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William Couper papers

Identifier: MS-0053
This collection documents a portion of the life and career of William Couper, a man notable for his research and publications about the history of VMI, Lexington, Rockbridge County, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia history and genealogy, Stonewall Jackson, and Claudius Crozet.

A significant portion of the papers consist of publication manuscripts, notes, and other material related to Couper's major historical research projects (many of which were published). These include the following:
  • One Hundred Years at VMI, a four volume comprehensive history of the Institute from it's founding in 1839 through 1939
  • The VMI New Market Cadets, which contains biographical information about the VMI cadets and staff who fought in the Civil War battle on May 15, 1864
  • Claudius Crozet,a biography of the notable 19th century Virginia Civil Engineer
  • History of the Shenandoah Valley
  • Stonewall Jackson Day by Day, a chronological account including events, anecdotes, clippings, transcribed correspondence, notes, and maps.
Couper's passion for the history of Lexington and Rockbridge County is evident in the substantial amount of local history research material found in his papers. Included are notes on a wide range of local history topics, as well as extensive research material (notes and maps) concerning the history of many local properties and the Lexington cemetery.

The papers also include material concerning the construction of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Couper's speeches and addresses, maps, scrapbooks, photograph albums, and correspondence.


  • 1901-1964


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in the VMI Archives Collections are made available for educational and research use and may be used for non-commercial purposes with appropriate attribution. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of copyright. Materials from our collections may not be redistributed, published or reproduced without permission. Contact the VMI Archives for additional information about the use of our collections.


18 cubic feet (Thirty-six manuscript boxes. In addition, large items are stored in oversized cases.)

Biographical / Historical

Born November 16 at "Oakland" in Norfolk, Virginia.
Graduated from the Norfolk Academy and entered the Third Class at VMI.
Graduated from VMI with distinction (engineering course).
Received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering (railroad option) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Worked with the Pennsylvania Railroad in New York City on construction, operating, and harbor work. Couper played a major role in the construction of the railroad tunnels and terminals for New York City.
Published History of the Engineering, Construction and Equipment of the Pennsylvania Railroad New York Tunnels and Terminals.
1917 June
Commissioned as a major in the United States Army Quartermaster Corps and assigned as a Construction Officer at Camp Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina.
1918 March
Promoted to lieutenant colonel, in charge of building of the camp that became Fort Jackson.
Completed Army service in March, and then prepared a plan of development for the future of VMI, which was adopted by the VMI Board of Visitors in June.
Assistant General Manager of the Associated General Contractors of America
Employed jointly by the Texas Company and the Southern Acid and Sulphur Company as an engineer to develop sulfur properties in Brazoria County, Texas.
Appointed Business Executive in charge of the business activities at the Veterans' Bureau Station at Perry Point, Maryland.
Appointed Business Executive at VMI.
Secretary and Treasurer of the VMI Alumni Association
Published the book titled The VMI New Market Cadets.
Appointed VMI Historiographer.
President of the Association of Military Colleges and Universities in the United States
Secretary and Treasurer of the Southern Conference (Athletics)
Published the book titled Claudius Crozet.
Published the book One Hundred Years at VMI and The Register of Former Cadets.
Vice President and President of the Southern Conference
Published the book titled A History of the Shenandoah Valley.
Retired from positions at VMI.
Died February 15 at his home in Lexington, Virginia. He is buried in Norfolk, Virginia.
William Couper spent the majority of his professional life devoted to VMI and to the study of VMI, Lexington and Rockbridge County, and Virginia history. His terms as VMI's Business Executive and Historiographer encompassed thirty years, but before, during and subsequent to that period he served in many other official and unofficial capacities. He was a noted authority on local and regional history, and on the life and times of General Stonewall Jackson. At VMI, in addition to his official duties, he was responsible for the initial organization and preservation of the Institute's rich historical holdings, including it's unique collection of alumni biographical and genealogical materials.

Physical Location

Manuscripts Stacks; Oversized case 9; Oversized stacks range (manuscripts)

Related Materials at VMI

Researchers should note that, because Couper served in several different positions at VMI, many of his professional papers are located in various record groups in the VMI Archives. These include records of the Business Office, Alumni Association, and various administrative subject files (e.g. Southern Conference).
Related Manuscript Collections in other Repositories

The Virginia Historical Society (Richmond, Virginia) holds additional William Couper and Couper Family papers.

Items on Loan

In 1974, at the request of the Fort Jackson Museum, South Carolina, selected Couper's papers relating to the construction of Fort Jackson were placed on indefinite loan to the Museum.

Repository Details

Part of the Virginia Military Institute Archives Repository

VMI Archives
Preston Library
Lexington VA 24450