Saturday, January 1, 2011

Va. School for the Deaf and Blind

A state boarding school created by an act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1838 for the purpose of educating deaf and blind children, it is the second oldest school of its type in the nation. The magnificent brick main building with Greek portico was completed in 1846 and is still in use (also shown below in a vintage engraving). Baltimore architect Robert Cary Long Jr. was hired as architect, and the grounds surrounding his structure became a park for the community of Staunton.

Deaf and blind children were housed and taught in separate wings, due to the differences in educating the two exceptionalities, and each school had its own principal until 1852, when Dr. Jean Merilatt, originally from Alsace, France, took over the entire facility. Students were taught a trade by which they could support themselves upon graduating.

The school’s buildings were taken for use as a Confederate hospital in 1861, the same year that the 52nd Virginia Infantry made camp and trained here before heading off to war. The school housed as many as 500 sick and wounded soldiers, many of whom had been engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg. During this time the students were removed to another local school to make room for the war patients.

In 2007 the School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-disabled at Hampton, VA, was consolidated into the Staunton School for the Deaf and Blind. $75 million in new projects and renovations are currently underway.

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