School History: Groveton Elementary (1933-1945)

By 1933, the Groveton community had grown to such an extent that the two-room school was significantly overcrowded. In April of that year, the Fairfax County School Board appointed a committee to search for a site for a new elementary school in the area. The committee selected a tract of land owned by W. Franklin Pierce Reid, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and purchased the property for $400. This property was located on Memorial Street, catty corner to the Groveton School’s playground.

Black and white aerial photograph of Groveton Elementary School. The new brick school and the old two-room school have been highlighted as described below.
1937 aerial photograph of Groveton Elementary School, courtesy of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Circled at top, in blue, is the new Groveton Elementary School built in 1933. Beneath it, circled in red, is the two-room Groveton School. The road at top, running left to right, is present day Memorial Street. The road on the right, running top to bottom, is Route 1. The road at bottom, running left to right, is present day Groveton Street. The building next to the two-room schoolhouse is Groveton Episcopal Chapel.

Design and Construction

Groveton Elementary School was designed with six classrooms and an auditorium. On June 28, 1933, the School Board awarded the construction contract for the school to Mr. J. H. Bennett of Richmond, Virginia, for $22,174. Work on the heating, plumbing, and electrical systems was contracted out separately. Mr. W. Wade Richardson of Marshall, Virginia, was awarded the contract for the heating and plumbing systems for $3,873, and the contract for the electrical work was awarded to George Shaw for $675. The contractors were given 120 days to complete the school, a very tight timeline. Construction was partially paid for with a $21,000 loan from the Literary Fund of the State Board of Education of Virginia.

Two black and white photographs of Groveton Elementary School, constructed in 1933. The pictures are believed to have been taken in the mid-1930s. On the left is a view of the front of the building and on the right is a view of the rear of the building. The school is built on a hillside and is one-story tall on the east side of the building and two stories tall on the west side of the building, with an auditorium in the center. Groveton Episcopal Chapel is visible behind the building in the photograph on the left. A school bus is parked behind the building in the photograph on the right.
These are the earliest known photographs of Groveton Elementary School. They are believed to have been taken around 1934 or 1935. Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Education.

Opening Day

For white Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students, the 1933-34 school year began on Thursday, September 14, 1933. Because the two-room Groveton School was already filled to capacity, many Groveton students were bused to temporary facilities such as the old Cameron Valley one-room schoolhouse, and the two-room Snowden School near Collingwood. FCPS also rented a room in the Hosley Chapel south of Mount Vernon for $8.00 per month for classroom use.

Black and white photograph of the Cameron School, a one-room schoolhouse with white siding and a pitched tin roof. A wooden porch covers the main entrance. The building has three windows on each side, and the shutters are closed. There is a bell tower and brick chimney on the roof of the structure. The school is set on a hillside and is surrounded by trees. A small farmhouse is visible in the distance.
The Cameron, aka Cameron Valley School, was located on Telegraph Road near Wilton Road. The school opened circa 1893 and closed in 1932. Photograph courtesy of the Franconia Museum.

Through the efforts of the Groveton Mothers Club, a Parent Teachers Association (PTA) was formed for Groveton Elementary School on September 29, 1933. The first PTA President was Garfield Duvall. Groveton Elementary School opened its doors to students for the first time on December 4, 1933, while contractors were still putting the finishing touches on the building. Approximately 250 children in grades 1-7 were enrolled in Groveton at that time. Children in the primary grades were housed on the first floor of the building, close to the bathrooms and drinking fountain. The first Student Council Association (SCA) was formed in February 1934, with seventh grader Wilifred Walker as president. In the spring, the seventh grade class published the first school newspaper called the Peek-a-Boo. Other student activities at Groveton Elementary School included the Glee Club, a 4-H club, and a PTA-sponsored Boy Scout troop.

The First Teachers

Groveton Elementary School opened with seven teachers: Elizabeth R. Shackleton (Grade 1), Ruby Smith (Grade 2), Elma Besley (Grade 3), Catherine Beane (Grade 4), Frances E. Nevitt (Grade 5), Ethel G. Simms (Grade 6), and James E. Bauserman (Grade 7). Mr. Bauserman was also the school's principal. In February 1934, the School Board authorized the transfer of Mrs. Roche M. Padgett, and her class of fourth and fifth graders, from the two-room Woodlawn School to Groveton for the remainder of the year.

Segregated Education

Did you know that from 1870 until the early 1960s, public schools in Fairfax County were segregated by race? The schools at Groveton, including the new elementary school, were built to serve white children from the surrounding community. In 1933, African-American children living in the vicinity of Groveton attended the Spring Bank School. Located at the intersection of Quander Road and Route 1, Spring Bank was a one-room schoolhouse built in 1890.

Black and white photograph of the Spring Bank School taken in 1942. It is a one-room schoolhouse with white-painted wood siding on a brick foundation. There are two doors in the front of the building and three windows on each side. A brick chimney can be seen on the rear of the structure. The school is built on a hillside surrounded by trees. The building's roof and siding appear worn with age.
The Spring Bank School, 1942. Spring Bank was the last one-room school in operation in Fairfax County. The last one-room school for white children, the Sydenstricker School near Burke, ceased operation in 1939.

After the Spring Bank School closed in 1948, the children were bused to the Gum Springs School located on Fordson Road in the Gum Springs community.

Black and white photograph of the Gum Springs School taken in 1942. The rear of the building is shown. The building has two classrooms and was built using a Rosenwald design, but it was not constructed with Rosenwald Foundation funding. Each classroom is heated with its own stove and there are two brick chimneys protruding from the structure's tin room. Each classroom has a large bank of windows, and its own door to the outside. The sides of the building are covered in white-painted wood siding. The school had no running water or bathrooms. Children used outhouses that are not shown in the photograph.
The Gum Springs School, 1942. This two-room school was later expanded to three rooms. It was replaced in 1953 by Drew-Smith Elementary School.

The Great Depression

Groveton Elementary School opened when the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression, a severe world-wide economic downturn. By 1933, approximately one-fourth of Americans were unemployed. This led to extreme poverty, homelessness, and malnutrition for many families. On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his first term as President of the United States. President Roosevelt quickly instituted several programs to help stabilize the economy and combat unemployment. At the same time in Fairfax County, the public school system was in the midst of the consolidation movement. FCPS Superintendent W. T. Woodson’s ambitious consolidation program led to the closure of rural one-room schoolhouses throughout the county, and the construction of new, modern schools, such as Groveton Elementary. Superintendent Woodson and the School Board were keenly aware of the economic recovery programs being instituted nationally, and, during the winter of 1934, Woodson secured an agreement with the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to provide grading and landscaping for the school grounds.

Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School, constructed in 1933. The main entrance of the building is shown. The building is a brick structure with two sets of tall narrow windows on both sides of an arched entryway. A concrete sidewalk leads up to the main entrance. Two 1930s-era vehicles, a car and a truck, are parked in front of the building.
Groveton Elementary School, 1942. The federal CWA program abruptly ended in March 1934, before the work at Groveton had been completed, so Groveton's PTA stepped in and completed the school's landscaping.

Free Meals

During the 1930s, schools in Fairfax County did not have cafeterias and children brought their lunches from home. The Great Depression caused tremendous financial hardship in Fairfax County, leaving many families unable to provide lunches for their children. Through the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), funding was made available to provide school lunches to impoverished children in Fairfax County. During the spring of 1935, FERA funding was used to provide nutritious home-cooked meals at lunchtime to children at Groveton, Annandale, Centreville, Floris, Franconia, Franklin Sherman, Herndon, and Lorton Elementary Schools. In the rural one-room schoolhouses, teachers often cooked a large pot of vegetable soup on top of the potbelly stove used to warm the building. The vegetables were donated by area families.

Black and white photograph of a potbelly stove. A potbelly stove is a cast-iron wood-burning stove, round with a bulge in the middle. The name is derived from the resemblance of the stove to that of a fat man's pot belly. They were designed to heat large spaces and were often found in train stations or one-room schoolhouses. The flat top of the fireplace allowed for cooking of food, or the heating of water.
Potbelly stoves, like the one pictured here at the Clifton School, were commonly used to heat one and two-room school buildings in Fairfax County. Photograph courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

The Challenges of Growth

When the plans for Groveton Elementary School were drawn, it was believed a six-classroom school would be more than large enough to handle the number of children living in the area. However, rapid student population growth quickly led to overcrowding at Groveton, and by 1935 FCPS administrators were already discussing the need to build an addition to the school. From the 1930s all the way into the early 1970s, the old two-room Groveton School was reactivated on multiple occasions to serve as overflow classroom space. The construction of an addition to Franconia Elementary School in 1935, the opening of the new Woodlawn Elementary School in 1938, and the conversion of Lee-Jackson High School to an elementary school in January 1940 relieved overcrowding for brief periods of time.

Black and white photograph of Lee-Jackson High School. The school is a two-story brick building built into a hillside so that from the front view of the main entrance the building appears only one-story tall. Large banks of windows line three sides of the building. According to FCPS records, the windows were a frequent target of rock-throwing vandals. There is a raised section at the center of the building with a pitched roof, indicating there may have been an auditorium is this area. The main entrance doors are reached through a tall, brick archway.
Lee-Jackson High School, circa 1935. Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Education. Lee-Jackson High School opened in the fall of 1926. Even though it was referred to as a high school, the building actually housed students in grades 1-11 into the early 1930s. After Mount Vernon High School opened, Lee-Jackson fully converted into an elementary school.

The War Years

Student population growth in the Groveton area continued unabated as the United States entered World War II. Creative solutions to overcrowding had to be found because there was very little funding for school construction and permanent building materials were not available as a result of the national war effort. One such solution was the construction of temporary wooden school buildings at Groveton and several other school sites. In August 1942, the School Board hired Mr. E. E. Lyons to construct a four-room temporary building at Groveton, the cost of which was funded by a loan from the State Literary Fund.

Black and white photograph, taken in 1954, showing the four-classroom temporary building at Groveton. The structure is a wood-frame building with small wood boards used for siding. The siding has been covered with sheets of tarpaper affixed vertically. The tarpaper has been torn off or has worn off toward the bottom of the building. The structure resembles a large shed in shape, and has a central hallway in the middle with two classrooms on either side The building looks very worn and flimsy, and records indicate there were problems with rats requiring the hiring of exterminators.
This four-classroom temporary building at Groveton Elementary School was constructed in 1942. Parents wanted the outside of the building covered with asbestos shingles, but tarpaper was chosen instead because it was more economical. The building remained in use well into the 1950s and was torn down sometime after the opening of Bucknell Elementary School in 1955.

On June 15, 1945, Superintendent Woodson submitted an application to the U.S. War Production Board for permission to build a permanent brick addition to Groveton Elementary School. The addition would consist of two classrooms, a health clinic, and a storage room. Approval was granted two weeks later, and on October 9, 1945 the School Board awarded the construction contract for the addition to Mr. E. E. Lyons at a cost of $30,868. As in the past, the addition was funded by a loan from the State Literary Fund. Construction was delayed by several months because building materials, bricks in particular, were in short supply, so the addition wasn't completed until January 1947.

Beacon Field Airport

Did you know that from the 1920s until 1959 there was an airport located on the present day site of Beacon Hill Mall? The Beacon Field Airport, as it was known, was owned by W. Franklin Pierce Reid, a former Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Under the Civilian Pilot Training Program established in 1938, the Ashburn Flying Service at Beacon Field Airport trained hundreds of pilots for military service to support the war effort. After the war, the Lehman / Reid Flying School at Beacon Field trained veterans under the G.I. Bill.

Detail of a color map of Fairfax County showing Groveton Elementary School and the Beacon Field Airport. The map is light beige in color with brown lines indicating elevation. The school and airport are more than 200 feet above sea level. Black squares indicate residences and buildings. The airport's two runways are laid out north to south and east to west, crossing in the center, they form the letter X. The schoolhouse symbol is a square with a triangular flag atop a pole. Churches are a square with a cross on top.
1951 U.S. Geological Survey map of Fairfax County. The location of Groveton Elementary School has been circled in blue.

On Friday, April 2, 1943, an airplane bound for Beacon Field Airport crashed on the grounds at Groveton Elementary School. The accident happened shortly after recess ended and no children were harmed. Superintendent Woodson spoke with airport officials, requesting that all possible caution be exercised in the future to ensure such an accident never occurred again. A second accident occurred in the fall of 1948, when an airplane crashed into the side of a home adjacent to Groveton Elementary School, approximately 150 feet away from the school grounds. Groveton's PTA, with support from the School Board, tried unsuccessfully for several years to have the airport moved or closed. Learn more about the history of Beacon Field Airport here.