The Town of Stanardsville has quite a storied past—from taverns to murders and from hospitalizing (and burying) Confederate soldiers to jailbreaks.
Students in Allison Hughes’ seventh-grade language arts class at William Monroe Middle School got a primer on the history of the nearly 225-year-old town from members of the Greene County Historical Society earlier this month. The students are collaborating with Marlene Rombach, an instructional coach, on an upcoming project about the history of Greene County, which will include a walking tour of the county seat.
“We’re working on a collaborative project with the kids working together and also with us collaborating with the community,” Hughes said. “We’re trying to prepare them for working together within the school and outside the school.”
About seven students raised their hands when asked if their families were originally from Greene County and one mentioned his family’s name is on the Blue Ridge Heritage Project memorial chimney in Stanardsville that honors families forced off the mountains to make way for Shenandoah National Park in the 1930s.
Joann Powell, historical society president, and Jeanne Rexroad showed photos of the historical buildings in town while telling some of the myriad stories that make Stanardsville special.
“Greene was formed in 1838 from Orange County,” said Powell. “When you become a county you have to have a county seat—Stanardsville existed, so it became the county seat.”
The county seat is the center of government for a county, Powell said. The town officially became a historic district in 2000.
“When the county became a county it was required to build a courthouse, a jail and a clerk’s office. All of those started in 1838-1839,” she said.
The Greek Revival courthouse is no stranger to drama in today’s times but 100 years ago, Edgar Morris shot and killed the sitting judge, whose ghost, Rexroad told students, is believed to still walk the courthouse.
“[Edgar Morris] got in trouble with the law a lot because he had a temper. He was due to appear in court in April one year, because he had shot one of his cousins, and had been released on a $5,000 bond,” she said. “Then he was arrested again for carrying a concealed weapon in church. Yeah, he was he was a bit of a problem child, for sure. So he the served with the warrant for fighting and disturbing the peace and had to appear in court.”
Morris was 22, and didn’t like being treated like a child being made to wait in the clerk’s office so he went into the courthouse and shot Judge Sullivan in front of many people in court “in a moment of passion,” she said.
Hughes said she’s heard stories from deputies that believe the courthouse is haunted by the ghost of the judge.
Morris eventually was caught after a $1,000 reward was offered but witnesses refused to testify for fear of him so the trial was moved to Albemarle County. Morris received a 28-year sentence.
“How could you not think the judge’s spirit might be hanging out at the courthouse?” Rexroad asked. “Maybe the ghost is waiting to hear the trial and he didn’t get the memo about it moving to Albemarle?”
The jail was built about the same time as the courthouse, to the east of the courthouse and the clerk’s office to the west. At first, the jail didn’t have cells or bars inside the building—prisoners were able to roam. There were, though, bars on the windows, Powell noted.
“It served as a jail for the county until the 1950s and then it was many different things,” Powell said. “One time it was the home demonstration women’s kitchen. It was the first library for the county. It was a sheriff’s office at one time and the registrar’s office was there. The historical society had a museum there.”
The museum is now housed in a historic home at 360 Main St., though the society still opens the jail for events.
Rexroad told the students the story of a jailbreak in 1863.
“A Confederate soldier in a unit moving from Winchester to Orange requested permission to visit family nearby,” she began. “After he’d spent the night he was making his way back over Swift Run Gap into Stanardsville where he encountered a man on horseback with two soldiers walking. The gentleman was a conscript officer—he picked up guys who were deserters.”
Rexroad said even though the soldier had gotten permission, he didn’t have a physical pass from his officer and they were all three taken to the jail and left there while he went to a tavern nearby.
They didn’t know if anyone would come to bring them food because they weren’t local prisoners, she said.
“It was cold and their fire went out. And he didn’t come back and he didn’t come back,” she said. “So, they began digging (at the bricks) around the windows. After a while the hole was big enough that one guy, the littlest guy, could get out. So he started helping them by digging from the outside. And after a while the other two finally could squeeze out through the hole.”
The bricks were different than we have these days, she said. They were often made and baked on site or nearby and they would break down over time. Rexroad said the historical society plans to sell some older bricks soon from the jail removed to install a new air conditioner.
During the Civil War many of General Richard Ewell’s Army came down with a fever. Both Stanardsville United Methodist Church, and the Lafayette Inn, built in 1840, were used as hospitals during the war. Many died and are buried off Shiloh Road behind Shiloh Baptist Church, Powell said. There is a parish building behind the church that was an African-American school for those in sixth, seventh and eighth grades in the late 1800s.
Rexroad told the students there are tales of at least three ghosts at the Lafayette Inn.
Powell discussed the history of the other buildings and homes along Main Street, as well.
The historical society is working with one Boy Scout, Garrett Ensor, to create a historic walking tour of Stanardsville. Ensor is doing this for his Eagle Scout project.
Hughes’s students have begun choosing a projects, she said.