Historic New London Academy
Bedford County, Virginia
New London, prior to the Revolutionary War was a town of considerable importance and for many years continued to be the foremost trading center in frontier Virginia. Here in the old courthouse, Patrick Henry made the second most famous of his speeches. On surrounding plantations lived people of local and national prominence. Nearby, Thomas Jefferson maintained his beautiful mountain retreat, Poplar Forest.
Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the education of the masses of the people inspired concerned citizens of this area to request from the General Assembly of Virginia a charter “to incorporate trustees to an academy in the vicinity of New London.” On December 1, 1795, the Virginia General Assembly approved this bill and appointed prominent Bedford County men as trustees. Thus, New London Academy, named for the historic little village had its beginning.
James (Jemmy) Steptoe, a former classmate and close friend of Thomas Jefferson, was one of the first trustees. Jefferson’s interest in New London Academy was so great that he kept in close contact through the years. The school was organized to bring an educational opportunity within the reach of all the people. Young men came from many sections of Virginia and other states to attend school here.
In 1837, the original square frame building was replaced with a brick structure. This building, still standing today, originally had a front porch with square white columns. There was a large entrance hall and stairway. Classrooms were on the lower floor and the four upper rooms were used by boarding students. The school operated continuously throughout the Civil War despite difficulties.
In 1879, New London Academy became co-educational when the granddaughter of an early age trustee attended as a special student.
In 1887, the Virginia Legislature authorized the leasing of the Academy property to the Counties of Bedford and Campbell for a free public high school. This act set up a board of managers under the board of trustees who retained ownership and final authority. Gradually, the board of managers became the governing authority of the school.
New London Academy is unique in Virginia today. Its status and continuous operation since 1795 is of significant importance. Some of the most prominent men of our country have been associated with this institution as students, instructors or trustees.
New London Academy still carries on operating as a unit of Bedford County Public Schools of Virginia serving students in grades Pre-K through 5.