FMS Architectural History and Significance

The histories of Augusta County and its academies are closely interwoven. Between 1742 and 1884, Augusta County witnessed the establishment of eleven academies and classical schools. Fishburne Military School is significant as the only one of these private institutions to remain in operation.

The founder of the school, James A. Fishburne, was a student and protégé of Robert E. Lee during the Confederate general’s service as president of Washington College. It was Lee who inspired Fishburne to become an educator and who instilled in him his basic ideas and principles of secondary education.

In the tradition of A.J. Davis’ Virginia Military Institute, Staunton architect T.J. Collins designed the Barracks of Fishburne Home School in the Gothic style, then popularly used for other Virginia military schools and academics. His sons, William and Samuel Collins, continued the tradition with their designs of several wings to the Barracks and the Administrative Building. The school complex constitutes a major architectural landmark for the city of Waynesboro.

Summary Description

Fishburne Military School is located in the center of Waynesboro, Virginia, in the central Shenandoah Valley. The late 19th and early 20th century’s commercial core of the city borders Fishburne to the north and east, with primarily residential developments dating largely to the early 20th century to the south and west. Two large, imposing brick-veneered buildings distinguish the Fishburne School complex – the Barracks, constructed between 1916 and 1921, and the Administration Building, begun in 1939 and completed in 1940. T.J. Collins and Sons, a prominent Staunton architectural firm, designed the two buildings in the Gothic style popular for military schools. Both were constructed of local brick with Indiana limestone highlights and steel reinforcement. The buildings stand side by side, overlooking a large parade/athletic field. A monumental concrete stairway leads down to this field from the parapet, or drill area, in front of the barracks. The nine-acre complex also includes tennis courts west of the Administrative Building and a driveway and parking area in front of the two buildings.

Architectural Analysis

The present barracks building was constructed in four stages. T.J. Collins designed the east (front), south, and west sides of the quadrangle, which were completed in 1917. This structure was built directly behind the original frame barracks (ca.1882-1889), which were razed upon completion of this first part of the fireproof barracks. In 1919, the south side was extended to form the mess hall/chapel/swimming pool wing, which was subsequently enlarged with a kitchen wing in 1921. The west side of the barracks, designed by T. J. Collins’ sons, William and Samuel, was also finished in 1921. The resulting quadrangle illustrates a form commonly found at military schools in the Valley, including Virginia Military Institute and the former Augusta Military Academy.

The three-story barracks, which serves primarily as the cadets’ residence, has its main entrance on the east side facing the parade field. A projecting central pavilion crowned with a battlement roof provides the focal point of this façade. The asymmetrically designed pavilion features a five-story flag tower to the south and a four story north tower. The compound lancet-arched portal in the center of the pavilion serves as an open entrance into the quadrangle. A group of lancet-arched windows over the central arch, the square window hoods over the third-floor windows, and the wall buttresses around the central pavilion suggest the Gothic style. Longitudinal five-bay blocks, pierced by 6/6 sash windows with stone sills and brick window panels below, flank the central pavilion. Flat-topped towers with narrow, rectangular lunettes compose the sixth bay on each corner of these side blocks.

The north and south sides of the barracks building continue to reflect the Gothic style both in features and in the vertical emphasis of elements. On the south side, projecting portals with lancer arches frame the two basement-level entrances. Flanking crenelated towers, square window hoods, and tall sets of multi-paned windows distinguish the southeast entrance. The middle south entrance, flanked by low wall buttresses, projects from a four-story crenelated tower.  A tall hexagonal chimney, crenelated tower, groupings of windows, and a slender tower with low pyramidal roof make up the south façade. The north side is less elaborately embellished. An arcade of lancet arches encases large, multi-paned casement type windows on the first floor, while very tall multi-paned casement windows line the second floor. Four-story towers rise at each corner, and wall buttresses divide the bays. The west side retains the simplest design, with eleven bays of 6/6 sash finished with stone sills and brick window panels below each window.

The brickwork on three exterior sides of the barracks building is Flemish bond veneer, except for the west wall, which is laid in American bond. Stone highlights embellish all facades, and a stone string course encircles the building above top-story windows and below the first-story windows when applicable. All the foundations are concrete.

The three-story east, south, and west sides of the quadrangle house cadet rooms. A three-story wooden porch, finished with square chamfered posts and a Gothic railing, lines the interior walls of these three sides. Doors to the cadet rooms enter from the quadrangle on all three floors. The different treatment of the north side suggests its more public use. The second floor projects out over the covered walkway, enclosed by a lancet-arched brick arcade, articulated by projecting, two-story buttresses. The two-story north side, distinguished on the outside and inside wall from the other sides, contains classrooms on the first floor and the library/study hall on the second floor. When the library was moved here from the Administration Building in 1960-61, the large, elaborately decorated study hall was then divided into two rooms. Interior embellishments such as the exposed roof truss were left intact.

The quadrangle encircles a six-part, symmetrically divided courtyard with brick paths. A small, square guardhouse, built in 1919, stood in the center of the courtyard until 1968 when it was removed. In 1980, the courtyard was landscaped. Lancet arches abound throughout the passageways in the courtyard. Interior staircases are located in each corner tower of the building.

The first addition, a long three-story block, contains the swimming pool in the raised basement, mess hall on the main floor, and chapel on the second floor. Projecting wall buttresses divide this wing into six bays, with large paired main-floor and triple second-floor windows with limestone trim. Elliptical arched windows line the basement level on the south side. A projecting crenelated tower, with narrow rectangle lunettes, comprises the seventh, or west bay, of this addition. The south side, facing Eleventh Street, has been cloaked in a Flemish bond veneer, with American bond on the less visible north side. Unlike the main barracks, this block has been topped with a gable roof. Inside, both the mess hall and chapel retain their exposed ceiling joists.

The smaller, two-story kitchen wing, added off the west end of the mess hall, also hints at the Gothic style. The irregular form and unbalanced façade of this addition suggests a more utilitarian function. Like the mess hall wing, the kitchen block displays a Flemish bond veneer facing Eleventh Street, with American bond on the north wall and a low-pitched gable roof.

The quadrangle form of the barracks and the consistent use of Gothic elements in the original block and two wings present a structure reminiscent of a medieval fortress.

The Administration Building

The administration building, also known as the Memorial Building, was built north of the barracks, with a covered walkway connecting the two buildings. Samuel Collins designed this two-story building as well as the gymnasium wing. Construction occurred between 1939-40. The administration building encases the now-obscured 1882 Fishburne home in the southeast corner of the tripartite façade. The interior of the two-story house was completely remodeled into office space with this construction. Only a few traces of original trim survive inside. The basement, which had housed the cadets’ dining room and store, still contains the cadet store today.

The administration building boasts more elaborate decoration than the barracks. The front recessed central pavilion with gabled roof provides the focus of much of this decoration. Projecting brick and stone wall buttresses divide the pavilion into five bays. Fenestration varies from large, lancet-arched multi-paned windows in the first floor to large, square multi-paned windows in the second floor. Smaller square casement windows with trefoil designs pierce the central three bay of the gabled third-story level. The projecting lancet-arched portal, flanked by wall buttresses, shelters the main entrance. A carved eagle rests above the portal, suggesting the military ties to the school.

Deeper two-story, two-bay blocks flank the central pavilion of the building. The large, multi-paned casement windows have been trimmed in limestone, with two-colored tile panels added between the first and second-floor windows in 1979-80. Corner quoins finish the basement-level windows, which follow the same bays as the main-level façade. The side windows follow the same designs, but without the iron balconies found on the first-floor façade windows, the long, two-story gymnasium wing directly behind the administration building is slightly wider than the central pavilion. Wall buttresses divided the side walls into bays, unfilled completely with large, square multi-paned windows.

Certain features unify the various components of the administration building. All the walls are covered with Flemish bond veneer and the gym and front side blocks have been topped with a flat roof. A stone stringcourse encircles the entire building above the second-floor windows, as at the barracks. Here, however, Fishburne Military School’s shield emblems decorate the cornice at regular intervals in the front administration block, and lancet-arched stone designs continue along the gymnasium cornice. A stone belt course also extends between the basement and main-floor levels of the front Administration section, but it is not found along the gymnasium wing because the basement level is not exposed.

By 1976, ivy had nearly covered both the barracks and administration building. In 1979-80, both buildings were sandblasted and the bricks treated with silicon. There is no noticeable damage at the present time.

A flagstone staircase leads up to the formal front entrance with two sets of double doors. The exterior doors were replaced in 1979, and the interior doors were completely removed. A stained-glass transom commemorating Fishburne’s centennial replaced a plain-glass transom that same year. The large entrance foyer is the most elaborately decorated room in the Administration Building. The heavy exposed beams, wooden plank floor, plaster walls and ceiling, and a ca. 1830 Federal mantel, all dating to the 1939-40 construction, still remain. Other rooms in the building include general administrative offices, classrooms, and the infirmary. Much of the interior has been modernized since the 1960s. In 1964-65, the walls of the main stairwell located in the south block were paneled, and other rooms have been paneled since 1977. Ceilings were lowered in several rooms in 1977 for maintenance and energy conservation reasons.

The original large, wooden doors still open from the front entrance foyer into the main-level gymnasium, which still retains much of its 1940 character. The basement level contains the rifle range and team locker rooms. This gymnasium replaces a circa 1919 frame gym, which burned in 1939. Tennis courts are located behind the gym.

Significance Historical Background

It was in 1880 that Professor Fishburne began the construction of his home located on the hill where Fishburne Military School now stands. He bought 1½ acres from Elizabeth Evans, wife of Joshua Evans. A year later, Professor Fishburne added approximately two more acres to his property. Professor Fishburne’s home was completed in 1882, and the school moved to its present site. His two-story house with full basement accommodated boarding students. Instructors and students roomed, ate, and studied here. Local histories indicate that this was the first house in the county with running water and a bath served by water pumped from a Wayne Avenue spring. The name of the school became Fishburne Home School, and this same year, construction of the wooden barracks began.

During the next few years, the school took on much of its military character, although military uniforms were not yet required. The wooden barracks were enlarged three times before they were razed in 1917, upon the completion of the fireproof barracks. Although very simple in design, the original barracks building was decorated with ornamentation suggestive of the Gothic style.

The school was incorporated in 1916. The Staunton architect T.J. Collins was hired and construction of the new barracks began soon. The mess hall/chapel/swimming pool wing and the kitchen were added in 1919 and 1921, respectively. A wooden frame gymnasium was also built behind the barracks in 1919. The old frame barracks were torn down in 1917 forming a spacious parapet (drill area) in front of the new barracks. The large field that occupies the eastern portion of the Fishburne property was graded and leveled for use as a parade/athletic field. In 1921, the west wing of the barracks was completed.

In 1939, fire destroyed the frame gymnasium, and the school launched an effort to build the administration building, incorporating the Fishburne home. The school again called upon the T.J. Collins firm to design the structure. The building was completed in 1940, and dedicated by Judge C.G. Quesenbery at commencement exercises that May. This new building included the administrative unit, the memorial foyer, and the library. The gymnasium in the rear was fully equipped with a rifle and team dressing room.

Geographical Data

Verbal Boundary Description and Boundary Justification. Alley located behind the houses which face Maple Avenue. From the Waynesboro Assessor’s records, the property is found on Map #29, Block #1, and is described as a small acreage including lots #11-15, but not including lots #17 located in the southeastern corner of the clock. The total area of the buildings themselves is 74,704 square feet.

Boundary Justification

The area nominated for National Register of Historic Places consists of approximately nine acres. This included the school’s buildings and the adjacent parade/athletic fields. The nominated acreage constitutes property purchased by James A. Fishburne for his school beginning in 1881. With the exception of the gymnasium and administration building, all the school’s buildings are more than 50 years old. However, in spite of the fact that the more recent buildings were constructed in 1939-40, they are compatible in style and scale with the older structures.