The recent demolition of a landmark colored school in the heart of Great Falls is being bemoaned by some residents as a cultural loss to the community. The simple clapboard frame structure was unceremoniously demolished last month by a developer who intends to build a home where the school, the only one serving the local black population, once stood.
“If we can save the Old Schoolhouse next to the Grange, why couldn’t we save this one? I suspect it’s because it’s a different part of our history,” said Romeda Milliken.
“We can’t bring it back but maybe we can save the next [historical property],” Milliken said.
The one-room schoolhouse was directly across the street from the existing Great Falls Elementary School and had been there for more than 100 years. The school was known as “Forestville School” ( as several schools in the area have been named) and also as “Colored School A or B.”
On April 7, 1999, the schoolhouse was added to the Fairfax Historical Commission’s inventory of historic places, after members of the community learned that the owner intended to sell the property and fears emerged it would be torn down. “That doesn’t get you any protection, though. All that gets you is sympathy,” said local historian Milburn Sanders.
The fact that it was included in the registry, Sanders said, indicates that people did care about the building and its significance to Great Falls.
“I didn’t like to see it go, but I realize there’s not a lot you can do about it,” Sanders added.
“THOUGH NOT a part of our glorious past, it was part of our American history.” said Milliken. “The new owner was well aware of the property’s significance. Local history buffs were attempting to save it, but to no avail. The word ‘shame’ comes to mind — shame on the new owner, a shame for all of us,” said Milliken.
“There was a black school in Great Falls? I didn’t know that. It would have made a good place for a local history museum or something,” said resident Lynda Clark.
Milliken was particularly incensed that the house was demolished during Black History Month. Great Falls has precious few ties to the early black population that helped build and develop the community. Sanders said he has been looking for a second black school reported to have been in Dranesville but has never been able to locate it.
According to Sanders, on Aug. 30, 1884, a man by the name of “Rouzee” deeded one acre of land to the School Board for the colored school. “It was built shortly after that, because in those days, with a one-room schoolhouse, it didn’t take long to build,” said Sanders. From 1886-87, R.T Jackson from Spring Hill taught the students there. From 1887-88, Mrs. H Smith taught there, followed by a Henrietta Smith (probably the same person) from 1888-89. Two more teachers followed before the school was shut down in the early 1900s.
One of those teachers was a man named Hillary Lucas.
Sanders discovered that Lucas was menaced at the school at one point. “On March 22, 1897, Josh Clay was arrested by the local constable and charged with beating and abusing Lucas on March 13. He was convicted and fined $5,” said Sanders.
The African-American students who attended the little schoolhouse would have lived in close proximity to the school. “In those days, you have to think of the horse and buggies. They would have come from only a few miles of the school,” said Sanders.
On Jan. 6, 1913, the schoolhouse was sold at public auction to Cornelius Johnson, who used it as a summer home. His widow, Sarah, sold it on March 20, 1945, to William and Francis Wenzel, who flipped the property a month later, selling it to Harry and Maude Davis.
Harry Rollison, who had worked for Harry Davis and was once a tenant in the house, bought the property on June 25, 1959. His widow, Esther, sold the property to the developer in 2002.
All traces of the school have been eradicated now, as construction of the new home is in full swing.