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Is Black Schoolhouse a Teardown?

The little house with a Florida room across the front that sits directly across Walker Road from Great Falls Elementary School in Great Falls is a historic relic from a time when children were separated by race when they went to school.

In the 19th century, it was a black schoolhouse whose population was drawn from several black communities in Great Falls and McLean, local historians say.

From 1947 until this year, the house was the home of Esther Rollison.

But she recently sold the house and moved to Sterling, saying the cost of repairs was prohibitive. Now, the house is likely to be torn down, she said.

“I raised my family there,” said Rollison, who still attends Great Falls United Methodist Church. “Yes, it was fun living there. We had a lot of friends, and we always had good neighbors.

When she first moved there with her husband, Rollison said, there were no other houses nearby.

“The only other family lived on the other side of the cemetery” [on Walker Road], she said.

Asked how she felt about the prospect that the house will be torn down, she said, “I don’t have any feelings about it at all, honey. The place is over 100 years old. I didn’t have the money to keep it going. It would’ve taken $20,000,” she said.

“After my husband passed away, it was just a lot of work for me.

“I have good feelings about having raised my family there, and living in a wonderful community like Great Falls. I have good memories about doing things in and around Great Falls,” Rollison said.

Although the Fairfax County History Commission added the structure to the county’s inventory of historic places on April 7, 1999, that carries no protections, said Milburn Sanders, a lifelong resident of Great Falls and one of Dranesville District’s representatives to the Fairfax County History Commission.

As a historic structure, the building “shows something of Great Falls, but the owner has a right to do as he pleases,” Sanders said. “I can’t see a battle to save it.”

“About the only preservation measure left is to photograph it and document it.” he said. “That thing is hanging in the balance. It may or may not go down,” he said.

Karen Washburn, a current member and former chairman of the Fairfax County History Commission, said the house is in good shape and could be moved to another location and preserved. “It might have another application,” she said.

Sanders did a title search on the building, which shows that its one-acre site was deeded to Richard Johnson, Alfred Leigh, James W. Smith and other trustees of the Dranesville School District by William S. and Clara W. Rouzee on Aug. 30, 1884.

As a one-room school house, the building saw a procession of teachers: R. T. Jackson from the nearby Spring Hill area taught there in 1886-87, Sanders said.

“Mrs. H. Smith” was the teacher in 1887-88, and from 1988-89 it was Henrietta Smith, probably the same person. Ella Adams then taught there, and a man named Hillary Lucas, before the school closed in the early 1900s.

“A Mrs. Burgess taught the residual pupils for a while,” said Sanders.

On Jan. 6, 1913, the property was sold at public auction to Cornelius T. Johnson, who used the building as a summer home.

On March 20 1945, Sarah Johnson, his widow, sold the property to William H. and Mary Frances Wenzel, and they sold it to Harry and Maude Davis just a month later, on April 24, 1945.

An addition to the frame, one-story school house was constructed, and a small lean-to addition was made to the rear, resulting in the house’s current configuration.

Harry H. Rollison worked for Mr. Davis and for a time was a tenant in the house. He and his wife, Esther, bought the house on June 25, 1959. They completed the additions and added a basement and bathroom, Sanders said.