3. The Early Years
11. *The Corps
13. *The Faculty and Staff
14. *Buildings and Grounds
Chapter 3 - The Early Years
Staunton Male Academy as it looked in September 1884 when it opened
On September 2, 1884, the Staunton Male Academy opened its doors with 50 students. The local newspapers reported on this opening and congratulated Capt. Kable on his success. The boarding students at that time lived in the upstairs of the Kable residence and the Kable family lived in the downstairs. A dining room had been added to the east end of the residence to accommodate the family and the boarders. Classes were held in the new classroom building, which was described by the local newspaper as a large frame building containing an assembly room 30X46 feet, two large recitation rooms, a reception room, laboratory, and cloak rooms. The building had cost $3,000 to construct. This building, which was situated on the site of the future South Barracks, would be the classrooms of the Academy for the next 30 years.
SMA Classroom Building built in 1884
The academy slowly grew over the next several years. In 1888, a military format was adopted and the school name was changed to the Staunton Military Academy. Also in 1888, a wood frame cadet barracks was built between the Kable residence and the classroom building. That year also had the largest amount of students, 101, for the 1800's. That figure would not be surpassed until the early 1900's. Part of this growth can be attributed to Capt. Kable's brother-in-law, W.W. Gibbs, the business manager in the early years. In the summer of 1888, William Gibbs went on a tour of the South to publicize the school. In early September, he returned by train to Staunton with 42 new students.
Staunton Military Academy as it appeared in 1888
Cadets and Staff 1888 with William H. Kable standing far left
In 1890, the Staunton Military Academy was incorporated by an Act of the Virginia General Assembly (Chap. 500 - approved March 4, 1890). The original stockholders were William H. Kable, W.W. Gibbs, W.P. Tams, John B. Hoge, and Keeves Cott. Thus the ownership of the school went from a private holding to a Corporation with Stockholders. As this happened, the country went into a depression and the school saw it numbers drop. In 1890 the school had 90 cadets with that number dropping to 30 in 1896 and then to 15 in 1900. It was during that year that Capt. Kable's son, William G. Kable, returned to teach at SMA, appointed Commandant, and took over the day to day operations from his father. Capt. Kable continued in the roles of Principal and Instructor.
William G. Kable
William G. Kable had been schooled under his father's tutelage first as a youth in Charlestown and then at SMA in Staunton. He graduated in 1890 as the honor man in his class and the Senior Captain of the Corps of Cadets. After graduation, W.G. Kable, then eighteen years of age, went to Cincinnati to begin a business career, but he had been there only one year when he decided to better equip himself for a business profession. Accordingly he left Cincinnati and went to Baltimore, where he entered the Business College of Bryant & Stratton. After graduation from this institution, he worked three years in the city, being associated with some of the most prominent business houses in the Metropolis of the South. From Baltimore he came back to Staunton to become a member of the faculty in the Staunton Military Academy. Here he taught during the 1893-95 sessions and then again left Staunton, this time settling in New York City. His success in this great empire city is attested to by mentioning some of the large firms with whom he worked: The Caledonia Fire Insurance Company, Mills & Gibb, the largest importers in the United States; R.T. Wilson & Company, bankers and brokers of Wall Street; and he was at the Waldorf-Astoria in the capacity of chief stenographer.
1903 SMA boarding cadets with Commandant William G. Kable standing far right
Additionally, another person important to the development of SMA came to work in the early 1900's, Thomas H. Russell. In 1904 Russell came to Staunton as Headmaster of Staunton Military Academy. He was a native of South Carolina, having spent his early years in Anderson. From the schools of his native town, Russell went to the Citadel, at Charleston, where his scholarship soon distinguished him among his fellows. In 1902, he graduated from that institution at the head of one of the largest classes in the history of the Citadel. He also distinguished himself in the military life of the school by winning the appointment as Senior Captain of the Corps of Cadets. Upon leaving the Citadel, Russell accepted the position of Commandant at Horner Military Academy, Oxford, NC, before coming to Staunton. Thus, at the start of the 1904 session, the three men that would have the most influence in shaping the development of SMA were in place together at the Academy.
William G. Kable immediately began a program of expansion and recruitment. A Mess Hall, seating 400 was built in 1901. This building also contained cadet rooms on the second and third floors. In 1904, a five story barracks was also constructed. The Corps of Cadets grew quickly under William G. Kable's guidance with enrollment reaching 270 cadets at the start of the 1904 session. Then, on November 25, 1904, disaster struck. At three o'clock in the morning, the town of Staunton was awakened by the continuous tollings of the town fire bell and the prolonged shrieks of a railway locomotive. The barracks of SMA were on fire.
In the morning light, the level of destruction was plain for all to see. The classroom building was gone, the four story barracks built in 1888 was gone, and the new five story barracks was gone. The Kable residence, Mess Hall, and cadet rooms above were saved, as were a few minor storage buildings. And, miraculously, not a cadet had been seriously harmed, and most of the possessions and furniture had been thrown out of windows and doors and moved to safety. The local newspaper reported that Capt. Kable, in his anxiety to arouse sleeping students, had rushed bare-footed to the rescue and his feet had been burned. Thomas Russell, who was living in one of the Barracks at the time, is also credited with sounding the alarm and helping to evacuate the buildings. To help keep the school in operation the townspeople of Staunton responded to the needs of the cadets and provided temporary housing. Additionally, the local YMCA was made available to the school for classrooms.