The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Lewis Mountain School

By John W. Stoneberger © 1987

Issue: September, 1987

Icie Marie Roche, January 4, 1912, first day at Lewis Mountain School.Icie Marie Roche, January 4, 1912, first day at Lewis Mountain School.January 3rd, 1912, John Scot Roach went to the School Board at Standardsville, Virginia, and asked if they would put a public school on Lewis Mountain.

In the area before the Shenandoah National Park, a distance of 105 miles from Waynesboro to Front Royal, Virginia, there was a peak population of 5,000 mountain people about 1900.

Schools were located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in both Rockingham County West side and Green County East side, but none on top of the mountain.

The summers were heavenly in the mountains. Maybe 80°F in the days and 60°F at nights with warm, pleasant, sunny days with soft cool breezes, but the winters were extremely disagreeable. Lots of cold, damp days, lots of snow, and temperatures below 0°F, and sometimes blizzards.

This caused an extreme hardship on children who had to travel 4 to 7 miles one way to school. Some sleds pulled by a single horse could be used if equipped with shafts and breaching harness. If the snow was too deep, even this couldn't be used.

The School Board told Grandpa, "They were sincerely interested in the education of the mountain children. They were grateful to him for being the community leader, but only so much money had been allocated and ear marked for the schools in use and they saw no way they could help him with a new pioneer school at this time."

Grandpa told them he had a large mountain home they could use as a school free of charge; that he would remodel to specifications and would furnish the fuel for heat.

The board said, "You are more than generous Mr. Roach, you touch our hearts in the most tender way with the children's needs and your offer to help, but even if you would give us a school building, we know of no teacher who would be willing to go to Lewis Mountain under the extreme hardship and teach there."

Grandpa said, "Education in our family is a very important thing. I have a daughter who has recently graduated from the seventh grade with high honors. Could she be the teacher?"

After a few moments of silence and talking with Icie, they said, "Mr. Roach you humble our hearts with your love and concern for the mountain children, plus your great generosity and the willingness of Icie's cooperation to teach. We see no way we could refuse your request."

So a contract was made legal. Icie Marie Roach would be the first teacher ever to teach at the Lewis Mountain School.

A copy of this legal document is sent along with this writing to the editor to prove the statement.

She would be paid $15.00 per month and $1.50 would be taken out of each pay for State Teacher's Retirement Fund.

As I write about a Great Heritage, a place for Aunt Icie Marie always remains in my heart, who had character like her parents, John Scot and Caro Roach, who could endure hardship that others might be blessed.

She taught the community children and her own brothers and sisters. My mother being one of her pupils.

I can imagine seeing Grandpa coming home in the evening from Elkton, Virginia with the mule team and bark wagon saying, "Icie Marie! I brought you a newspaper today; there is a current event you will want to teach tomorrow at school."

The great Titanic, the greatest passenger ship ever afloat hit a iceberg 95 mile south of Grand Banks of Newfoundland and did sink the 14 or 15th of April, 1912 and many were drowned. A terrible tragedy!

To all my special readers with good mountain blood in their veins and loving spirits, Mama said, "Life is a testing ground, (you will hit the D's in life) discouraged, disgusted, disappointed and desponded, but never despair. The number one thing to do is purpose good in your heart, use courage, have faith that love can make a way where there is no way."

And so it was January 4, 1912 the Lewis Mountain School came to birth, through a hard difficult process in the coldest part of winter at the highest elevation of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Here the doors of knowledge were open to the intelligent minds of the beautiful, healthy, mountain children.

This building was also used as Pocosin Episcopal #2 Mission where Sunday School was taught, and Christmas programs enjoyed. I suppose many a child did say, "From Monday until Friday we would work and play, then back to school to Sunday School was where I learned to pray."

To many it was their only school of learning, and where the first gates of Heaven were opened, to a hope, and gain a passport to Eternal life, in a church without a steeple.

One point I would like to make clear. In no way do I wish to imply there was anything short in the School System or Board of Green County in letting a 14 year old young lady teach school for three or more months as a substitute teacher until a qualified teacher, probably from the Episcopal Church Headquarters replaced her.

Mr. E.M. Gibson was Chairman of the School Board, Mr. W.H. Booton was the clerk. These men had great wisdom, along with love and goodness, measured high in integrity. As a hillbilly I would say they were clean cut in characters, and as neat, straight, and upright as a Harnesburger's mule's mane...

After fulfilling her contract as a teacher, Icie Marie went to Hagerstown, Maryland to begin her studies and training, which she completed as a registered nurse.

Later she married a fine gentleman named Christopher Panopolis from Greece, who was owner and operator of a restaurant in York, Pennsylvania, where he worked and she as a nurse at the hospital. At this location they lived out their days.

Imagine our delight going to the mail box in the Shenandoah Valley during the Great Depression when many family incomes were less than $100 per year, and there would be a big box of goodies from Aunt Icie Marie. This is what I call Blue Ridge Mountain Heritage Love. In her good fortune she would remember us in our misfortune.

I feel it would be appropriate to mention this, called The Great Mystery. Somewhere during the years of the Lewis Mountain School the name Roche got changed to Roach. As we go backwards it is always Roche, as we go forward it is always Roach. The Great Mystery still remains! We know Icie Marie on the school document signed her name Roche, and the seven grave stones say the same in Grandpa's family cemetery.


If you find interest in this article and ever travel the Skyline Drive, a few miles south of Big Meadows, you will pass the Bear Fence. A large crop of rocks, 50 or more feet high, above the tree tops, and a half a mile or so long on the crest of the mountain. You will be near the area of the Old Lewis Mountain School and the Roach Episcopal Mission.