By Jane Covington
Early 19th century education in Virginia was largely organized by religious groups or private individuals; in Waterford, the Society of Friends (Quakers) established an education program around 1805. According to the late historian John Divine, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the village of Waterford supported at least 10 schools, some housed in purpose-built schoolhouses and some in private residences. Many of these structures are still standing. The relatively large number of schools in this small, rural community is testimony to the value the Quakers placed on equal education for all children.
Waterford’s first known schoolhouse is the brick, one-room structure adjoining Fairfax Meetinghouse on Loyalty Road, dating from 1805. By the 1830s, two other private academies had opened and operated in residences: Hannah Mendenhall Worley’s School (15620 Second St.), and Ratcliffe School (40138 Main St.). The Trough Road School (junction of Hamilton Station Road and Clarkes Gap Road) somehow managed to hold classes during the Civil War, and the William Williams School (15612 Second St.) operated in 1865.
After the Civil War, encouraged by activities of the Freedman’s Bureau, including publication of
textbooks and school construction, African-American residents built in 1868 the first public school in Waterford. At one time called “Colored School A,” it is known today as the Second Street School (15611 Second St.). The Quakers of Philadelphia contributed funds, as did the Freedman’s Bureau and the white and black residents of Waterford. The school, a one-room frame building heated by a coal-fired stove and with an outhouse, operated until 1957. Karen Spriggs, who attended the school in the early 1950s, said one teacher taught all grades, with an occasional assistant. Although the school was crowded, students were well-disciplined. “We were there to learn,” Mrs. Spriggs added.
According to local historian Bronwen Souders, the Sidwell sisters used their home next door (15603 Second St.) to teach children. Known as the Industrial School, and considered an adjunct to the Second Street School, its curriculum amounted to informal classes teaching domestic skills to African American students.
During the 1870s, to gain re-admittance to the Union, all Confederate states were mandated to offer public education. To provide free education, Virginia levied taxes to finance its Literary Fund, and local school districts collected personal property taxes to supplement state funds. By the late 1870s, Waterford was able to support public education for its white children, and built the Waterford Academy at the corner of Fairfax and High streets. This building was destroyed by fire in 1909; the school was rebuilt the following year, and today is well-known as the Old School. Supplementing the Old School during its tenure was Huntley School (ca. 1890, 15578 High St. in the small shingle-clad building in the rear yard).
Other private academies were founded in Waterford during the first half of the 20th Century. Camelot School (40145 Main St.), and Lucille MacCallum’s boarding school (15533 Second St.) operated briefly in the mid-20th century. Significantly, an early incarnation of Loudoun Country Day School was opened in 1955 by Dorothy McDonald and Edith Newcombe in Greystone on Clarkes Gap Road just outside Waterford. According to John Chamberlin, a native Waterfordian who attended the school for grades 6 through 8 when it was called Millvale, the school employed the Calvert educational system, and was operated by Ms. McDonald through the 1958 school year. Ms. Newcombe returned to Leesburg in 1956 and re-established a school there under the Loudoun Country Day School name.
Later, a Montessori school was started in 1967 by Marie Anderson in the Pink House (40174 Main St.). Although that school was relocated to Leesburg in 1968, Ms. Anderson, at the request of parents of her Montessori students, formulated for them an after-school cultural program in the Pink House, where the children studied and discussed poetry, Shakespeare, music and social interactions. That program, called the Explorers Club, was offered for several years.
The Old School was in use until the mid-1960s, when the Loudoun County School Board decided to abandon it. In 1965, it was sold at public auction to the Waterford Foundation. A fire destroyed the Old School’s auditorium portion in 2007, but the Foundation rebuilt it. For more than 50 years, the Old School has been the village community center, the site of meetings, classes, plays, concerts and other events.
The construction of Dulles Airport in the early 1960s precipitated intensified growth pressures in Loudoun, and the need for new schools became evident. In November 1963, with approval by Loudoun voters of a school bond referendum, the Waterford PTA advised the Board of Supervisors “they were most anxious for a new school.” A month later, the board voted to purchase 10 acres on Rt. 665 for new school construction. Built at a cost of $330,000 just across the road from the 1805 Meetinghouse School, the New School opened in November 1964. A grand open house was held Dec. 6, attended by about 300 people. In addition to speeches by school dignitaries, the school band played and original works by members of the Loudoun Sketch Club were exhibited in the library. Today, the front hall proudly bears the 6-foot by 18-foot Millennium Wall designed and constructed by artist Joan Gardiner and the Waterford students.
Jane Covington is a local preservationist and the principal of Jane Covington Restoration. For more than 30 years, with assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Waterford Foundation has conducted a living history program at the Second Street School. The program is free to Loudoun County students. Go to waterfordfoundation.org for details. In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. To learn more about the organization or to participate in the Rural Roads Initiative, go to loudouncoalition.org.