Despite being empty of students for more than 75 years, the Crouch School in Clifton may soon be an educational venue once again.
For the past few years, historians and residents in Clifton have been talking about moving the school, built in the late 1800s, into the center of the town. A shortage of open space has changed the tune of those discussions, and the new possible home appears to be on the grounds of Liberty Middle School.
“The Crouch School was probably the first public school built in Fairfax County after the public school system was created in 1870,” said Claudette Ward, a member of the Board of Directors for the Fairfax County Historical Conservation Society.
Land for the school was donated by William A. Crouch in 1874, and the school was built shortly after that and was used to educate students until 1925.
“The school was also used as a community center,” Ward said. “People would go there for social events. It was the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night.”
WHEN THE SCHOOL was no longer needed, as families moved away from the one-room school house for bigger, more community-based buildings, Ward said Crouch bought the building back from the school system, and the school has been in the family ever since.
“Most of the building is the original structure,” Ward said, with the exception of rooms on either side.
The land where the school sits, at the intersection of Compton and Union Mill Roads in Clifton, was recently purchased by a developer, who has expressed a willingness to keep the building on site until a new location can be found, said Peter Noonan, a Clifton resident and Assistant Superintendent for Cluster VII with Fairfax County Public Schools.
Noonan has been working for a few years to get the school moved to a new, safer home and thought Clifton would be the ideal location.
“What makes this school special is the son of the man who built it knows students who attended there,” Noonan said. “Anytime anyone has a chance to preserve history, whether it’s a school or a town hall, it’s a good chance to save something important from being demolished.”
Noonan is currently working to secure a site for the school but believes that land adjacent to Liberty Middle School on Union Mill Road would be best, as it would allow students to walk to a learning tool.
“This could potentially be a free field trip for some kids,” Noonan said. “I think we have a responsibility to our community to preserve history to help our children experience the past.”
Margo Buckley, chair of the Clifton Historic Preservation Committee, said she and her fellow members were excited to move the school into the town, but soon found they were short on space.
“Some people were disappointed because it would’ve been a really nice addition to the town, but we think this will be an easier move,” Buckley said.
A POSSIBILITY EXISTS that the land at Liberty, if chosen as the new home for the school, would be donated by the School Board, but various historic groups would be responsible for the building’s restoration, Buckley said.
Even though the school will technically be in the Clifton mailing address, the town’s mayor, Tom Peterson, said he wishes a way remained to relocate the school into the historic district in the small town.
“We talked about this a little at the last Town Council meeting and we’ve ruled out some possible locations in town,” Peterson said. “We ruled out the park behind the Baptist church because we want to preserve that open space as a park. We’ve run into problems with the flood plain park, and the Northern Virginia Conservancy Trust has joint ownership of the land with the Clifton Betterment Association.”
Another property owned by the town, referred to as the Barn, has also been ruled out, as has the area where the Old Town Hall stands, because resident Royce Jarrendt has submitted plans and a bid to purchase the property and restore it, another historic structure, Peterson said.
“We would’ve loved to move the school down here,” he said. “We’re a town full of old historic buildings.”
Noonan said he’s yet to hear anyone in town opposed to the idea of moving the school, and Ward won’t be the first to object.
“I think it’s wonderful to move [the school] and use it as a museum,” she said. “It’s important for people to know the history of an area. We need to know what life was life for our forebears.”