Had it not been for James McMillan Lee, Lewisburg would probably not be the home of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. Major J. M. Lee, 41, came to Lewisburg in 1896 to start a private school he named the Lee Military Academy. An 1878 graduate of the State University of West Virginia (WVU) and professor there, Lee was a prominent educator by the time he reached Lewisburg. He had been the principal of Linsly Institute at Wheeling and Superintendent of Huntington schools.
Lee procured four acres of land that was part of the old Greenbrier Agricultural Society fairgrounds along what is now Lee Street. The Greenbrier Independent described the site as “located in a fine grove of stately oaks” and situated in the “eastern suburbs of our town.” Lee immediately dispatched William L. Wetzel, a contractor, to begin constructing a school house. Annual tuition at the school was set at $50 and $30 according to grade. Board, including lodging and fuel, could be had for $10-15 a month.
Evidently, classes began in the town hall but the students moved into the new building in October 1896. The building was described by The Greenbrier Independent as “the best constructed house put up in our town in years, with four elegant school rooms which are as handsome as we ever saw in a college building.” That fall the school fielded a football team, and in what may have been their first game, Lee Military Academy defeated Allegheny Collegiate Institute cadets in Alderson 58 to 0. The Greenbrier Independent noted, “The Alderson boys played pluckily, but were lacking in size and weight and were therefore at great disadvantage.”
Lee Academy was short-lived, and the school was taken over by the Greenbrier Presbytery and renamed the Greenbrier Presbyterial Military School. This school evolved into Greenbrier Military School that closed in 1972, and its facilities were absorbed by the Greenbrier College of Osteopathic Medicine, the forerunner of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Shown in the above 1884 photo is Commandant Major James M. Lee (far right standing) of the WVU cadets. The Lee Military Academy advertisement is the first one placed for the school in The Greenbrier Independent.
Photo: Courtesy of the West Virginia University Regional History Center.
Sources: The Greenbrier Independent, The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, The Pittsburgh Post, The Journal of The Greenbrier Historical Society (2011).