Meriwether Lewis


Meriwether Lewis Elementary opened in 1922 and moved to its current location near Ivy in 1988. The school was named for Albemarle-born pioneer, Meriwether Lewis. Lewis is perhaps best known for his exploration of the Louisiana Territory with William Clark and Sacajawea in 1803.

During the early 1920's Albemarle County began to consolidate its many small schools. The Ivy area supported several of these small schools such as the Ivy High School, Garth School, The High Point School and the Ridge View School.

The School Board specified that the newer consolidated schools to be located in the center of the district. When the Hopkinson family made a gift of several acres of land in the center of the Ivy District, the Board decided to locate the new school there. The new school was named Meriwether Lewis School in honor of Meriwether Lewis, the leader of the Meriwether Lewis Expedition which explored the lands newly acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. Meriwether Lewis had grown up on a plantation less than a mile from the site of the school.

During the infancy of the new school, district lines were discarded and more schools such as Oak Hill, Rockfield, Flint Hill School, Free Union High School, Fairview, Locust Grove, and the Grace Railey Schools were consolidated into Meriwether Lewis. The new Meriwether Lewis School housed elementary, middle, and high school students.

While some students walked two miles or longer to get to the new schools, roads were improving in the county and children began to be transported the longer distances to the new school. Two buses brought most of the students to school while others came by buggy or horseback. At this period, Meriwether had a stable in which to house the horses of students and teachers riding to school. It would seem that from the beginning parental involvement has played a large part in making this school a viable one.

When the school was first built in 1922, local farmers brought their horses and farm equipment and worked on the grounds while the Home Economics girls and their mothers furnished lunch for them. In newspaper clippings from the time and from the school newsletter, Ivy Leaves, the reader learns how much of the community's life was centered around the school. Debates, sporting events (baseball and track seem to predominate), plays, Boy Scout activities, literary contests,minstrels, clubs, parties, and dances(forbidden for a while because of bad behavior).

Many of the everyday issues and challenges that exist at Meriwether today were in evidence in past years at Meriwether. One article in Ivy Leaves/ entitled, "A Story That is Funnier Than It Might Have Been" tells how a group of Meriwether students on an agricultual field trip rounded a corner at forty miles an hour, lost control of the car, and landed upside down on a fence post. None of the students suffered bodily harm beyond bruising, but the car which was badly damaged was repaired for the cost of $52.55.

More excitement erupted one day when a trash fire from a nearby lawn was whipped out of control by the wind. The boys in the agriculture class were called to assist. They contained the blaze but not the bees in the nearby hives who had become angry with all the activity. The boys waited on the other side of the lawn to see if another blaze would break out.

Other articles issue pleas for donations of vegetables so that everyone in the school could be served hot soup until the end of the year. Fashion , as it does today, held its place in school life of the 20's and 30's as is evidenced in sketches of appropriate dresses for graduation. The most expensive dress could be purchased for $5.10.  Teachers of yesteryear had to wear many hats even as they do today.

Frank M. Taylor, the first principal at Meriwether Lewis was also the agriculture teacher. Nella Bailey Via who taught fourth grade, coached basketball and drama. Mrs. Via was usually transported to school by her brothers in the family Model T unless the roads were muddy in which case, she saddled the horse which she kept in a stable behind the school. And, yes, students in those times pulled pranks just as they do today. Once Ms. Via got ready to leave school only to find that a student had let her horse out of the stable!

In 1953 the new Albemarle High School was opened and Meriwether Lewis became an elementary center. In 1966 the seventh grade was moved to the new Joseph T. Henley Junior High School. In 1974 all Junior High School pupils were placed in the Jack Jouett Junior High School and all sixth, seventh and eithth graders in the area were moved to the Henley Middle School.