NEW CASTLE – It’s not the very same car the first president of what today is Ferrum College drove, but the Model T Ford that Lanier and Theckla Frantz of New Castle donated for the college’s Centennial exhibit is close enough.
The 1924 black beauty is similar to the one driven by Dr. Benjamin Beckham, the first president of Ferrum Training School. There are photos of Dr. Beckham when he and a photographer drove around the Ferrum service area taking “glass lantern slides” of life in the region.
They were also taking photographs of the Ferrum system of satellite schools established to reach children in remote areas.
Those slides that are in the Blue Ridge Institute’s collection at Ferrum were used by Dr. Beckham, who was president from 1913 to 1934, to raise money for the fledgling school, according to college officials. Many of those images are in the Centennial exhibition at BRI.
What today is Ferrum was started by Methodist women with a vision exactly a century ago.
Current Ferrum President Jennifer Braaten and Kim Blair, who is vice president for institutional advancement, went to the Frantz’ New Castle farm to get the Model T.
With them in Craig County were Roddy Moore, director of the Blue Ridge Institute, associate director Vaughan Webb and Bev Fitzpatrick, director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
“They brought a roll-back and took it to the transportation museum, where it is stored until Ferrum wants to use it in the centennial celebration,” Lanier Frantz said this week.
“The Model T is going to be displayed on campus in the fall and we’re hoping to have it in the Homecoming Parade in October,” said Blair, who lives in Salem.
Frantz and glider friend Ed Byars of South Carolina purchased the Model T on eBay, he said, “because I had the urge to see if I could still drive a T. Driving them is different than other cars,” Frantz explained. They owned it for about five years, with the car spending part of the time in South Carolina and the rest in New Castle.
“I bought him out. I decided to donate it to Ferrum. I’d had my fun with it,” Frantz added.
Ferrum’s birth came from a conversation among members of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society in 1897. While they were talking about mission work in the mountains of North Carolina and Kentucky, Mrs. H.E. Wall of Farmville laid it on their hearts the needs for schools in the mountains of Virginia.
Salem resident Ethel Born has researched those early days, and wrote a book for Ferrum titled, “Because They Had the Vision.” She wrote a skit based on the book, “A Look Back in History,” that is on the United Methodist Women’s website. It was performed the end of October at the United Methodist Women’s meeting at the Blackstone Conference Center.
In March, Born shared the skit and Ferrum’s history with members of the Roanoke Valley Chapter of the League of American Pen Women.
Ferrum was founded to educate children who didn’t have easy access to public schools.
“We have learned that there are an estimated 4,800 children in a 3,000 mile area that have no access to education,” Mrs. Wall says in the skit.
Ultimately, the women’s committee used its judgement to establish a school, employ teachers and direct the work for one year, “provided that the money expended shall not exceed $1,200.”
The Ferrum Training School was begun in 1913 to be a four-year high school. For one year in 1920-21, it served all-age children from primary through high school, according to Born’s book. Six branch schools were established to educate younger children in areas where there were not public schools children could get to easily.
The Woman’s Missionary Society became the Woman’s Society of Christian Service and Wesleyan Service Guild. One of the reasons Ferrum was chosen was because its access by railroad. It had high school classes until 1955, and was renamed Ferrum Junior College.