The Fauquier Historical Society
Vol. 18, No. 1 WARRENTON, VIRGINIA Winter & Spring,1996
Part I. An Institution Fondly Remembered
Bethel Military Academy, 1867-1911
By JOHN T TOLER
The barracks, assembly hall and other buildings of Bethel Military Academy north of Warrenton are long gone: in their place now stand single-family homes.
The 1960s development along Rt. 628 (Blantyre Rd.) and Rt. 605 (Airlie Rd.) is known as Bethel Academy Subdivision." Some of the street names there recall the old institution.
BMA was operated by dedicated, prominent Fauquier County educators, particularly the Blackwell and Smith families, from 1867 to 1911.
Bethel United Methodist Church, built in 1834 and used as the Academy Chapel, is the only physical evidence of the school that survives.
Even though Bethel Military Academy closed 85 years ago, the institution is remembered with great fondness and respect by many, both near and far. Graduates of BMA left the academy "Prepared to enter business, college, or military careers."1
As might be expected, the majority of the BMA cadets were Virginians, with a large number of boarders and day students from Fauquier. Many others came from Maryland and the Carolinas, but nearly every state in the Union and several foreign countries sent cadets to BMA.
It can be argued that Bethel Military Academy was the most significant endeavor undertaken in Fauquier County in the years between the end of the Civil War and 1900.
Certainly, no other local institution of the day attracted more interest from the outside world, or presented Fauquier County in a more positive way, than BMA.
It is surprising that little has been written about this important institution; most of what we know is drawn from surviving school catalogues and student publications.
Another source is the 1945 Master's thesis written by esteemed Fauquier educator Peter Bartow (P.B.) Smith, Jr.
Completed less than a generation after the closing of the school, Mr. Smith's thesis advances logical theories about the rise and decline of BMA. Unfortunately, it does not include any interviews with surviving BMA faculty or students, which would have added to the historical aspect of the study.
The fact that Fauquier County was the home of an educational institution like Bethel Military Academy should not be surprising.
Education has always been an important issue in Fauquier, and BMA played a significant role in the evolution of our current education system, which started here with the "Classical Schools" in the late 1700s.
The first Classical School in Fauquier was started by Hezekiah Balch, a graduate of Princeton College, on "Academy Hill" in Warrenton in 1777.
Students were taught ancient languages, composition, mathematics and other subjects in the "classical" manner at Prof Balch's school, which was incorporated as the "Warren Academy" in November, 1788.
In the early 1800s, a second classical academy for boys and young men was operated in Warrenton by Capt. George Ball, and in the 1850s, Miss Harriett Swift established a "High School for Young Ladies" in the present-day Oddfellow's Hall on Main Street