School History: The Kirby / Groveton School (1876-1925)
Fairfax County Public Schools was founded in 1870 with the passage of the Virginia Public Free Schools Act and the new Virginia constitution. During the early years of the school system, most children attended school in one-room schoolhouses where a single teacher taught children in grades one through seven. Administratively, the county was divided into six magisterial districts. Each district had its own School Board comprised of three trustees. The Groveton community was located in the Mount Vernon District and, unfortunately, very few records from this district’s school trustees have survived.
In January 1876, the Fairfax County Circuit Court appointed commissioners to survey a tract of land belonging to John Collard on the Old Mount Vernon Road (present day Route 1). The School Trustees of Mount Vernon District—Eben E. Mason, Richard L. Nevitt, and Frank F. Triplett—wanted to acquire a portion of the Collard property by eminent domain for a school site.
In March 1876, the Circuit Court ordered the property condemned and directed the trustees to pay $75 in compensation to the property owner. A short time later, a one-room schoolhouse was constructed on the site.
The Kirby School
The one-room school was generally referred to as the Kirby School in reference to James Owen Kerby, a son-in-law of John Collard. On most records the school’s name was spelled Kirby with an “i,” but there are a few instances where it was spelled with an “e.” James Kerby’s name was incorrectly printed as “Y. Owen Kerby” on the above map. Beginning in 1880, the Groveton Mission held Sunday school bible studies in the schoolhouse. The Woodlawn Farmers Club is known to have met there at least once in 1885. Currently, the only known teacher of the school is H. V. Collingsworth, who taught there during the 1886-87 school year. On March 14, 1888, the Alexandria Gazette newspaper reported:
Kirby's school house, in Fairfax County, about four miles below this city, was totally destroyed by fire during the high wind yesterday [Tuesday], with all its contents. The flames caught from the stove, a fire in which had been kindled and left burning by some of the children, who had returned to their homes after waiting for some time for the teacher, who was prevented by the weather from being present. It is said that the building was in ashes within fifteen minutes from the time the fire caught.
A new one-room schoolhouse was erected a short time later on the site of the burned building. By the early-1890s, the name Kirby had fallen into disuse and the school permanently became known as the Groveton School. Annie Harvey is known to have taught at the Groveton School from 1893-95, and Lillian Utterback was the teacher during the 1895-96 school year. On December 14, 1894, the Alexandria Gazette reported: "Miss Annie Harvey, teacher of Groveton School, Fairfax County, while closing a blind yesterday, accidentally let the window fall on one of her hands and two of her fingers were broken."
Teachers at one-room schoolhouses had significant responsibilities in regards to the upkeep of the building. There were no janitors, so teachers built and maintained a fire in a pot belly stove used to warm the building, and washed and oiled the wood floors. The daily lessons were staggered by subject and grade level, with one grade of students giving recitations while the others worked quietly at their desks.
At some one-room schools, children didn’t have individual desks. They sat on long wooden benches and held their work in their lap. Before the days of ink pens and paper, children wrote with chalk on small slate boards that could be carried to and from school. There were no restrooms or running water in one-room schools. Older boys were tasked with carrying drinking water in a large bucket from a nearby well, and with carrying firewood into the building. Bathroom facilities typically consisted of a single outhouse, but in some more fortunate communities there were separate outhouses for boys and girls.
A Growing Community
In October 1915, Samuel and Mary Ayres sold half-an-acre of land to the School Trustees of Mount Vernon District for $75. The purchase expanded the size of the Groveton School lot to approximately 1.77 acres in size. The land was likely added to provide additional space for the children to play.
By the early 1920s, the Groveton community had grown to such an extent that the little one-room school had become overcrowded. In 1922, the individual district school boards were abolished and the combined Fairfax County School Board, much as we know it today, was formed. In 1924, residents of the Groveton community pleaded with the School Board to build a new, two-room school at Groveton.
On August 19, 1924, the School Board awarded the contract for the construction of the new schoolhouse to R. L. Smith Construction of Accotink at a cost of $4,714. The building was completed in the spring of 1925, after which the one-room school was offered for sale at public auction. On Saturday, May 2, 1925, it was sold to Reverend D. J. O’Connell, Roman Catholic Bishop of Richmond, for $2,150 cash. The building still stands today, on Popkins Lane, and is part of Saint Louis Catholic Church.
Schools of Yesteryear
Learn more about the schools of the old Mount Vernon District in this video produced by Fairfax County Public Schools’ cable television channel Red Apple 21.
The history of the Groveton two-room schoolhouse was written with assistance from Charlotte Brown, author of Images of America: Groveton, and Patricia Young from Friends of Historic Huntley.