Mrs. S. J. Neil came to Amelia County, Virginia in 1865 while searching for her lost husband, a Union Army officer who died in battle there just prior to the end of the Civil War. Although Mrs. Neil never found her husband’s body, she recognized a need for ministry and teaching among freed slaves in Amelia County and remained there to address this need. She began to instruct African Americans outside under "a venerable oak tree with spreading branches," later moving into an old blacksmith shop for three years, and finally into a log-church named 'Big Oak.' As an outgrowth of her classes she helped form six African-American churches: Russell Grove, Albright, Big Oak, Allen Memorial, Mount Herman and Oak Grove Presbyterian.
Around 1869, Mrs. Neil founded Russell Grove Presbyterian Church near Amelia Court House. A school known as the Freedom Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church grew out of Russell Grove Church, yet due to lack of available land in this area the school moved to a brick structure in Burkeville, Nottoway County, and became Ingleside Seminary. While in 1894 Ingleside was recognized as an accredited Teacher Training Institute, preparing young black women to teach at new African-American schools throughout Southside Virginia, Amelia County remained without a secondary education facility for African Americans. The Amelia County Training School at Chula opened during the 1920s, but this school served only grades one through nine and operated for just a few years.
In 1933, Russell Grove High School opened in the chapel at Russell Grove Presbyterian Church. Susie Shepperson, who had held a position at Virginia State College for Negroes (now Virginia State University), came to manage the school and was its sole teacher for the first year. During Russell Grove School’s first two years, four acres of land were purchased in order to construct a school building, while teachers, the County-Wide League, and others jointly raised over $2,500 for the new school. The School Board led construction of a brick building with four classrooms, an auditorium, a library, and an office, as well as a frame building that served as a workshop. In 1937, Russell Grove High School’s fourth year, ten boys and sixteen girls formed the school’s first graduating class.
In following years the combined efforts of the NAACP and the PTA facilitated many improvements at Russell Grove. During the 1940s, Darius Harris, county agent and president of the PTA at the time, led the school board and the PTA to split the cost of twelve additional acres of land. In 1950, the Amelia County School Board constructed a modern addition with three large classrooms, a science laboratory, a teachers’ lounge, a library, a hallway with lockers, and lavatories. The school now had 14 faculty members and 227 students. The curriculum was expanded throughout the 1950s and student activities increased as well. The school continued to serve as Amelia County’s only black high school until integration in 1969, at which point it became Amelia County Elementary, housing county students of all races in grades one through seven and totaling 1150 students in its integrated classes.
After its use as an elementary school, Russell Grove became a storage space for nearly twenty years and was nearly demolished in the late 1980s. However, in 2001 the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development awarded $900,000 to Amelia County for the Russell Grove Community Project, facilitating adaptive reuse of the Russell Grove School. Today the building serves as a senior center and office space for the Amelia County School System. The building also houses a small museum honoring the history of Russell Grove School.
Geographical and Contact Information
8500 Otterburn Road (Virginia Route 614) 0.1 miles south of Leidig Street, on the left when traveling south.