Chapter One
(1893 – 1903)
Early Years in Virginia, Family, and Education

To set the stage for learning about John Apperson’s life and of his education, family, work experiences, and enthusiasm for outdoor recreation, we will start at his birthplace in Virginia, and document some of the known facts we have collected about his parents, siblings, and people and places John knew, as well as his education and training before leaving Virginia for Schenectady, New York – in 1900 – to seek employment at the General Electric Company. Instead of relying on John’s own letter-writing during these years, we are including letters written by his father, Dr. Apperson, mostly to John’s older brother, Hull.  John did not take much interest in letter writing as a young engineer at GE, but he did leave a record of his activities through the photographs he and his friends took for documenting their adventures in the Adirondack Park.

Index of Letters

Editor’s note – There is one more letter from Annie Hitchcock, but some of the pages seem missing, so we’ve left it out of these transcriptions. 

Notable Events

1893 – Dr. Apperson was appointed to be Virginia’s Commissioner to the Chicago World’s Fair, but John was having trouble adjusting to life in Marion with his sisters, a stepmother, Elizabeth Black Apperson, and a baby stepbrother, so he wrote his brother Hull to explain.

1894 – John enrolls as a sub freshman at Blacksburg (VPI) where his brother Hull is a graduate student studying electrical engineering

1895 – Dr. Apperson is concerned about the reports he’s been getting about John’s grades, and writes letters to his older son, Hull, to find out what is wrong.

1896 – John drops out of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (after barely two years) and finds work with the Marion and Rye Valley Railroad

1896-1898 – John works as a surveyor for the MRVRR and becomes foreman over hundreds of workers – all before his twentieth birthday; 

1899 – John and Hull’s whereabouts are unknown, but they may have spent some time in Illinois visiting relatives. Marc Hanna, a cousin, later came to work with John and Hull at GE.

1900 – both brothers move to Schenectady, NY. Hull finds a good position in the International Division, and brother John eventually gets accepted into the engineering training program. 

1901 – After getting accepted into the training program, John applied himself to the exciting challenges in engineering, as well as to the completion of correspondence courses in arithmetic. 

1902-1903 – Few documents exist to indicate John’s leisure activities, but early photographs suggest that he made hiking trips into the surrounding countryside, tried out the exotic winter sports, and made a trip to New England. One of the first letters he saved from this time period was from A. Russell Stevenson, a Congregational Pastor, who invited him over for dinner and introduced him to his wife and children. 


Dr. John Apperson (1837-1908) and his wife, Ellen Victoria Hull Apperson (1840-1887), were married in 1868, in Chilhowie, a little town in Southwest Virginia, and had seven children (Hull, Mary, Nell, Georgia, Sallie, John (Jr.) and Nancy. A self made man, Dr. Apperson had served as a hospital steward during the Civil War, and earned a medical degree from the University of Virginia, in 1867. In 1869, Alfred Hull Apperson was born, followed by six more children.  The family fell onto hard times in 1887, when Mary Apperson, the oldest daughter, fell victim of Typhoid, and then the mother, after long suffering from anemia, and worn out from the strenuous caregiving for her daughter, died, at the age of 47.  The family had been living in the new hospital building, the Southwest Virginia Lunatic Asylum, where Dr. Apperson served as a physician, but they all decided to return to Chilhowie. Within a year or so, Dr. Apperson re-married, Elizabeth Black, daughter of Dr. Harvey Black, and they set up housekeeping in Marion. Our first letter (see image) was written by young John, in 1893, at age 14, to his older brother, Hull, complaining about his stepmother. 

Charles Gordon and C. E. C. Hardy – are friends, otherwise unidentified.

Annie L. Hitchcock is the mother of two sons. One of them is working with John Apperson, at General Electric, in Schenectady.

A. Russell Stephenson is a pastor who welcomes the young engineer to join in on family activities. John takes an interest in the children and enjoys their company.  


Chilhowie, VAtown in SW Virginia (also known as Sulphur Springs, or Town House )– where Dr. and Mrs. Apperson (Victoria Hull Apperson) first lived, with their seven children.

Marion, VA – Home established by Dr. Apperson and his second wife, Lizzie Black Apperson, in 1889.  (Also location of the Southwest Virginia Lunatic Asylum)

Blacksburg, VA – Town in SW Virginia where the land-grant college Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI – now known as Virginia Tech) is located.

Schenectady, NY Fast growing city in New York State; home of the General Electric Company, where Hull and John Apperson both found employment, in 1900. 

Lake George, NY – a large lake (about 30 miles long), north east of Schenectady, and a popular tourist attraction. 


Letter from John to his older brother Hull, March 1, 1893 (see file)

Trip to New England – beached whale; John on rigging of sailing ship

Photo of John Apperson taken by his friend and colleague from Japan – Tsukomoto

Photo of Tsukomoto, taken by John Apperson (c. 1904)

Photo (apparently same camera) – Sister, Nancy Apperson