Rockhaven History

The Saunders House and Its Storer College Connection

Coming in October 2022! The first published biography of our home’s original owner! Watch for news on how to order your copy.

Read an updated version of this history on our blog.

The original owner of this house was William Allen Saunders, who was born near the historic town of Louisa Court House, Virginia, on January 15, 1870, to Hezekiah and Louisa (Thompson) Saunders. He did his college preparatory work at Storer College. He then earned a bachelors degree from Bates College.

Saunders was on the football and track teams at Bates College and became the star of the big rival game with Bowdoin during his senior year. Read about it on the Bates news site here. It’s a great story!

William’s graduating glass of 1895. William is the tall gentleman standing in the center back, we think.  (From the Storer College Digital Collection at WVU’s West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

In 1907 he returned to Storer College as a faculty member and officially retired in 1944, although he continued to carry the emeritus faculty title and occasionally teach until 1951. He taught Science, Mathematics, Latin, Civics, and Religious Studies courses at various times during his tenure. Prof. Saunders married Inez Marie Johnson in 1914 after a 10-year engagement. She was also a teacher and a Storer College alumna (1908). They met in southern West Virginia while William was teaching at the school then known as Bluefield Colored Institute.

William is second from the right in this 1908 photo. (From the Storer College Digital Collection at WVU’s West Virginia and Regional History Center.)

William and Inez purchased the double lot on Fillmore Street in 1916. The two-and-a-half-story stone foursquare we now call Rockhaven was constructed by German stonemasons in 1927.

Saunders memorial bust

Inez passed away in 1937 at age 49. She is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery.  We found a bust of George Washington over in the Storer Museum Room at the NPS Mather Training Center with a plaque that reads:

In Memoriam
Mrs. Inez Saunders
The Class of 1908
Gift of
Prof. Wm. A. Saunders

The couple had no children. Prof. Saunders had to move out of the house as his health began to fail around 1960. He went to live with his grandniece, Elsie Saunders Dodson, who lived in Laurel, DE. She facilitated the sale of his home in 1962, deeding it to Carrie Dennis, a neighbor and local educator. Prof. Saunders died on June 27, 1963. His remains were returned to Harpers Ferry, and he was buried beside his beloved Inez.

Reserve your visit to Rockhaven B&B.

The following information about Saunders comes from the History of the American Negro (West Virginia Edition, 1923), which is archived by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History ):

Young Saunders laid the foundation of his education in the public school, passing to Storer College, where he did his college preparatory work. When ready for college, he went North and matriculated at Bates College, Lewiston, Me. Speaking of his struggles there, he said, “As I had but $25.00 when I reached Bates College, it was necessary for me to get all the work I could. So I would do house cleaning or any little thing that would bring me some little money. In the summer, I worked by the day, getting from a dollar to a dollar and a half per day, and in this way was nearly able to meet my expenses.” He was graduated with the class of 1899, with the degree of A.B.

He began teaching in Mercer County, W. Va., in a one room school which he taught for three months, then resigned to take the principalship of the school of Hagerstown, Md., completing there the unexpired term of another teacher. The following year, he went to Bluefield, W. Va., as principal of the colored school there. At the end of that time he was appointed teacher in the Bluefield Colored Institute a State school. He taught in the Institute for five years. The school year 1906-07 was spent in the public schools of McDowell County. In 1907 he was called back to Storer College, this time as a teacher and has been identified with that institution for fourteen years. While in college he was active in college athletics, playing mostly football and tennis. On September 10, 1914, Prof. Saunders married Miss Inez Marie Johnson, daughter of Jacob and Mattie Johnson, of Institute, W. Va. Mrs. Saunders was educated at Bluefield and Storer and is herself an accomplished teacher.

In politics Prof. Saunders is a Republican. He belongs to the Baptist Church, in which he is a deacon and a trustee, and among the benevolent orders, is identified with the True Reformers. His favorite reading consists of History, Science and Literature.

He knows of no short cuts to progress for the race or for the individual. He says, “The best interests of the race may be promoted by teaching the use of every opportunity for betterment and above all the saving and wise investment of money.”

We are always interested in learning more about William and Inez. If you have information about either of them, please contact us!

Storer College (1867-1955) has an amazing and inspiring story.  Learn more from the National Park Service about the school, one of the earliest institutions open without regard for race or gender.

View of Storer College’s Anthony Hall from Bolivar Heights