Monday, July 25, 2011

For a time, South Roanoke housed a small college

Q: I am very interested in knowing more about Virginia College, which once stood in South Roanoke. What can you tell me about this school?

Laurie Platt, Roanoke

A: According to local historian and former Roanoke Mayor Nelson Harris, the women's college was founded in 1893 by William Anderson Harris on a 10-acre site in South Roanoke. After he died in 1896, his daughters, Mattie P. Harris and Gertrude Harris Boatwright, took over operation of the school. (The former mayor is not related to the family that ran Virginia College, by the way).

A fire in 1900 forced students to live for a few days in private homes and at the Hotel Roanoke. The school then moved to Buena Vista for a year while funds were raised and the school was rebuilt.

Harris said that several other localities tried to entice school leaders to move the college to their towns, which worried Roanoke leaders. But by the fall semester of 1901, the newly rebuilt Virginia College was ready to welcome students back. That year, tuition, room and board cost $260, Harris said.

In 1927, the school was sold to a group of investors who promised to continue operating the college as a women's junior college. The group of investors was led by Charles Smith, then-president of Roanoke College. Despite their assurances, the school was forced to close in January 1930, during the Great Depression.

Later that year, Virginia College was sold to Col. Otey C. Hulvey, who turned it into a men's military school, named Harris Military Academy in honor of William Harris. The military academy never fulfilled its enrollment goals and closed after three years.

In 1934, the Federal Emergency Relief Association leased the property and established a "re-educational school for unemployed women." That school, which enrolled only 60 women, closed after a year.

In 1936, the old school was purchased by Frank Graves, who intended to convert it into apartments. Neighborhood opposition prevented city council from approving the rezoning request and the plan never came to fruition. The building was ultimately razed, and by January 1939, the land was cleared for the development of the College Park neighborhood.

Q: Errors in grammar and punctuation are not uncommon in the Roanoke newspaper, but a phrase I never heard and can't find in my dictionary is a puzzle. I refer to the expression "to suss out" from the lead editorial in the paper of June 11. Typo? A Twitter expression, maybe? Explain, please, and thank you.

Julia S. Martin, Lexington

A: Publishing the newspaper is a human endeavor and as such is never flawless. "To suss out," however, is neither a mistake, nor is it a modern invention.

According to Webster's New World Dictionary, "to suss out" is a British expression meaning "to ferret out an answer" or "to figure out a puzzle or problem."

Our grammar guru, retired Virginia Tech English professor Virgil Cook, noted that "suss" gets the red underline from Microsoft's spell checker. Cook does not favor the use of the phrase.

"Because it is a little-known, British slang expression, I think that writers should avoid 'suss out,' " Cook said.

Since November, I have been fielding your questions, both big and small, and doing my best to find answers. This week marks my last column, as my family and I are moving to South Carolina next week. Newly retired Roanoke Times staff writer Kevin Kittredge will take over this space beginning next week. So, keep the questions coming.

Have a question? Have an answer? Call 777-6476 or send an email to whatsonyourmind@roanoke. com. Please remember to provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown.

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