Old FCPS Schoolhouses Still Stand

Rohil Bhinge, Staff Writer

     To many of us, FCPS appears to be a robust school system that runs like clockwork. Well, most of the time. Jokes aside, It is hard to imagine that the twelfth-largest school system in the United States once started as a humble collection of one-room schoolhouses. FCPS has a detailed history dating back to the 1800s, and traces of its past can be observed in the present.

     Before the Civil War, public education was conducted on a much smaller scale than it is today. The first “public schools” were built by small communities to serve their children, such as a community of Quakers who built the Woodlawn School in Alexandria. Woodlawn is one of the first schools to be built in Fairfax County; however, the school moved locations several times to accommodate rising enrollment, reaching its current position on Route 1 near Mount Vernon in 1938.

The Legato House. Photo by Leila Ali.

      During the 1800s, rural Fairfax County was dotted with one-room schoolhouses. With the passage of the 1870 Virginia Public Free Schools Act, the Fairfax County Public Schools system was created, incorporating existing schools and building new ones. The Legato School, one of FCPS’s first schools, sat in a location near what is now Lee Highway and Piney Branch Road in Fairfax, close to Costco and several Woodson-districted neighborhoods. As the county began to urbanize, many one-room schoolhouses were replaced by the larger elementary schools we see today, but you can still visit a restored version of the Legato School on the grounds of the Fairfax County Courthouse.

Photo by Leila Ali.

     However, not all of FCPS’s history is a source of pride for the county. FCPS schools were segregated from its founding until 1965. The county designated Luther Jackson High School for its black students, named for a voting rights leader from Virginia. The school shut down after integration, but it was reopened as Luther Jackson Middle School, currently serving the Merrifield community.

     FCPS has surged in size since desegregation, from 59,000 students in 1960 to 188,000 in 2020, mainly due to the increased urbanization of the county. Some of the oldest schools still standing in their present form include Dunn Loring Elementary School and Louise Archer Elementary School, both built in 1939. Dunn Loring’s low capacity and inability to keep up with population growth has caused it to transition into an administrative center, though the building retains its original structure. Louise Archer, named for the school’s former principal who fought for the right for African-American children’s education, continues to serve the town of Vienna as an elementary school to this day.

Dunn Loring Elementary School. Photo by Leila Ali.