920 Grove Street - John L. Berkeley School

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John L. Berkeley School stood at 920 Grove Street but has been demolished. Its Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates were N 36 degrees 35.040’, W 079 degrees 24.014’, Elevation 544’

John Lewis Berkeley (about 1843– January 19, 1925) was an educator who was associated with Danville schools for 39 years, 32 of which were as principal of various schools.

This future educator, only age 17 in 1860, was living at Negro Foot Post Office in Hanover County, Virginia, the oldest of nine children of Landon Carter Berkeley, a farmer, and Sarah A. Campbell Berkeley (June 24, 1820–November 21, 1885) born at “Kirnon” in Westmoreland County. His father, Landon Carter Berkeley, born in Hanover County, Virginia, in November 1818, represented the counties of Westmoreland and Richmond in the Virginia Legislature for some years and served as Lieutenant in the 15th Virginia Infantry, C. S. A. The family may have had a connection with Robert “King” Carter (1663–1732), a colonial official and great land holder of 300,000 acres.

During the Civil War, John L. Berkeley enlisted as a private in the Hanover Light Artillery on March 10, 1862, was wounded in the battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864, with a gunshot wound in the right hip, transferred to Kirkpatrick’s company and was paroled in Ashland on April 23, 1865.

By the time of the 1870 census, John, back at home with his parents at Hewlett in Hanover County, was teaching school as was his younger brother Landon Carter Berkeley, Jr., who taught in the Episcopal High School near Alexandria, Virginia. His younger brother taught for four years before studying law privately and in the summer law school of the University of Virginia in 1874. In 1876 Landon, Jr. opened a law practice in Danville; and soon thereafter, John began teaching in the Danville Public School on Loyal Street, near where the present Galileo School is located.

Danville High School at that time consisted of three classrooms in the Danville School. By the time of the 1880 census, Landon, 30, a lawyer, and John, 35, a school teacher, both unmarried, were living together on Main Street.

After about six years as a teacher in the public schools, John L. Berkeley became a school principal for 32 years in various schools until he retired in 1920 as principal of Rison Park School on Holbrook Avenue, which eventually became Danville High School, then George Washington High School, then Robert E. Lee Junior High School before being abandoned and demolished. The site today is Sutherlin Place. In 1916 a school was erected on Grove Street which served as a high school for a number of years before becoming an elementary school. After John L. Berkeley’s retirement, this school was named John L. Berkeley School in his honor. At his retirement, Berkeley was presented a silver loving cup by his teachers inscribed: “A Tribute of Love to Professor John L. Berkeley from His Teachers 1888–1920.”

John married about 1895, and by the time of the 1910 census, he and his wife, Frances B., had two sons, Heath B., 12, and Carter N., 10. Heath eventually moved to Louisburg, N. C., and Carter became a physician living in Richmond, Virginia. Landon, Jr. established a home at 150 Holbrook Avenue where he remained. John moved numerous times within the city, living at 172 Main Street, 749 Main Street, 879 Pine Street, and 808 Paxton Avenue and finally as a boarder at 375 Green Street. Landon, Jr. practiced law in the firm of Berkeley and Harrison with offices at 403 Main Street and later at 509 Main Street.

Well known and respected in the city, John L. Berkeley, after his retirement, moved to Richmond where he lived at 2042 West Grace Street until his death five years later. His funeral was held at St. James Episcopal Church with burial in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Although John L. Berkeley School has been demolished and there are no streets in Danville named for John L. Berkeley, the memory of the school is still vivid with the students who attended and with neighbors of the school on Grove Street. Particularly fond memories are those of the playground down the hill behind the school and the spiral metal sliding fire escape from the second story music room window on the rear of the school. Students still remember going down the escape during fire drills. Neighborhood children still remember sliding down the escape in fun on old blankets or tarps to prevent soiling their clothes, which would cause scolding from their parents.