By Howard Lewis
One hundred years ago, Loudoun was a predominantly agricultural county whose people lived in small towns and villages. In most of those locations, life revolved around their schools. In western Loudoun in 1916, a modern, and quite impressive, two-story, eight-room schoolhouse was built at the highest point on Bloomfield Road. It was situated about halfway between the villages of Unison and Bloomfield so that children from both places could walk to school.
The school was part of the Progressive Education movement sweeping Virginia and the country at that time, one of 16 schools constructed in Loudoun County during this period. For the ensuing three decades, through the Great War, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and the Second Great War, the Unison-Bloomfield schoolhouse was the mainstay of the educational and social life of both towns.
More than 2,200 local children spent their formative years within the walls of the school during the 30 years it existed. Indeed, it provided a modern, professional bridge of learning throughout one of our country’s most volatile eras. When the school burned down in 1944, both Unison and Bloomfield never recovered from the loss. To this day, the stone walls of the old school grounds running along the north side of Bloomfield Road at the highest point on the road are a quiet reminder of the importance of education in the first part of the 20th century.
Long-time Unison resident, Flora Hillman, spent months researching the history of the school, and produced a lengthy report on her findings. Based on interviews with people who attended the school during the 1930s, archived documents from the Loudoun County School System, deeds, published remembrances and legal documents from the County’s Archived Records Department, her report spans the colorful educational tapestry of the years between 1916 and 1944, when the local countryside woke each weekday, from September until June, to the sound of the ringing school bell on top of the hill on Bloomfield Road.
In addition to discussing the Progressive Education movement in depth, the report brings to life the introduction to schools of modern heating, indoor plumbing, electricity and transportation. We take these things for granted now; back then, they represented real progress for many people living in rural America. Further, the Unison-Bloomfield school story extends well beyond education. It plumbs the memories of real people, achieving a sense of what Loudoun County was like in the years between the two world wars.
We encourage and invite readers to peruse this fascinating history on the Unison Preservation Society website (unisonva.org). The report can be accessed by clicking on the front-page link to the Union-Bloomfield school report.
Howard Lewis served on the Board of the Unison Preservation Society (UPS) for a number of years. He and current UPS Board member Tara Connell produce the UPS newsletter, which featured an article on the Unison-Bloomfield school in the Spring 2017 issue. Flora Hillman is a writer whose articles and stories have been published in a variety of equine riding and carriage magazines since the 1980s. She and her husband, Owen Snyder, live on a farm “just down the bottom of the hill” from the site of the old Unison-Bloomfield school. She can be reached through the Unison Preservation Society website comment form. 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.