done that at Caplinger so I was embarrassed! I remember that Deborah’s mom packed a delicious lunch with a bag of popcorn included!
My mom Eileen Dove Stultz attended Caplinger school. (I wish she were still around to ask more questions about it!) Dale MacAllister has an extensive list of teachers at Caplinger School. Aunts from both sides of my family taught there. My dad’s sister Wilma Stultz Jenkins taught at Caplinger School, as did my mother’s aunt Edna Whetzel Dove. When I was a student at Madison College over 50 years ago, I learned that my professor Dr. Harold Lehman had taught at Caplinger School. His obituary in 2019 mentioned him teaching at Caplinger and at Fulks Run School. My mom’s aunt Odessa Whetzel Moyers (Edna’s sister) recalls Caplinger School as “school, but lots of fun” and mentions that our cousin, Melda Dove, later a teacher at Caplinger School, was a friend and classmate there. (Delores Reid recalls Melda as her first teacher). Odessa, who is 97 years old, still keeps in contact with Melda, also 97 in Pennsylvania.