The Blackstone Female Institute was established by the Farmville District of the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and received its charter from the State Legislature on February 15, 1892. The Institute began with six acres of land that was donated by the Blackstone Land Company. The first session of the school was in 1894 with six teachers, twenty-nine boarders and 42 day students. The cost of the building and furnishings at the opening of the school in 1894 was $25,000.
The Rev. James Cannon, Jr., pastor of the Farmville Methodist Episcopal Church, South, (who later was named a bishop) was the first principal. Rev. Cannon was later named the first president of the school. George P. Adams, a merchant from Blackstone, was a full-time employee of the school, and was in charge of buildings and grounds. He also served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Board of Managers, Mr. Adams was an official of the school from its founding through its final semester in 1950.
At the beginning of the school, the five year course covered the equivalent of the 8th grade and 4 years of high school. In addition to standard academic courses, the curriculum included 3 years of Bible studies, 2 years of educational psychology and 1 year of moral philosophy.
Enrollment peaked at nearly 500 before a fire in 1920 devastated the campus. While the structure was under construction the winge build in 1908 was also destroyed by fire. Because of the fires, the leaders of the Blackstone College for Girls were determined that the replacement building would be immune from fire. The date the buildings they had constructed out of concrete with little woodwork stand strong in good condition. The auditorium and gymnasium were added in 1926.
n 1933, part of the dining room was closed off to construct the present indoor swimming pool for the students. Today the pool is used by our many guests and the surrounding community.
In June, 1943, the college suspended operation for the duration of WWII. The school was converted into the Blackstone College Apartments for use by servicemen and their families. Classes resumed in 1945, but after several successful years, a dwindling enrollment and the reactivation of Camp Pickett for the Korean War forced the college to close in 1950.
The Farmville District who oversaw the property asked the Virginia Conference to take over the property in the 1950s.
In November, 1955, the Virginia Methodist Assembly Center was designated and dedicated to the glory of God and the enrichment of human experience. The land was deeded to the Virginia United Methodist Church in 1968 after reactivation efforts for the college failed. The college officials and alumnae considered the use by the Methodist Church a temporary arrangement and were sadden by the failed efforts to reopen as Blackstone College for Girls. The Center now encompasses 86 acres in both Blackstone and Nottoway County.
The Board of Directors, under the leadership of Dr. Roland P. Riddick (brother of the last college president-john D. Riccick), recognized the need for major capital improvements to the Assembly Center. A Master Plan was developed after considerable consultation from various conference agencies. That long-range plan included additional facilities. The first phase of the capital improvement plan was to restore and renovate the existing structure. A Conference sponsored funding campaign brought pledges and cash of $1,159,475.00.
The renovation took place in 1977 and included new administrative offices, Reading Room, Chapel, Alumnae Room, elevator, and cushioned seats in the ground floor Auditorium. On the first floor, four bedrooms behind the Carroll Room, two restrooms and the kitchenette adjacent to the main lobby, the Bishop’s Suite, Cabinet Room, offices for weekly program directors, two parlors, and ten meeting rooms in addition to the Virginia Room and Carroll room were added. The second and third floors received renovated bedrooms with private or semi-private baths. The United Methodist Women of the Virginia Conference hand-made draperies for all classrooms and bedrooms.
The renovated Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center was reopened in November, 1977. Those individuals who had the vision, perseverance, and skills to guide the renovation were honored with the unveiling of a bronze plaque. Dr. Roland Riddick was honored due to his outstanding leadership to the Assembly Center from its beginning. In addition to Riddick two other leaders identified on this plaque are: Bishop W. Kenneth Goodson, who pursued the potential of the Assembly Center and made major contributions of counsel, guidance, and inspiration; and Mr. Ray Reid, the Chairman of the Building Committee that had accomplished such a tremendous task.
Since the major renovation of 1977, a steady program of facility improvement has been followed. It has included many additions in the gardens, shrubs, and the landscaping of grounds. The Gregory Memorial Garden with its large cross was placed at the front of the building and now includes more than 130 rose bushes. The Winebarger Memorial Garden with fountain and benches is located in the back court yard.
In 1981, the long-standing history of service by the Blackstone College for Girls and the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center was cemented even closer with the symbolic placement of a bronze plaque at the front guest entrance the the Blackstone College for Girls Alumnae Association. The Alumnae Association remains active by awarding thousands of dollars in college scholarships to outstanding scholars throughout the country. The alumnae maintains the college’s records and archives in the recently renovated parlor and reading room set aside for that purpose.
From 1982 to 1984, a new electronic fire detection system, classrooms and auditorium were air conditioned, and the fire escape from the gymnasium and running track were added.
In 1987, major support the the United Methodist Women and many others led to the purchase of the new modular, motel-like wing designated the Goodson Lodge. The Goodson Lodge was first occupied in November 1988, bringing total sleeping capacity to 404.
n July 1990, the second and third floor bedrooms were air-conditioned for the additional comfort of visitors of the Assembly Center.
In the lates 1990s the Gables, the former presdient’s house, was renovated. Many alumnae and other individuals oversaw the project and donated funds to the project. In 1999 the Gables was re-opened and is the setting for meetings, wedding receptions, birthday parties, anniversary parties and personal retreats.
Youth, adults, senior citizens and those with handicapping conditions participate in programs hosted by the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center. All enjoy the charm, service, and hospitality of a staff that is dedicated to providing the most comfortable accommodations that are possible. The current Board of Directors that operates the Assembly Center on behalf of the Trustees of the Virginia Conference is dedicated to further improvement of current facilities as well as an expansion in capacity and program. The future holds the same promise of the original Blackstone College for Girls. VUMAC is to be the location with an environment for growth in knowledge, commitment to excellence, improved relationships with mankind, and greater faith in God.
Many of the improvements to the facilities that have served the Blackstone Female Institute, The Blackstone College for Girls, and the Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center have been possible only because of the financial support by many individuals, boards, agencies, and committees of the church. Further development will require that same continued support of the VUMAC Endowment Fund or with designated gifts. Anyone interest in assisting the Assembly Center’s Board of Directors and staff with additional improvements for the comfort of guests may contact VUMAC 434-292-5308.