Plank Road Academy | Gilliams of Virginia

Plank Road Academy
Virginia Historical Inventory

Updated March 18, 2020

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John Branch Gilliam born 5 Aug 1831 was the son of Capt. John Johns Gilliam and Caroline Matilda Branch, his wife. John Branch Gilliam, often known as Branch Gilliam, married on 3 Jan 1854 Judith Leake Spencer, the daughter of Moses A. Spencer and Ann H. Bradley, his wife. After Judith’s death in 1863, John Branch Gilliam married Ann Walton Steger, on 13 Nov 1866, the daughter of Albert Gallatin Steger, Sr., and Phoebe Ann Isbell, his wife.

In 1850, John is listed as John D., age 19, Teacher. In 1860 he, age 28, is found in Fairground District of Rockingham, Richmond County, NC as a Professor of High School. The following reports lists the school as operating from 1850 until 1865, however, it appears that by 1856, John is teaching high school in North Carolina. This is supported by the 1860 Census and the fact that later Census records lists several of John’s children as being born in North Carolina during this period. It appears that John has returned to Buckingham by 1861 (the birth of son Ayers Spencer Gilliam). In November 1866 John marries former teaching assistant, Nannie Steger.

It appears that by the 1870 Census, the school was closed for John’s occupation is listed as Farmer; in 1880 and 1900 he is listed as an Attorney at Law. After the Courthouse fire John Branch Gilliam copies over many of the early Buckingham Land Surveys.

Site of Plank Road Academy, Survey Report
5 Aug 1937
Elizabeth McCraw

Site of Plank Road Academy

1.2 miles north of Andersonville, VA, on route #638, site on east side of road in a grove of trees

About 1850

Mr. Branch Gilliam, about 1850, and until the school was closed about 1865.

This one room school building was heated by a large fire place. The benches were of slab plank. There were several crude hand made tables in the room, and four small windows, to on each side. A platform was in the front of the room, on which were the teacher’s chair, table, etc., and from which the pupils “proclaimed” on Friday and where the spelling matches were held. There was an “Arbor” where Mr. Gilliam taught the boys. This arbor, as described by one of the former pupils, now eighty-seven years of age, was built of forked poles and the top covered over with brush. The pupils played in the arbor on rainy days, during recess.

Mr. Branch Gilliam of “Beulah” conducted the school and had the reputation of being an excellent teacher and disciplinarian of his day. He always had an assistant teacher, usually a woman for the girls. A former pupil in relating instances of the old school said she was thirteen when she attended Plank Road Academy; that the classes pursued were: Grammar, Arithmetic, Dictionary and Philosophy. She had a page in the dictionary for a lesson each day and on Friday has to “spell over” the entire week’s work.

Another former pupil gave the following incident of her school days at the Plank Road Academy. She said in part that she and a number of the other girls were riding saplings in the woods on May 9, 1865. Among them Mamie Gilliam, Ida Holman, Puss Guill and herself, when she heard the negroes around the neighborhood making a lot of fuss, and saw them running back and forth near her home. Then she saw one negro man from her home go down the road toward the Courthouse on her father’s riding horse. She went home, when school was dismissed, and found the family doctor there. She heard him ask one of the negro women “Where is your mammy?” The woman replied, “She dead, but she free, too.”

The school had the reputation of being quite a “courting School.” A number of the pupils were in after years married. Among them: Inez Anderson and Richard Morgan; Mary Lou Holman ad Wiley Jones; Betty Gilliam and Emmett McCraw; Miss Nannie Steger, assistant teachers and Mr. Branch Gilliam, the principal. All these from Plank Road Academy, established homes and helped rebuild their county, which was impoverished by four years of war and gave to that county men and women; who are today forwarding agriculture, commerce and education, which make for peace and not war.


Informants: Mrs. Inez Morgan, Andersonville, VA, former pupil of the school.
Mrs. Carrie Saunders, Dillwyn, VA, a former pupil of the school.

  • Library of Virginia. Plank Road Academy. Virginia Historical Inventory