The Clifton Forge High School Alumni Association Keeps Its Memory Alive


CLIFTON FORGE, Va. — One local teenager is getting creative during the coronavirus pandemic by drawing cartoon characters on her driveway’s sidewalk outside her home. Her artwork has caught the attention of neighbors and strangers alike.

The Jefferson School, established in 1926 to educate African American children of Clifton Forge from 1926 until desegregation took place, contributes significantly to the Clifton Forge Residential Historic District.

The History of Clifton Forge High School

In 1876, the C&O Railroad was constructed through what would eventually become Clifton Forge. This brought with it an expansion in iron and steel industries in the region and encouraged settlement within its community. Furthermore, its presence led to schools being opened for black and white children across Boiling Spring, Covington, and Clifton Forge towns; by 1916 when state-supported education became available within Montgomery County the number of school age children had increased 50 percent and this is when state-backed education became an option and officials proposed the idea of creating one joint school system with municipal and school officials collaborating closely together.

Jackson River Vocational Center was opened four years after its inception, due to the hard work and collaboration among four key entities – Alleghany County Board of Supervisors/School Board/Clifton Forge City Council/School Board, Covington City Council/School Board -and was officially inaugurated by its Joint Board of Control established on July 15, 1971, and Clifton Forge/Covington city council/school boards/Joint Boards.

Dr. Mary Litts Burton made a significant contribution in 1989 with her doctoral dissertation presenting an in-depth analysis of events leading to and the subsequent consolidation of Clifton Forge County and Town school systems.

Clifton Forge began planning for a high school that would accommodate both black and white students in 1926, hoping to build a modern facility complete with classrooms, teacher offices, an auditorium, and a gymnasium as well as an added cafeteria not present in 1928 plans for Jefferson School.

Clifton Forge School of the Arts is supported by tuition fees, rental revenues, individual and corporate donations, grants, and scholarships. Their programs offer art instruction for people of all ages and abilities from around the greater Alleghany Highlands community as well as those living nearby and in countries beyond. Located on Church Street between two historic buildings is their nearly two-acre specimen garden – making Clifton Forge an ideal setting to support artistic education!

The Jefferson School

The Jefferson School, established in 1926 and expanded in 1952, provided primary and secondary education to African-American students living in Clifton Forge until desegregation took effect in 1965. Its property was listed in 1983 on the National Register of Historic Places; today its alumni association remains actively involved with maintaining its legacy.

The Jefferson School is situated on five and a half lots in Block 4 of Clifton Forge’s old town section, bordered by A Street to its east, Church Street to its north, B Street to its west, and an unnamed right-of-way (alley). Public sidewalks run along both these boundaries while half of its parcel serves as parking space.

Jefferson School was known to provide more than the basic three Rs; its curriculum included social activities like dramatics, music, French classes, and Home Economics/Industrial Arts courses as well as Home Economics/Industrial Arts classes. Over its many years in Clifton Forge, it provided employment for graduates including teachers, doctors, lawyers, ministers, and engineers – many graduates eventually went onto become teachers themselves!

At this time, the Jefferson School was unique among new schools built in Alleghany County: its plans did not include gym or auditorium facilities. After pressure from parents and educators at the school to add these amenities, a lower-level assembly room was eventually created.

As student enrollment at Jefferson School continued to drop, its financial support became increasingly reliant upon the Communist Party for funding. By 1953 however, legal fees and popular hostility against Communism placed undue strain on this financial support source; ultimately leading to its closure by 1956.

Building 2 was used as both a community center and apartments until, in the late 1970’s, it was transformed into an elementary school named after Thomas Jefferson (deceased president of Virginia State University) that offered classes from grades 3-8. Students graduating from this school often went on to VSU or Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) before returning home and teaching local schools.

The Mountaineer Spirit

Mountain State Spirits founder Jeff Schlosser was inspired to begin distilling fruit-based craft cordials by its bounty. After tasting holiday cocktails from Bridgeport homemaker Marge Brough, which were so good he began tinkering and tasting until he found his ideal recipe in 2017; which marked Mountain State Spirits’ first batch launch.

The Jefferson School was home to chapters of the National Honor Society and New Homemakers of America, as well as bands, choruses, cheerleaders for football and basketball teams, an active drama program, as well as an outstanding musical education program. Furthermore, The Jefferson School played an instrumental role in developing Alleghany County’s coal industry while remaining friendly rivalry between Covington High School (known for competitive sports teams like football) and Jefferson School lasted 46 years!

Clifton Forge became an important coal-shipping station with the expansion of the Virginia Central Railroad across Virginia and West Virginia during the second half of the nineteenth century, offering cost-effective transport of abundant coal resources in Western Virginia and fostering the growth of iron production in its vicinity.

Today, Clifton Forge still exudes Mountaineer spirit. Many original families reside there and live in multi-story homes built decades ago; but as its population ages, these large dwellings may no longer meet the needs of elderly residents; perhaps now is a good time for Clifton Forge to consider alternative housing solutions.

Montani Semper Liberi, in Latin, represents the Mountaineer spirit perfectly. Every June 20th in West Virginian communities across Summersville to Bluefield and Welchto Lewisburg celebrate this unique spirit of independence that runs throughout our state. On this special day, West Virginians come together from all backgrounds to show their pride for our state while honoring its history and continuing its proud traditions.

The Association

Clifton Forge, VA–All eyes are on Alleghany Highlands as the production team for the Hulu miniseries “Dopesick” began filming here this weekend. Town manager Matt Lichler expressed great excitement that local businesses and people will be included as key parts of the narrative; adding that this will put Alleghany Highlands back on the map.

The association has awarded thousands in scholarships and grants to students, teachers, townpeople, and the community since its formation. Additionally, it supports Clifton Forge Little League, Stars and Stripes Fourth of July event, Heritage Day Festivities at C & O Heritage Center, and the VA Adopt-a-Highway program among other projects; donations made are fully tax deductible! As this non-profit is registered as a 501(c)(3), your donations may qualify as tax deductions.

Students at MGCC have found unique ways to give back to their communities. This year, design/build LAB students collaborated with Sharon and Clifton Forge Little Leagues in building two baseball fields for them with press boxes and dugouts; their work was greatly appreciated both by them as well as by members of their communities.

MGCC students are giving back to the community by sponsoring a nursing scholarship named in memory of former newspaper reporter and teacher George Raab Chucker. It will be awarded annually to graduating high school seniors living in Rockbridge County who intend to enroll in MGCC’s nursing program; it was created as a tribute to both George and Edith Raab who taught there for many years.

Other scholarships at MGCC are available to students accepted into the Talent Search program as well as those planning on enrolling in its practical nursing program. These awards are made by the MGCC Educational Foundation in conjunction with the Talent Search Program Director and established by Benjamin H. Durvin’s family (longtime staff member of News-Gazette); his scholarship will go toward awarding one student from Rockbridge County who plans on attending MGCC practical nursing program.