Greenbrier Hall, Greenbrier College For Women
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Greenbrier Hall was constructed in 1921 as part of Greenbrier College for Women. The college, first known as the Lewisburg Academy, was founded in 1812 by Presbyterian pastor Dr. John McElhenny. The school was closed during the Civil War, but reopened in 1875 as Lewisburg Female Institute. In 1911, the school was renamed the Lewisburg Seminary and Conservatory of Music. In 1923, the name was changed to Greenbrier College for Women. The college closed in 1972. The building is now home to the Lewisburg campus of the New River Community and Technical College. Greenbrier College buildings, such as Carnegie Hall and North House, continue to be used to serve the educational and cultural needs of the community.
Backstory and Context
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When Dr. John McElhenny and his wife Rebecca moved to Lewisburg in 1808 to lead the Old Stone Presbyterian Church, they lived in a stone home across from the Greenbrier County Courthouse. During the couple’s first fall season in Lewisburg, they opened a school in their living room for young men. They taught them the classics so that they could later study their choice of law, medicine, or ministry. Even though students traveled from neighboring counties to learn from Mrs. McElhenny, there are reports of the local community not taking her seriously because of her fashion choices that she brought with her from Lexington, KY. Rebecca dispelled the doubts and continued to wear her fashionable rings; more importantly she opened up education to women in Greenbrier County. Due to the success of the living room school, Dr. John McElhenny decided to open a school across the street from the Old Stone Church in 1812.
John Weir was the architect and the brick mason of “The Academy:” a two-story brick structure, with the stairs to the second floor originally placed on the exterior of the building. The Academy was incorporated by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1812, and Dr. McElhenny served as the principal until the 1820s and the board president until 1860. After the building was completed, the McElhenny’s lived in the structure while waiting for their home, built by the same architect, to be ready for occupancy. At the Academy, boys were bunked on the second floor while the girls were boarded with local community members. After the McElhenny’s house was completed, they opened their home to students who traveled from neighboring counties to attend school. The original structure was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1861.
The Academy closed during the Civil War and was reopened by an alumnus, Dr. John Calvin Barr, in 1865. In 1874, the board of trustees decided to open a school for both boys and girls, and the building that was once the Academy became known as the Lewisburg Female Institute the next year. A dormitory was constructed and a covered passage was built between the two buildings, referred to as the “Bridge of Sighs” by the girls who attended the school. Dr. R. L. Telford was president of the Lewisburg Female Institute when a fire destroyed both buildings in 1901. After the fire, Greenbrier Presbytery adopted the school and rebuilt the structures that housed a residence hall with plumbing, an auditorium, classrooms, and laboratories. Carnegie Hall was part of this reconstruction, partially funded by a donation from Andrew Carnegie, who was a friend of board member James K. Laing. After the reconstruction was completed, the school’s name was again changed to Lewisburg Seminary and Conservatory of Music.
In 1920, the dormitory was destroyed by fire during the Christmas Holiday break, and president John I. Armstrong found housing for the students throughout Lewisburg so that they could continue their education. During the same year, the Synod of West Virginia bought the school and erected the structure now known as Greenbrier Hall. Dr. French W. Thompson became board president in 1925, and helped transition the school from Lewisburg Seminary to Greenbrier College for Women. The school became a Junior College that offered two years of high school and two years of college. After the school’s closure in 1972, Greenbrier Hall was utilized as a state institution for mentally challenged children. It is now home to the Lewisburg campus of the New River Community and Technical College.
Woodward, Bettie S. "Greenbrier College for Women." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 01 May 2012. Web. 28 February 2017.
Rice, Otis K.. A History of Greenbrier County. Lewisburg, WV: Greenbrier Historical Society, 1986.
Woods Dayton, Ruth. Lewisburg Landmarks. Charleston, WV: Education Foundation, Inc., 1957.
Greenbrier County Bicentennial 1778-1978. Lewisburg, WV: Greenbrier County Bicentennial Committee, 1978.
Historical Booklet Greenbrier County 160th Anniversary 1778-1938.