Written by Heidi Baumstark
Historic buildings embody a former time, encouraging onlookers to wonder what life was like in the past.
When it comes to the Snickersville Academy in Bluemont, the walls of this old log cabin tell part of the story of a tiny village tucked in the northwestern edge of Loudoun County in Virginia’s famed Blue Ridge Mountains. It is the village’s first school and church dating back to 1825.
The quarter-acre plot where the log cabin sits was donated in 1825 by Amos and Elizabeth Clayton; Amos was the son of the village’s founder, William Clayton.
The old log cabin served as a school for decades and through the Civil War with spotty classroom time due to skirmishes fought nearby and the general interruptions of war. Back then, tuition was $3 per semester to pay the salary for a teacher who taught students from ages 6 to 16 in the single classroom. Families provided schoolbooks, which children often shared between siblings. Briefly, it became a public school in 1870, until the multi-classroom Mountain Shadow School opened in 1872 on Snickersville Turnpike.
It was also used as a “free church” for over 25 years until 1851 when a stone church was built on Snickersville Turnpike, now Bluemont United Methodist Church. With the two new structures for the village school and church, the old Snickersville Academy became rental housing by the turn of the century. Though occupants lived in the log cabin, there was never any running water or plumbing installed, which is still true today.
From the 1940s to 1970s, a woman named Susie Neal lived in the old log cabin with her children, grandchildren, and young great-grandchildren. After the property was donated to Friends of Bluemont by its last owners, the Hatchers, renovations began in 2011 and were completed in 2016.
Mark Zalewski, longtime Bluemont resident but now of Charles Town, West Virginia, led the cabin’s renovation while serving as president of Friends of Bluemont, which in 2019 became Bluemont Heritage. “I always wanted to build a log cabin,” Zalewski admits. “I lived in Bluemont for over 20 years and wanted to bring this project into fruition.” Zalewski oversaw the complete restoration, worked with all local tradesmen who contributed materials, labor, and financial support to the completed structure we see today, and was intimately involved in raising over $100,000 to have the work completed. He also runs a nonprofit called Loudoun Giving Hands, which helps people who need plumbing, roofing, and other home repairs.
During the restoration, coins from the 1900s were found, along with some kids’ toys. Other items were discovered in the nearby creek. “We found a medicine bottle; it had ‘Bluemont’ on it,” Zalewski remembers. “I left it inside the academy.”
Near the academy, a small stream called Butcher’s Branch winds through the property and up along the side of the mountain. “There was a place they used to butcher animals — that’s how the creek got its name,” Zalewski explains.
Where it Started with William Clayton
In 1792, William Clayton purchased 624 acres from the estate of Richard Wistar of Philadelphia, who had bought it from Edward Snickers, namesake of Snickersville, in 1777. It was Clayton who first envisioned and plotted off the village of Snickers Gap (later, Snickersville).
William Clayton willed four lots to his children in 1813, and in 1825 his son, Amos Clayton, and his wife, Elizabeth, donated a half-acre of their land, including the structure that stood on it. The founding “indenture” signed at Clayton Hall on May 21, 1825, specifies the building be used “for a public school and place for divine worship.”
The Locals Talk
Longtime Bluemont resident Betty Colbert shares, “I lived in Bluemont all my life until 2022. We lived on Snickersville Turnpike near the lane to the cabin [across from Clayton Hall]. In my lifetime it was used as a residence. The first person who lived there was Susie Neal, a Black woman; she was a good woman. That was in the 1940s.”
Zalewski adds, “There was also a free Black settlement in the mountains where the old Madison Street was. There was a separate schoolhouse up there and a small church, and Susie lived up on that mountain ridge. Later, she moved down to the Snickersville Academy.”
After the renovation, in June 2016, “We invited Susie Neal and her family to the academy’s dedication to the Bluemont Citizens Association,” Zalewski explains. Later that year, the Neal family reunion took place at the academy during the Bluemont Fair on Sunday, September 18, 2016.
“Susie worked for my grandmother for years,” Betty remembers. “After Susie, the lady who ran the [village] store, Rachel Wetherill, lived in the academy for a short time and she was the village postmaster. Then the property was sold to Mrs. Hatcher, and she was the last one to own it.” Her heirs sold their mountain farm in 2010 to Boulder Crest Foundation, but they donated the academy cabin property to the community. Friends of Bluemont took it over and restored it.
“Mrs. Hatcher was quite attached to that cabin,” Betty says. “She liked it because it was in its original state; she wanted to keep it the way it was. I remember Susie Neal had a daughter who lived there with her. They are attached to that cabin as well. They visited us during the Bluemont Fair one time; they’d come back every year for a sort of family reunion. One of the children told me that this was their happy place.”
Betty adds, “It’s a lovely place. Mrs. Hatcher wanted to keep it just that way.”
Two ladies from Bluemont who passed away in 2017 were instrumental in preserving Snickersville Academy. To commemorate their efforts, there is a small plaque by the cabin’s front door with the name of Susan Freis Falknor, who passed away April 16, 2017. Another plaque, mounted to a wooden post with an old metal school bell on top, includes the name of Carole Haynes, who passed away June 22, 2017.
For those interested in experiencing Snickersville Academy in person, it is open during the annual Bluemont Fair held every third Saturday and Sunday in September. For outdoor access, it can be accessed via the footpath directly across from an historical marker at 33685 Snickersville Turnpike. Although the cabin is not currently open daily, Zalewski encourages visits “because it’s history,” and because it’s remembered as a “happy place.”
More information about Bluemont and Snickersville Academy can be found at bluemontheritage.org. To learn more about Bluemont Heritage, visit The Plaster Museum of Bluemont Heritage at E.E. Lake General Store on the corner of Railroad Street and Snickersville Turnpike. ML
Top image: A receipt of the school tuition dated 1849. Courtesy of Bluemont Heritage.
Published in the January 2024 issue of Middleburg Life.