In 1938, not long after Richard King Mellon and Constance Prosser married, they chose Ligonier to be their year-round home. While Richard King Mellon worked to convene political and industrial leaders to initiate the Pittsburgh Renaissance, Constance Prosser Mellon devoted her time to community building closer to home. Ligonier was well-known as a tourist destination accessible by locomotive train, but Mrs. Mellon knew that if the region were to become a place for families to settle, certain institutions were imperative: schools, churches, and leisure attractions among them.
Over the course of the next decade, the Mellon family undertook a vast range of philanthropic endeavors in the Laurel Highlands area. They supported the restoration of Fort Ligonier and its museum and administration building, as well as the Ligonier town hall, library, and gardens. They also built the church St. Michael’s of the Valley. Mrs. Mellon, who wanted an alternative to faraway boarding schools for her four young children and other families in the Laurel Highlands, focused her efforts on establishing an elementary school. For its location, she chose a Georgian-style sandstone mansion, built in 1932 by William Carnegie, and the 90 acres of pristine woodlands surrounding it.
Valley School of Ligonier was chartered and incorporated in the fall of 1946. Mrs. Mellon’s vision for the sort of education children would receive within the walls of Valley School was academically traditional, but ahead of its time in its child-centeredness. Valley School would be “a happy, nurturing school, a place where children would build their academic skills, and—just as importantly, learn how to become responsible, humane adults.” Mrs. Mellon formulated a mission statement that emphasized both intellectual and emotional development. As a ranked tennis player and an accomplished equestrian, she understood the positive effects that exercise and time spent outdoors have on development, and so, from the beginning, outdoor education was a central component of the Valley School curriculum.
On September 24th, 1947, Valley School opened its doors for 43 students. In order to advance the school’s mission, Mrs. Mellon installed Peter Copeman Messer, Cambridge graduate and Assistant Military Attaché serving the U.S. Embassy in London, as the first Head of School. The curriculum was based loosely on the well-known home-tutoring books by the Calvert School of Baltimore, and included immersion in sciences, history of the arts, mathematics, music appreciation, technical art training, shop work, and organized athletics—for boys and girls.
Today, the traditions upon which Valley School was built remain intact. We are proud of our distinguished legacy and we look to the passion, dedication, hard work, and philanthropic generosity of our founders as an inspiration and model. While traditional values—empathy, integrity, respect for self and others, and academic ambition—are emphasized in classrooms and modeled by faculty and staff each day, our balanced curriculum also promotes the cultivation of important 21st century skills—intellectual curiosity, communication, collaboration, creativity, cross-cultural competence, critical thinking, and global citizenship. At Valley School, “Deep roots, new growth” isn’t just an expression; it is an everyday experience.