School History: Groveton Elementary (1945-1972)

The Baby Boom Begins

In June 1945, there were approximately 8,235 students enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) at 42 schools. By December 1959, that number would climb to 54,100 students at 84 schools. FCPS administrators had been projecting record enrollment growth for several years, but were unprepared when actual growth far exceeded their expectations.

A few more than 580 pupils are attending classes in three buildings at Groveton, an increase of more than 80 over last week's enrollment.
~ The Sunday Star, September 28, 1947

In 1948, five additional temporary classrooms were added to Groveton Elementary School in the form of Quonset huts. Quonset huts were acquired from World War II military surplus suppliers and were used to combat overcrowding at schools throughout Fairfax County.

Black and white photograph of one of the Quonset huts used at Groveton Elementary School. The building is made out of metal and is similar in shape to half of a cylinder. The building is approximately 20 feet wide and 48 feet long. The sides are covered with corrugated steel sheets. The building has three windows and a door at one end, and four windows on each of the long sides. Two students are pictured standing in the open doorway to the Quonset hut. The tarpaper building is to the left of the hut and the brick school building is visible behind it.
Pictured here, in 1954, is one of the five Quonset huts used at Groveton Elementary School. Four of the Quonset huts used at Groveton were moved to the school in August 1948 from Madison Elementary School in Falls Church, and one month later a fifth hut was moved to Groveton from Franconia Elementary School.
Black and white photograph taken inside one of the Quonset huts at Groveton Elementary School. 29 children and their teacher are pictured. The walls of the building are curved and form a high arched ceiling. The students’ desks have been pushed together in a corner to fit all the children into the photograph. The teacher stands at the back of the room. A boy at one of the desks in front is holding up a sign that reads Groveton School, Grade 3 and 4, Alexandria, Virginia, 1953.
Groveton Elementary School combined 3rd and 4th grade class, 1953, inside a Quonset hut. Groveton's PTA was very unhappy with the condition of the Quonset huts, particularly because they were drafty and difficult to keep warm during the winter. Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Brown.

Even with all these temporary facilities outside the main Groveton building in use, the school still remained overcrowded. In the late 1940s, it became necessary to partition the auditorium in half to create two classrooms. A third class was held on the auditorium's stage. Additionally, FCPS rented the recreation room at Groveton Episcopal Chapel for classroom use, and some first and second grade classes attended school on half-day shifts. In December 1949, a literary loan in the amount of $131,000 was approved to build a second addition to Groveton Elementary School, but the State Board of Education was unable to release the money to FCPS immediately because it was short on funding.

All the 663 children at Groveton Elementary School use the toilet facilities in the main school, planned to accommodate 210. The extra buildings are all heated by coal stoves. "The work need not suffer seriously because the environment is primitive," Principal Emmett M. Day declared. "Overcrowding, of course, cannot be conquered, and it is bound to affect us all. Yet our school has the highest record of the five schools that feed into the nearby high school. My staff is wonderful and the parents are thoughtful, considerate and helpful."
~ The Washington Post, May 28, 1950

Teacher Salaries

During the 1950-51 school year, Groveton Elementary School had 20 teachers. The teachers were hired on ten-month contracts, and their salaries ranged between $2,300 and $3,600 for the year depended on their level of education, type of certification, and years of experience. Principal Emmett Milton Day was employed on a 12-month contract at a salary of $5,340 for the year. The average class size at Groveton during the 1951-52 school year was 38 students, the highest in the county at that time.

Black and white class photograph showing Mrs. Redd's fifth grade class. All except two of the children are seated at their desks. The desks have been pushed close together to better fit everyone into the picture. Two students are standing at the back of the room with Mrs. Redd. 23 children are pictured. The boys are wearing button down shirts and slacks. The girls are wearing poodle skirts. One girl is wearing a Brownie scout uniform and is holding up a sign that reads Groveton School, May 2, 1956, Grade 5.
Mrs. Redd's 5th grade class, May 2, 1956.

The 1950s

The plans for Groveton Elementary School's second addition were prepared in 1950 by the architecture firm of Dixon and Norman. The addition consisted of five classrooms, a cafeteria, kitchen, library, boiler room, a teachers' lounge, and a book storage room. In May 1951, the School Board awarded the construction contract for the addition to Eugene Simpson and Brother, Inc., at a cost of $177,865. The cafeteria was completed in the fall of 1951, and, in May 1952, the remaining rooms were certified by the School Board as complete. Groveton Elementary School's first librarian was Miss Anna C. Bugg. In the early 1950s, elementary school librarians were assigned to more than one school at a time. Miss Bugg worked part of the week at Groveton and part of the week at Mount Eagle Elementary School.

Black and white photograph showing Mrs. Valentine's class comprised of 5th and 6th grade students. 29 children and their teacher are pictured. Approximately half of the children are seated at desks that have been pushed close together. The children who are standing have been arranged along the side and back rows of the desks. Mrs. Valentine is visible in the very back. A sign at the front between two girls reads: Groveton School, April 1957, Grade 5 and 6. The letters on the sign are difficult to read, but the day is either the 12th or the 18th of April.
Mrs. Valentine's combined 5th and 6th grade class in April 1957.

During the 1950s, enrollment at Groveton Elementary School fluctuated as new schools opened nearby, but overcrowding continued to be a major problem throughout the decade. The annexation of Lee-Jackson Elementary School by the City of Alexandria in 1952 was of particular concern to Groveton residents as it exacerbated overcrowding at the few area schools in operation at that 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. In this view of the front of the building, taken in 1942, two people can be seen standing under the windows at the front of the building.
Lee-Jackson Elementary School, 1942. This school was located in what is today the City of Alexandria at the intersection of Duke Street at South Quaker Lane. This area was part of Fairfax County until the early 1950s when it was annexed by the city. There were far fewer elementary schools in operation in the early 1950s in Fairfax County then there are today, so the annexation of Lee-Jackson placed additional strain on already overcrowded schools.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, FCPS built several elementary schools in the vicinity of Groveton to relieve overcrowding: Mount Eagle and Hollin Hall (1949), Belle View (apartment annex in 1950, building in 1952), Cameron (1953), Bucknell, Hollin Hills, and Virginia Hills (1955).

Black and white photograph of the 1933 Groveton Elementary School. The photograph was taken from the opposite side of Memorial Street and shows the front and west side of the building. On this side, the building is two stories tall. It is made of bricks and has several large banks of windows at each classroom. The second addition to the building is complete and the building has more than doubled in size since its original construction. Several cars are parked in a lot next to the school.
Groveton Elementary School, 1954.

In November 1954, the Groveton PTA requested that the tarpaper-covered temporary building be torn down upon completion of Bucknell Elementary School, provided that this would mean that only the first graders at Groveton would have to remain on half-day shifts. First graders at Groveton remained on half-day shifts through at least the 1957-58 school year. It is unclear when the tarpaper building and Quonset huts were removed, but the old two-room Groveton School remained in use into the early 1970s.

Black and white photograph showing a first grade class portrait taken on May 2, 1956. 25 children and their teacher are shown. The children are arranged in three rows in the corner of their classroom. The teacher is standing at the back of the group. The walls are heavily decorated with student artwork. The chalkboard is visible on the far left.
Mrs. Ludden's 1st grade class, May 2, 1956. Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Brown. She is the third girl from the left in the front row.
Black and white photograph of Mrs. Hare’s second grade class taken on April 16, 1957. 26 children and their teacher are shown. The children are arranged in three rows in their classroom in front of the chalkboard. Mrs. Hare is seated in the middle of the group holding a book in her lap.
Mrs. Hare’s 2nd grade class, April 1957. Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Brown. She is seated behind the sign.
Black and white photograph of Mrs. Higginbottom’s fourth grade class taken on April 16, 1957. 25 children and their teacher are pictured. The boys are all seated at desks that have been pushed to one corner of the room. The girls and the teacher are standing behind the desks. A globe and chalkboard are visible behind the children.
Mrs. Higginbottom’s 4th grade class, April 1957. Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Brown.
Black and white photograph of Mrs. Hoover's seventh grade class taken during the 1957 to 1958 school year. The children are arranged in four rows with the first row seated on the floor, the second row seated on chairs, the third row standing on the floor, and the fourth row standing on chairs. Mrs. Hoover is standing in the center of the third row. 31 children are pictured, an even mix of boys and girls.
Mrs. Hoover's 7th grade class, 1957-58.
When we were in elementary school, we were given somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 cents to go to Groveton Elementary School on Saturday afternoons. That would get you admission to a movie, a bag of popcorn, and a coke. We would watch movies like Blondie and Dagwood, Abbott and Costello, Tarzan, The Bowery Boys, or an occasional thriller like Dracula. 35 cents was a small price to pay to get the kids out of the house and enjoy the peace and quiet.
~ Kim Arceneaux, Groveton Alumna

The 1960s

The decade of the 1960s brought several major changes to Groveton Elementary School. In September 1960, FCPS opened its first intermediate schools. Prior to this time, elementary schools in Fairfax County educated children in grades one through seven. The seventh grade children in the Groveton attendance area were assigned to Bryant Intermediate School on Quander Road.

Black and white aerial photograph of Bryant Intermediate School taken in the 1960s. The building is a small structure with one and two-story classroom wings. Farm fields and a farmhouse are visible behind the school. Surrounding the school on the Quander Road side of the structure are new housing subdivisions.
Bryant Intermediate School was originally located on Quander Road. In 1976, Bryant and Groveton High School traded campuses. Today, the original Bryant site is home to West Potomac High School.

In the early 1960s, FCPS began a slow process of desegregation. Prior to this time, African-American children living near Groveton were assigned to the "colored" schools at Spring Bank or Gum Springs. Spring Bank closed in 1948, and Gum Springs in 1953, after which the children were assigned to Drew-Smith Elementary School located on Fordson Road in the Gum Springs community.

Black and white photograph of Drew-Smith Elementary School. The building is a single-story concrete structure with a brick veneer. It has much fewer classrooms and fewer amenities than the schools built for white children during this time period.
Drew-Smith Elementary School, an all-African-American school, closed in 1965 and was converted into a special education center. Photograph courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

In September 1965, all public schools in Fairfax County racially integrated, marking the beginnings of the ethnically and culturally diverse Groveton school community we cherish today. Also in the 1960s, FCPS offered its first kindergarten classes. A kindergarten program was piloted in several schools in 1967, and in 1968 Groveton opened its doors to the five-year-olds of the community.

Black and white photograph of Ms. Cushwa’s sixth grade class during the 1960 to 1961 school year. The picture is an arrangement of head and shoulders portraits of the students into five rows and seven columns. 31 students are shown. Ms. Cushwa’s picture is at top left.
Ms. Virginia Cushwa’s 6th grade class, 1960-61. Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Brown.

A New Building

By the late 1960s, Groveton Elementary School was beginning to show its age. The size of the school lot prohibited expansion of the building, and FCPS administrators felt the school was completely outdated and was no longer adequate to support the needs of the community. A report to the School Board in January 1971 indicated that 444 children were enrolled at Groveton Elementary School. 360 of these children were housed in the brick building, and the others were housed in a trailer and in the old two-room Groveton School. The report also indicated that the architectural plans for a new 990-pupil capacity Groveton Elementary School were complete.

Photograph of the cover of the Groveton Elementary School yearbook from the 1971 to 1972 school year. The cover is white with a red border and has illustrated pictures in the center painted in shades of pink and deep red. The illustrations include a clock, books, lunch box and apple, leaves, and a window with a tree outside.
Groveton Elementary School yearbook cover, 1971-72.
Black and white photograph from the 1971 to 1972 Groveton Elementary School yearbook showing the school's Safety Patrol Officers. 17 children are pictured, arranged in three rows.
The last group of Safety Patrol Officers at the "old" Groveton Elementary School, 1971-72.

On March 25, 1971, the School Board awarded the construction contract for the new school to Burroughs and Preston, Inc., at a cost of $1.38 million. The new building was completed in time for the opening of schools on September 5, 1972. During the 1971-72 school year, on what would be the last day of school in the "old" Groveton Elementary School, students marched down Groveton Street to the new building and took pictures in front of their new school.

Color photograph from the 1971 to 1972 school year showing Mrs. Brook's Primary grade class of first or second graders. The students pictured are all girls. They are arranged in three rows outside the school near the main entrance. 28 children, Mrs. Brooks, and Principal Zepka are pictured.
Mrs. Brooks' Primary grade class, 1971-72. Principal Bill Zepka is standing on the far left.

The Principals

During the time when Groveton Elementary School operated out of the building on Memorial Street, the school had ten principals: James E. Bauserman (1933-36), Melvin Bowman Landes (1936-40), Frances Mitchell (1940-42), Helen M. Haertel (1942-43), Emmett Milton Day (1943-55), Warren Joseph Pace (1955-57), Harriet G. Trites (1957-1964), Merlin Gil Meadows (1964-66), Alan R. Sterner (1966-67/8, left mid-year), and William E. Zepka (1967/8-1986, began mid-year). We have been able to locate photographs for five of these principals:

Melvin Bowman Landes (1936-40)

Black and white head-and-shoulders portrait of Principal Landes from a Mount Vernon High School yearbook.
This photograph of Principal Landes was taken in 1946 when he was the principal of Mount Vernon High School. Mr. Landes was the principal of Vienna Elementary from 1935-36, Lee-Jackson Elementary from 1940-45, and Mount Vernon High School from 1945-73.

Emmett Milton Day (1943-55)

Black and white photograph of Principal Day from a collection of Virginia Hills Elementary School memorabilia. He is seated at his desk and is talking on the phone.
This photograph of Principal Day was taken circa 1960 when he was the principal of Virginia Hills Elementary School. Mr. Day was the principal of Fairview Elementary from 1930-34, Lorton Elementary from 1934-1941, Annandale Elementary from 1941-43, Mount Eagle Elementary when it first opened as an annex of Groveton in 1949-50,  and Virginia Hills Elementary from 1955-66.

Harriet G. Trites (1957-1964)

Black and white head-and-shoulders portrait of Principal Trites. The picture was printed in the 1970 to 1971 FCPS directory and has a hole punch on the side because the directory pages were bound in a small three-ring binder.
This photograph of Principal Trites was taken during the 1970-71 school year when she was the principal of Hybla Valley Elementary School. She opened Hybla Valley during the 1964-65 school year and served as its principal until 1972.

Merlin Gil Meadows (1964-66)

Black and white head-and-shoulders portrait of Principal Meadows. The picture was printed in the 1969 to 1970 FCPS directory.
This photograph of Principal Meadows was taken during the 1970-71 school year when he was the principal of Ravensworth Elementary School. Mr. Meadows was the principal of Pine Spring Elementary from 1959-60, Great Falls Elementary from 1960-63, Quander Road Elementary from 1966-70, Ravensworth Elementary beginning in 1970, and was at Braddock Elementary during the 1983-84 school year.

William E. "Bill" Zepka (1967/8-1986)

Black and white head-and-shoulders portrait of Principal Zepka. The picture was printed in the 1969 to 1970 FCPS directory.
This photograph of Principal Zepka was taken during the 1969-70 school year. Principal Zepka was a teacher at Mount Eagle Elementary for four years prior to his appointment to Groveton. He is remembered by many former students for instilling core values called the Four C's: Courtesy, Consideration, Cooperation, and Caring. In 1984, Mr. Zepka was chosen as Virginia's first "National Distinguished Principal" by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Area I Office

After Groveton Elementary School moved to Harrison Lane, the 1933 building was converted into the FCPS Area I Administrative Office.  The building was also used to house maintenance facilities and mechanics. Conversion of the building to office space was carried out during the spring of 1973, and in May of that year the Area I office staff relocated from Hollin Meadows Elementary School to Groveton. In 1981, the School Board declared the building surplus to school needs and began preparation to move the Area I Office to the old Hollin Hall Elementary School. The 1933 Groveton building was torn down in the early 1990s, and today the site is owned by The Beacon of Groveton apartment complex.