The Staunton Military Academy Project was born in 2007 after I received a copy of the 1906 SMA Yearbook that I had purchased on Ebay. For many years, I had collected memorabilia of SMA. Some of it came from my own time at the Academy (1966-1970) and some from items I picked up at the auction of the school fixtures and furnishings in July 1976. Other items I picked up in second hand stores in Staunton during visits. Most of these items were postcards and the occasional catalog, though I did pick up a desk from the study hall that I refinished and still use as a side desk extension that has become more of a cat bed than a working space.
When Ebay came along, the availability of SMA memorabilia grew and new items presented themselves to me daily. I concentrated on catalogs and yearbooks with the occasional sticker or mug making its way into my purchased items folder. The 1906 yearbook came up for sale in mid-2007.
As I leafed though it the first night after receiving it, I came upon an article about Capt. William H. Kable, the founder of SMA. (To see the article, click here. Note: To view the article, you need Adobe Reader. To download Adobe Reader, click here.)
What struck me about this article was that it told a different story of the founding of SMA than the one that I had seen so many times in the past in the catalogs. I put a lot of stock in this article since Capt. Kable was alive at the time and he was undoubtedly interviewed for it. It was at that time that I decided to undertake a project of document the true history of SMA.
After making the decision to undertake this project, the methodology to use in gathering the information was laid out. One early decision in the project was to include only information that could be corroborated and verified. While interviews with descendants of Captain Kable, alumni, former SMA staff & faculty were used to point the project towards research areas, if an item relayed to me could not be verified, it was not included. One other thing that was decided early on in the project was that the project would not be the history of Captain Kable or the Kable family. The project would only include them as far as their relationship to SMA. Later in the research, that clarification was expanded to include the Russell family, the Leoffler family, and the Allen family.
The article about Captain Kable was used as the basis document for the research. (To read the article, click here). The research started by obtaining microfilm newspapers through the inter-library loan program from the Charlestown, WV area for the 1872–1884 period. In the pages of these newspapers, advertisements and articles verified the Charlestown story in the yearbook article. Next, the newspapers from the Staunton area for the 1880’s were obtained. Again, advertisements and articles verified the story in the yearbook.
With confidence that the facts in the 1906 yearbook article were true, the research was planned out to go beyond proving the article’s validity and getting into the true story of Captain Kable and the founding of the academy. This necessitated trips to Staunton and to Charlestown, WV. In all, 4 trips were made to these cities in 2008 and early 2009. There was also a trip to Harrisonburg to spend a day going through the Bankruptcy records in the Federal Courthouse.
Many pages of local and Federal Courthouse documents later, it seemed that enough data had been compiled to produce the true history. As the words flowed onto the computer screen, holes in the research raised their ugly heads. Another trip to the courthouses and libraries of Virginia filled those holes. This work completed in early 2010. The results of the history project were presented to the 2010 reunion and published on the SMAAA website.
In late 2010, the scope of the project was expanded to include digitizing the yearbooks, catalogs, panoramas, ads, and postcards of the Academy. This work completed in 2012 and some of these items were made available on the SMAAA website. In mid 2014, the www.smahistory.com URL was obtained by the project and a separate website containing the history and all of the scanned material was created to allow the efficient handling of the growing databases. In early 2015, the cadet literary magazines were added to the website. Recently, the project was expanded again to digitize the 82 years of cadet newspapers into searchable PDF format and make them available on the web. This part of the Project was completed in July 2015.
The last two chapters of the history, Chapter 11 (The Corps) & Chapter 13 (The Faculty and Staff) were completed in August of 2015 and uploaded to the website on September 6th, 2015. With these chapters uploaded, the SMA History Project is considered complete. Updates to the website will be made as additional archives become available.
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Gregory P Robertson