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.

Photograph of an old financial ledger. The paper has faded to a light brown. The margins are printed in red ink and the handwritten notes are written in black ink. The center of the ledger has severe water damage and the paper here is stained dark brown. The ledger contains financial records of disbursements of funds from the Mount Vernon District School Trustees to various parties for goods and services.
One of the few surviving records is this school fund ledger from 1889. Courtesy of the Fairfax County Circuit Court – Historic Records Center.

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.

Photograph of a hand-drawn plat made by the surveyor of the schoolhouse lot. The survey shows the Old Mount Vernon Road and the road to Risley’s farm. A large arrow points north. The school lot has been outlined in purple, at the corner of the intersection of the two roads, with corresponding points on the lot corners labeled A, B, C, and D. The total area of the lot is recorded as one acre, one rood, and three and three quarter poles.
The plat for the Groveton School lot was recorded as part of the condemnation proceedings. Courtesy of the Fairfax County Circuit Court – Historic Records Center.

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.

Detail of a map showing the location of the first schoolhouse. The schoolhouse location has been circled in red. The map shows the names of many people living in the vicinity and the location of their homes, some of which have been given names such as Mount Hybla, Clifton, Huntley, and City View. Old roads that will later become South Kings Highway, Route 1, and Fort Hunt Road are pictured.
Detail of the Mount Vernon District from the Atlas of fifteen miles around Washington by Griffith Morgan Hopkins published in 1879. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. The location of the first public school at Groveton is circled in red.

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."

Black and white photograph of the Groveton School. The building is a small, one-story structure with a brick chimney in the rear. There is a porch and awning over the front entrance. The exterior siding has been painted white. There are three windows visible on one side, with wood shutters that are closed.
The Groveton School, circa 1916. Courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

School Days

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.

Photograph of a Daily Program of Studies made by the teacher of the Popes Head School during the 1899 to 1900 school year. The time of day is recorded on the left, with lessons conducted in 5, 10, or 15 minute sessions. Students began their day at 9:00 a.m. with opening exercises, then progressed to arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, and geography. There were two recess periods, lasting 30 minutes each, at 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. The students were dismissed at 3:30 p.m.
Detail of the teacher’s register from the Popes Head School in Fairfax County’s Centreville District, 1899.

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.

Black and white photograph of 18 children and their teacher posed in front of the Groveton School. The children are of various ages, some as young as age six and others in their teens.
Groveton School class photo, circa 1916. Two of the children have been identified. Mary (Wease) Scheeler is in the plaid dress on the far right in the back row. The girl to the left of Mary in the back row is Evelyn Van Pelt. Courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

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.

Black and white photograph of three boys standing in front of the Groveton School. They are dressed formally with white shirts, ties, and dark jackets.
Robert Wheat, Carl Wease, and Leon Taylor in front of the Groveton School, circa 1916. Courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

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.

This black and white photograph, taken in 1918, depicts the Groveton School at the top of the hill on the right. The winding, curving road in the foreground is Route 1, which prior to straightening gave rise to this area being called Snake Hill.
The original alignment of Route 1, looking north from Hybla Valley to Groveton, in 1918. The one-room Groveton School is pictured on the hillside on the right. Courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

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.