Note: Much of the history of the Richmond Public Schools was recorded in the context of a segregated society, and the reader should readily discern between pre- and post-desegregation observations. The terms "black," "colored," "Negro," and "white" in this booklet should not be considered offensive as they have been used according to the custom of the particular period. Since 1962, the division has omitted such racial designations from its reports and publications.
Virginia Mechanics Institute
1000 East Marshall Street (Corner of Tenth & Marshall Streets)
An active movement among mechanics, journeymen, and employers resulted in the Virginia Mechanics Institute, organized in 1854. The vision of the founders was a broad educational endeavor, "to promote education in the scientific and mechanic arts and in other subjects relating to the conduct and development of business and industry."
When the Virginia Mechanics Institute was incorporated in 1856, work began with a school of design and a night school. It provided a chemical laboratory, a library, public lectures, and an annual exhibit of the best inventions or works of Virginia mechanics (female as well as male).
Virginia Mechanics Institute was a non-profit, non-stock Virginia corporation. It was exclusively an evening school, giving opportunities for technical education to boys and men who held jobs during the day or who were trying to find employment. Applicants had to be at least fifteen years old and of good moral character. During the long period of its independent existence, the institute received the liberal financial support of the City government which made it possible to maintain a schedule of very modest student fees.
The property acquired by the institute was the result of contributions and bequests by citizens interested in its work. Its first home on Ninth Street, between Main and Franklin, was destroyed during the burning of Richmond in 1865. In 1884, a small group of public-spirited citizens began the re-establishment movement, and classes were held in the Builders' Exchange. For some years after its revival, the Institute led a nomadic life.
In 1911, the will of Otway S. Allen provided for a "William C. Allen & Allaville Allen School of Technology" at the Virginia Mechanics Institute, ''to be used by the board of directors thereof for the endowment of such branch of their work as they may consider more conducive to the objects of the said institution.."
The report of a vocational survey, conducted in 1914 by the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education (in cooperation with the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Men's Club) included a recommendation that the Mechanics Institute be made a part of the city public school system for the conduct of day and night work in vocational subjects.
In 1924-25, a bequest from Major Lewis Ginter provided the means for the Institute's own home to be built on the site of the Richmond Female Institute (predecessor of Westhampton College) at Tenth & Marshall Streets.
John Marshall High School equipped a shop at the Mechanics Institute in February 1934, for the teaching of automotive essentials and maintenance; two semesters of instruction were offered for five periods per week.
In the early 1940s, despite aid from time to time from benevolent citizens and grants from the city, it became apparent that the school would not be able to continue to operate. On February 9, 1943, a deed/assignment of property of the Virginia Mechanics Institute holdings was conveyed to the Richmond School Board on the condition that the original purposes of the Institute would be preserved; the charter of the Mechanics Institute was surrendered and its corporate existence terminated. The curriculum included trades, technology, and business. At the time of his death in November 1946, Harry Lemuel Davidson was listed as "Superintendent of Virginia Mechanics Institute."
Richmond Public Schools completed plans for using the Virginia Mechanics Institute for day shop classes for the prevocational training of approximately a hundred boys. The night school program continued to operate much as it did before the school was merged; courses were offered in the departments of mechanic arts, commercial art, applied science, engineering, and business. Four John Marshall classes in industrial arts and machine shop were held at the institute; Virginia Polytechnic Institute extension classes continued there also. After John Marshall moved to its new location on Old Brook Road (1960), some students from area high schools were admitted into the Institute's day classes.
In the 1950s, certain relatives of Otway S. Allen entered a suit in an effort to break his will. They cited the dissolvement of the original Mechanics Institute, changes in trusteeship and curriculum, and the fact that the school was not named as directed in the will. The court ruled in favor of the School Board, and funds from the sale of certain securities were turned over to the School Board.
State Planters Bank (now Crestar) was appointed administrator of the Otway S. Allen Trust Fund which has been used for the "William C. Allen & Aliaville Allen School of Technology" (various vocational and business-related programs at the Mechanics Institute and the Technical Center).
Several related public school departments were housed at the Mechanics Institute until 1968, when the vocational program relocated to the new Richmond Technical Center. The Mechanics Institute Building was released to the City in 1968; it is currently used by VCU-MCV.
In July 1980, the Richmond Public Library (Business, Science & Technology section) was given custody of the old records and materials from the Virginia Mechanics Institute.
Richmond Technical Center