The legacy of Winchester`s John Handley

20070918Handley.jpgIs there a soul in Winchester who is not touched by the legacy of John Handley? Handley High, built in 1923, is the pride of the Winchester City School System. Handley Library, completed in 1913, is the architectural gem and cultural cornerstone of downtown Winchester. Those structures bearing Handley's name are always in the forefront of our hearts and minds, but his legacy extends well beyond the obvious.   

John Handley was born in County Wexford in the southeastern corner of Ireland on Jan. 27, 1835. Handley became a naturalized American citizen in 1856, in Rochester, N.Y. In 1860, Handley passed the bar exam in Washington, D.C., and later that year moved to Scranton, Pa. Within a few years, he had a thriving practice and had amassed many profitable investments in real estate.

Though Handley never resided in Winchester he fell in love with the area. He purchased land in the area in 1873, and started the Equity Improvement Company here in 1889. Upon his death in 1895, he bequeathed to the City of Winchester $250,000 for the building of a library, and the remainder of his estate (about $1.2 million) for the construction of free schools for the poor children of the city.


20070918Handleytomb.jpgIn addition to the structures in the city that bear his name, funds from the Handley Trust were used to build the Douglas(s) School (1927), the first school in the city built for the education of the city's African American children.

The Handley Trust continues to this day through multiple projects funded by his legacy, including:

  • The Handley Trust Visiting Scholar/Artist Program helps sponsor school visits by well-known lecturers, artists, and scholars who enhance classroom learning. Students have had an opportunity to explore a Civil War battlefield with a nationally recognized historian, write poetry under the guidance of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and participate in workshops with internationally recognized environmental scientists.
  • Through the Handley Trust Professional Development Grant Program, teachers and other staff members are supported in their pursuit of professional development activities. Following an extensive application and interview procedure, participants design their own programs of study. They might undertake a research project, attend a seminar, study abroad, or arrange for an internship or mentorship experience.
  • The Handley Trust Starter Grant Program provides individual classroom teachers, teacher teams, or departments with financial support in initiating projects targeted at enhancing students' learning within the classroom or school. Examples of projects funded have included an ongoing classroom Science Demonstration Station, a Language Arts Extension Reader's Workshop, a project which provides hands-on experience in integrating CD ROM use into the music education curriculum, and an international environmental science and education program.
  • The Handley Trust Extended Learnings Program provides enriched learning experiences for students, primarily in the elementary schools outside of the regular school day. Opportunities in academic learning areas such as foreign languages, mathematics, science, technology, language arts, and social studies, as well as fine arts enrichment, are offered for students who are highly motivated to pursue each additional instruction. The use of this community's personnel and cultural resources, in concert with those within the Winchester Public schools, is emphasized in these extended, in-depth learning experienced.


John Handley lived the American dream, arriving from another country penniless, to find fortune through his own hard work. His gift to this community is a fitting reminder of what we are all capable given the opportunity.

To learn more about the history of education, and the history of Winchester in general, we invite you to read Winchester, by local author Kathryn Parker. The book is lovingly crafted and illustrated with a myriad of historic photographs of the city.

 Photos used with permission from Winchester, by Kathryn Parker available from the publisher at www.arcadiapublishing.com. Used by permission, copyright © 2007 by Shenandoah Insights.
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