The Ruebush-Kieffer Company
Dayton, VA

Aldine S. Kieffer (1840-1904) and Ephraim Ruebush (1833-1924) were the grandsons of Joseph Funk of Singers Glen, Va (actually, Ruebush married Funk's grandaughter). "Ruebush" has various spellings within the family, particularly, "Rheubush." However, the spelling preferred by Ephraim was "Ruebush" and that is the spelling used on the family grave stone in Dayton, VA.

In 1832, Joseph Funk established the first Mennonite printing house in the United States at Singers Glen (at the time known as "Mountain Valley") and started printing a singing school manual which he entitled, Genuine Church Music (later to become Harmonia Sacra). See Faceplates, Prefaces and Indexes. In its 25th edition and still printed today by Good Books (Intercourse, PA), Harmonia Sacra is the oldest continually used hymnal published in America. Funk was well known in the area of the Shenandoah Valley for organizing and leading singing schools. At any one time, he and his sons, Solomon and Timothy, may have had as many as a half-dozen singing schools underway at the same time. Although Joseph Funk remained a Mennonite for his enitre life (he was well respected Bishop in the Mennonite Church), Solomon and Timothy became Baptist and helped start the Baptist church which is now located at Singers Glen.

Around 1855, Funk also started a school at Singers Glen and began training young men of "high moral character" as music teachers. Tuition, room and board were $9.00 per month. After 1859, students were solicited in a music journal which Funk had begun printing (The Southern Musical Advocate and Singers' Friend, later renamed by Ruebush and Kieffer as The Musical Million). Joseph Funk died in 1862. [from History of Mennonites in Virginia 1727-1900 Volume I, by Harry A. Brunk. McClure Printing Company, Staunton, VA, 1959, pp. 110-124.]

After his death, two of Funk's grandsons, Aldine S. Kieffer and Ephraim Ruebush took over Funk's publishing and printing business and started producing new hymn collections for Sunday schools, revival and camp meetings, and home gatherings. These new collections proved to be very popular and lucrative, consequently in 1873 along with John W. Howe (a minsiter in the United Brethren Church) there was a reorganization of their "Patent Note Company" as Ruebush, Kieffer & Company. Kieffer was the music editor and contributor of many poems and gospel songs, Ruebush was the financial administrator, and Howe was in charge of publicity. Around 1890, Ruebush, Kieffer & Company became Ruebush-Kieffer Company and established itself as one of the earliest and most successful publishers of gospel songs in America.

In 1878, Ruebush and Kieffer moved their publishing business to nearby Dayton, VA, located about 5 miles south of Harrisonburg on US route 42 and about 10 miles from Singers Glen ("as the crow flies"). The reason for the move probably had to do with the proximity of Dayton to a rail line, greatly simplifing the distribution of thier songbooks and hymnals which by 1875 were numbering in the 100,000's. As many as 3,000,000 copies of songbooks were sold by the 1930's [from a letter by Mary L. Funk dated July, 1939].

After 1878, members of the Ruebush family started teaching music classes for a local primary school (Shenandoah Seminary) which had been started by a United Brethren in Christ minister in 1875. This association proved fruitful and the Shenandoah Seminary eventually evolved into Shenandoah Institute, Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music, and in 1991-- Shenandoah University (now located in Winchester, VA). See A Short History of Shenandoah Conservatory of Music.

Kieffer died in 1904 and Ruebush died in 1924. The Ruebush-Kieffer Company continued to publish and print gospel songbooks until the 1940's. Both Ruebush and Kieffer are buried in the cemetery at Dayton, VA.


Grave stone of Ephraim Ruebush
located in the Dayton, VA cemetery

 


Grave stone of Aldine S. Kieffer
located in the Dayton, VA cemetery

In the history of gospel hymnody (particularly Southern gospel ), the importance of the Ruebush-Kieffer Company cannot be overestimated. By 1900 it had grown to be one of the largest and most influential publishers of gospel song books in the United States. Other interesting facts associated with the Ruebush-Kieffer Company and Dayton, VA include:
  • In 1883 when he was 19, James D. Vaughan (1864-1944) moved to Dayton, VA and studied music at the normal school established by Ruebush and Kieffer. Later, Vaughan went on to establish his own publishing house in Lawrenceburg,TN -- the James D. Vaughan Publishing Company. See What Is Southern Gospel Music?
  • James D. Vaughan became a very successful gospel music publisher, establishing offices in several southern cities including Jacksonville, TX. The manager of the Jacksonville office, Virgil O. Stamps, went on to establish his own publishing house, the Stamps-Baxter Publishing Company.
  • Together, these three publishing companies -- (1) Ruebush-Kieffer, (2) James D. Vaughan, and (3) Stamps-Baxter were (are) the primary sources for what is now called Southern Gospel music in the shaped-note tradition.

Here are some sources for the study of The Ruebush-Kieffer Company:

The Music Books of Ruebush & Kieffer 1866-1942, A Bibliography by Grace I(rene) Showalter. The Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA, 1975. [Now out of print but available at several local libraries around Harrisonburg, VA including Eastern Mennonite University and James Madison University.]

Aldine S. Kieffer and Ephraim Ruebush: Ideals Reflected in Post-Civil War Ruebush-Kieffer Company Music Publications, Charles Edwin Morrison. 1992. Ph.D. dissertation, Arizona State University.

Two Notable Shaped-Note Leaders: Joseph Funk by John W. Wayland [and] Aldine S. Kieffer by Weldon T. Myers [et.al]. This publication is a reprint of "Joseph funk, -- Father of song in Northern Virginia," by John Wayland and "Aldine S. Kieffer, The Valley Poet and His Work," by Weldon T. Myers, et. al. from the August 1908 issue of Musical Million, Dayon Virginia; Includes an Introduction and Update by Harry Eskew, Professor of Music History and Hymnology, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Published in Wytheville (pronounced locally as "With-vul"), VA by Bookworm & Silverfish, 1995. 36 pages, illustrated.

The Impossible Task: A History of Shenandoah College and Conservatory, 1875 to 1985, and the Rebuilding of the Colleges in Winchester, Virginia, 1955 to 1985 by James R. Wilkins. Printed by Good Printers, Bridgewater, VA 1985. 371 pages. illus., graphs, maps, tables. Available from the campus bookstore at Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA

Shenandoah University, Harmony House Publishers, Louisville, KY, 2000.This is a "coffee table" book printed on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of Shenandoah University. Not generally available, but a copy can be found in the library at Shenandoah Universary, Winchester, VA.

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA has an extensive collection of Ruebush-Keiffer publications.


A short history of Shenandoah Conservatory of Music and Shenandoah University...

In 1875, a United Brethren in Christ minister named Abram Funkhouser established a primary school in Dayton, VA (about 5 miles south of Harrisonburg on US route 42) for the teaching of children and named it Shenandoah Seminary. After the Ruebush-Kieffer Publishing Company moved there in 1878, two of Joseph Funk's great grandchildren (William Clay Funk and Annie Baer Funk) who had been trained in the music school at Singers Glen began teaching music at the Shenandoah Seminary. After 1884 the school came under the direction of the United Brethren in Christ Church and the name was changed to Shenandoah Institute. In 1886, James H. Ruebush (son of Ephraim and great-great grandson of Joseph Funk) was added to the staff of the school and taught there until his retirement in 1936. James' brother, Will Ruebush, started teaching piano and other instruments there in 1894 [The Impossible Task: A History of Shenandoah University 1875 - 1995, James R. Wilkins, Sr., Good Printers, Bridgewater, VA, 1985, 1995, pp. 1-12].

In 1902, Shenandoah Institute was renamed Shenandoah Institute and School of Music. A junior college curriculum was added in 1925 and the name was changed again to Shenandoah College. In 1937, the name, Shenandoah Conservatory of Music was added so that the music school could offer a 4-year college degree in music education. In 1946 the Church of the United Brethren in Christ became part of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. In 1960 Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music was relocated to Winchester, VA (about 70 miles north of Dayton, up the Shenandoah Valley toward Washington, DC) and in 1991 the name was changed again to Shenandoah University. Shenandoah Conservatory of Music remains part of Shenandoah University and today is known as one of the finest schools of music in the United States [Shenandoah University, Harmony House Publishers, Louisville, 2000, pp. 66-111].


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