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Franklin Sherman at 90

School celebrates 90 years of education

Looking over old photographs, Lorraine Donohue and Phil Graves talked about old times of walking to school, when McLean was nothing more than a trolley car stop in the middle of fields.

"My father came here in 1925 and built a house on Marion Avenue off Dolley Madison in 1926, which is where I live now," Graves said. "I wouldn't live anywhere else."

Donohue, who was known as Lorraine Seegrist at the time, said she wouldn't have missed this celebration "for the world."

It was a chance to reminisce, they said, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean.

The school had been an integral part of their childhood, which opened in 1915 and became the first consolidated school in Fairfax County a few years later.

"We did have a strong sense of community here," Graves said. "Everybody knew everybody or knew whose kid you were."

"I loved going to school here... I grew up across the street from the school and could play in the playground all summer," Donohue said. "I remember all our teachers playing out in the school ground."

The former classmates talked about the teachers they remembered, the games they'd play during recess, how much McLean has changed since they were children.

EARLIER IN THE MORNING, an assembly was held for the current Franklin Sherman students who were treated to a visit by Ed Sherman, great-great grandson of the school's namesake, said principal Marty Smith.

"The students were very interested to hear that Franklin Sherman was in the Civil War," Smith said. "Franklin Sherman was also an entomologist, which means he worked with bugs. The kids were not too happy to find out that there's a certain type of shellac used on bugs to preserve them and it's the same kind used to keep M&Ms from melting."

For Ed Sherman, the trip to the school that bears his great-great-grandfather's name was a first.

"I grew up in South Carolina and Florida, I've never been here," he said. "Very few people actually know anything about Franklin Sherman, he's just a name."

Members of the school's anniversary committee tracked Sherman down to see if he'd be interested in surprising the students and alumni during the celebration, to fill in some details on Franklin Sherman's life.

"Franklin Sherman was a captain for the Union during the Civil War but he was not related to William T. Sherman," he said. "He went to Michigan to join the 10th Volunteer Calvary and served in Tennessee fighting the Confederates."

After the war, Sherman was appointed the sheriff of Fairfax County and later married Caroline Matilda Clapp Alvord, "a 20-year-old woman from Massachusetts who was sent to Virginia to teach the freedmen," Sherman said, referring to former slaves who had been freed after the Civil War.

The couple had 11 children, and Franklin Sherman became very interested in their education, Ed Sherman said.

He tenure as sheriff ended when he received orders to beat an African American woman for an offense Sherman hadn't been able to determine, he said. Franklin Sherman refused and resigned on the spot.

"He said he wasn't going to flog anyone and especially not someone whose crime he wasn't sure of," Ed Sherman said.

"My great-great-grandfather didn't do big things with his life, the way I see it," Ed Sherman said. "He did what all of us did, throughout his life he did a lot of little things. It was enough that when he died in 1915, they decided to name a school after him."

FRANKLIN SHERMAN Elementary School was the first school in the county to consolidate four one-room school houses, said Carole Herrick, McLean's historian. The school combined the seven classes at Langley, Lewinsville, Chesterbrook and Spring Hill into one centralized location, centered on an electric trolley car line which was originally designed to draw tourists to Great Falls.

"The school had 29 students when it first opened and consisted of a brick building with six rooms," Herrick said. "In 1952 the school moved to its current location because it needed to expand as the population grew. There was no cafeteria when this school opened, there was no library."

The school has played an integral part in the history of medicine as well, she said, as the site where the first polio vaccination trials were held in 1954.

"That wasn't planned at all, it just sort of happened spontaneously," she said. "Those children who held out their arms and their parents who let them were pioneers and we should be grateful to them for their bravery."

The school was burned during a fire in the 1970s and led to a renovation that included the then-popular open classrooms, said Jane Strauss, Dranesville District representative to the Fairfax County School Board. "This school was built over a Civil War encampment, Camp Griffin, which was a horse re-shodding area. When the school is renovated starting in two years from this fall, we're hoping to find some interesting things as we sift through the dirt."

Strauss also presented a gift to the school: Copies of Civil War photographs taken from the area where the school now sits, to be framed and hung when the renovation is complete.

With only 390 students in preschool through sixth grade, Franklin Sherman is considered a small school in Fairfax County, said outgoing Parent Teacher Association president Wilma Bowers. "We represent 30 countries and 20 languages. We consider this school to be a tremendous asset to Fairfax County."

Principal Marty Smith said that there's no way of knowing what the school will be like in 10 years, celebrating its 100th anniversary, but he encouraged the students and alumni to dream about the future.

"This building will change, we'll be in a new school in 10 years," he said. "We can ensure that this school will be a technological showcase, where students and teachers from around the county can learn to integrate technology into their classrooms."