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Hallowed Halls of Laurel Grove School Rich in Black History

Ninety-four year-old Winnie Spencer expressed the value of education at the "Laurel Grove Story Swap," at the Laurel Grove Baptist Church on Beulah Street in Franconia. As a youth, her parents could neither read or write, so Spencer had to be quick with the pen.

"My parents couldn't read or write, so I did a lot of forging," she said.

Spencer had to walk quite a distance to Alexandria and then ride a train to Washington, D.C., for high school. This played a major role in the creation of the Laurel Grove School for African Americans in the Franconia area.

"He got tired of walking to Alexandria, so that's how we got a school and a church, because he got tired of walking," Spencer added. She was speaking of her father, William Jasper, who was instrumental in building the school back in 1883 along with former slaves Thornton Gray and George Carroll.

The morning of Saturday, Feb. 9, was filled with stories of those who experienced segregation and the drive for education at the third-annual story swap, initiated by the Franconia Museum Coalition and the Laurel Grove Foundation. Both organizations are active in the preservation of the old school house and local history.

"I think people moving to this area should know the history," said Sue Patterson of the Franconia Museum Coalition.

Fellow coalition member David Shaw agreed. "To give some reality to those Franconia road signs on the highway, you all are very important to us," he said to the packed church alongside the schoolhouse.

Ada Roberts was at the front of the church with fellow panelists and family members Toni Arrington, Connie Rimmer and Mamie Lightfoot. They were all descendants of George Carroll. Many of the original trustees of Laurel Grove were former slaves of Dennis Johnston of West Grove and William Hayward Foote, who owned Hayfield Farms, which was given to him by Gen. George Washington after he tended Mount Vernon while Washington was away at the Revolutionary War.

"In order for others to know, we must tell the story. We have witnessed history, remember, tell the story," said Pastor Ed Young.

<mh>Carrolltown

<bt>A passage from an article in the Fairfax Herald, dated Dec. 12, 1910, referred to the Kingstowne area as "Carrolltown." Many questioned the whereabouts of that name and the introduction of Kingstowne. Lee District transportation representative Bob Heittman addressed their concern. He compared the situation to an area called "Wiehle," which was plowed under the existing town of Reston.

"Original name or concept for Kingstowne was 'New Franconia.' It [Kingstowne] was a commercial venture," said Heittman. “We decided Franconia is not going to be under anything."

Sue Patterson noted the value of history to newcomers in the area.

"I think people moving to this area should know the history," she said.

"Kingstowne should have been named ‘Carrolltown.’ The museum is going to really help," Roberts added.

One Kingstowne resident recently moved in and appreciated the sense of history in the area and shared it with the audience. Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) attended the talk as well.

"What people choose to preserve and remember says volumes about what they value and where they are going as a community," he said.

Joan Kelly Ozdogan, director of the community health resource division at Inova Health System, was first approached by Barbara Fried, of Fried & Associates in Springfield, about Laurel Grove. Ozdogan knows the value of preservation.

"This must be preserved here. We must be able to tell the children that it wasn't always easy to get an education. Modernization has taken the soul of the community. What we do by preserving areas is preserving the soul," she said.

Phyllis Walker-Ford was raised in a house that her parents built in 1942 on land that is now occupied by the Inova HealthPlex behind Laurel Grove. She is on the Franconia Museum Establishment Committee and the Laurel Grove School Association.

"We have our own flavor of history," she said of the area.

Plans for the school include a museum with artifacts from the area. Schools will be invited for tours and re-enactments.

"We're going to have some furnishings and re-enactments from the 1920s," Walker-Ford said.

Ozdogan noted that as well.

"We want this to be an integral part of learning for elementary schools," she said.