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Early Days of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station

Established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1886, the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station was located on the 283 acre campus of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (VAMC) (later named Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI), and today - Virginia Tech).

Station Facilities

The barns, greenhouses, plantings, and other facilities were located on the campus. Many of these were modern facilities in their day. They were eventually torn down to make way for growth of Virginia Tech. Even today the facilities that are considered as part of the main campus are disappearing - being replaced by an airport, research park, and other growth. These will eventually disappear so that all traces of the agricultural farms near campus are gone. Oh course that doesn't mean that Virginia Tech is without the experimental farms - these are being moved to new locations with 12 different farms across the state and several near Blacksburg.

Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station - 1911

Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station in 1907. Colorized image from Newman Library Special Collections.

Federal Station (Blacksburg)

The station at Blacksburg was called the federal station because it was solely supported with federal funds starting in 1888 (with appropriations from the federal Hatch Act of 1887). Prior to this the station was supported with state funds (1886-87), but that funding was discontinued by the college once federal funds were appropriated. From 1891 to 1905 the sole funding of the station was $15,000 per year. In 1906, the Adams Act was passed and the federal government eventually added funding to a total of $15,000 additional funds by 1912. That same year the state appropriated a total of $10,000 and the State Board of Agriculture added $3,000 more. These state funds were directed to field research at the district stations with very little left for the federal station in Blacksburg. Another source of funds supporting the station were funds from the sale of produce. Started by its first vice-director, W. B. Alwood, goods were sold to generate funds to run the station in the early days.  In 1912, produce sales generated $4,864.


The buildings of this station included:

  • The Station (Horticultural Hall) - From 1888 to 1899 federal Hatch Act funds were used to build a building for the "exclusive use" of the agricultural experiment station. The building, referred to as the "Bug House" by cadets, housed the offices of the director, the botanist and entomologist, the chemist, and the chemistry laboratory. A small greenhouse was attached to the building. This building was used as originally intended until Agricultural Hall was completed in 1907.  At that time it became known as Horticultural Hall. From 1914 to 1924, the building was the home of the Agricultural Extension Division - it moved to Sandy Hall after its completion in 1923. From 1925 to 1933, it was occupied by the Home Economics staff. It was demolished in 1936 to make way for the approaches to Burruss Hall.
  • Station Administration Building (Rock (Alwood) House) - In 1891, an eight-room building was constructed for the Department of Horticulture, Entomology, and Mycology. The building housed a library, offices, two general laboratories, a seed and record room, and a student assistant's room. It was heated with steam and was supplied with gas and running water. It was a modern facility in its time. That building included the living quarters for the vice-director, W. B. Alwood, and his family until 1899. They then moved to a home on Faculty Row. The college administration took over this building at that time. On February 2, 1900, the building was gutted by fire. A safe that housed many of the administrative records fell through the floors into the basement. Records in the safe survived the fire, but everything else in the building was destroyed. The building was rebuilt in 1904 and continued to serve as an administration building (along with a second administration building) until 1936 when Burruss Hall was completed.
  • Veterinary infirmary - In 1891, a veterinary infirmary was built for chemical and experimental use. It was a two-story wooden structure. The first floor contained open stalls for horses, a dissecting room, and a "dispensing" room. The upper floor contained a thoroughly equipped bacteriological lab, a lecture room, and a veterinary museum. The building was heated with steam and was equipped with the most modern equipment for the treatment and care of diseased animals.
  • Creamery and Cheese Factory - In 1892, work began on this structure. It was completed in 1898 and it contained a modern pasteurizer.
  • Other buildings - From 1891 to 1895, a slaughterhouse, icehouse, two stables, and cottages for a horticulture foreman and farm laborers were built.
  • Barn
  • Agricultural Hall (later named Price Hall) - Agriculture Hall was built from limestone (Hokie Stone) quarried from a college owned quarry still in use today. Construction started in 1905 and was completed in 1906.  It was occupied in January, 1907. The building was presented as the most handsome and largest building on campus.  It was built with appropriations of a bond issue authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in 1898.
  • Science Hall - a brick building located to the north of the drillfield. The building was destroyed by fire.


State (District) Stations

  • Appomattox: Established by state law in 1906 as the first substation to the federal station at Blacksburg. It was located on rented land (as were most of the early stations. There was a desire not to create a perception of a permanent station at the time. This later changed as the stations changed. Initially the work here was on dark fire-cured tobacco and crops grown in rotation with tobacco. Then in 1916, variety tests were started with soybeans, cowpeas, potatoes, tobacco, and alfalfa. In 1918, wheat, oats and rye were added. In 1924, experiments were conducted fruit crops (this was on land owned by Mrs. S. L. Ferguson. The work involved renovating old orchards (spraying, pruning, and fertilizing); and testing varieties of apples, peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, and grapes. The work here targeting developing techniques that would work in the tobacco belt in the region. The work was ended in 1946 after concluding the work was of little value. The station itself was closed in 1946 and the work was moved to Charlotte Court House.
  • Arlington
  • Axton - The work here was started in 1908 and terminated in 1914. No experimental work was conducted at this site. It consisted of a series of one-acre demonstration plots of tobacco, wheat, grass, corn, and cowpeas. The best results of the work done at Chatham were shown here.
  • Bowling Green - Established in 1908 on ten acres of rented land, the station ran experiments on sun-cured tobacco in cooperation with USDA. Experimental work extended to crops in rotation with this tobacco and included tobacco, cowpeas, and clover. The station was closed in 1950.
  • Charlotte Court House -
  • Chatham - This station was started in 1906 on 10 acres of rented land. That was expanded, in 1922, to over 50 acres purchased for a cost of $6,300. Various facilities were built from 1923 to 1962. These included stables, garages, toolsheds, a tenant house, tobacco and grain barns, an office and laboratory, greenhouse, an insectary, and a research building.
  • Crozet
  • Danville
  • Fishersville
  • Holland
  • Hollins
  • Lynchburg
  • Montross
  • Orange
  • Saxe - The state board of agriculture requested that the agricultural experiment station improve this farm which consisted of 500 acres. Because of rough terrain and very diverse soil types, the farm was run as a demonstration farm. Corn with a cover crop of crimson clover; cowpeas in rotation with fall wheat; wheat with grass seeded on stubble; and hay (two years) were grown. The farm was used to demonstrate a system of farming adapted to the Piedmont region to improve fertility and and support livestock production. According to a Wikepedia article the farm was under supervision of Henry C. Marshall. Marshall was connected with the owner of nearby Annefield Plantation. The plantation was held by Robert D. Adams (b. 1834), a farmer, who conveyed it to Marshall (b. 1870) in 1910. The station was discontinued in 1912. Marshall continued as owner of Annefield until October 1942.
    • Staunton
    • Waynesboro
    • Williamsburg
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