Second Street School

Second Street School Living History Program

Since 1984, third- and fourth-grade students from Loudoun County and neighboring areas have been recreating a school day in 1880 by taking on the roles of the African-American children who actually attended the school at that time. More about this popular program.

Although the children of Waterford had been educated privately—primarily by Quakers—beginning in the 18th century, it wasn’t until 1867 that the first public school—“Colored ‘A,’ Jefferson District” (now known as the “Second Street School”)—was built at the corner of Fairfax and Second streets by the newly established Freedmen’s Bureau and the Quakers of Philadelphia and Waterford.

In the 1870s Waterford and the rest of Virginia instituted a public school system for white children. In the early days, the village’s school operated as the Waterford Academy. That building burned in 1909 and was replaced a year later by the Greek Revival structure that we now know as the Old School. A number of small private schools ran until about 1950.

The Second Street School

Lower Main Street in Waterford Virginia from a 1905 postcard

Students at the Second Street School

In 1866, Quaker Reuben Schooley (1826-1900) sold his Second Street property to the “colored people of Waterford and vicinity.” The local African-American population, with financial help from the Quakers, erected a school building they could also use for church functions. This is one of the first one-room schoolhouses for black children in Loudoun County and is one of the earliest African-American houses of worship.

The simple one-room frame school on Second Street was built just two years after the Civil War ended. Opened under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau, it was Waterford’s first school for the black community. The Friends’ Association of Philadelphia, Waterford’s local Quaker meeting, and a “colored educational board” provided additional support. The first teacher was Miss Sarah Ann Steer, a Quaker living down the street who had begun teaching pupils at her own home in 1865. Subsequent teachers were all from the black community.

Second Street School 1920 class in Waterford Virginia Loudoun County

Second Street School 1920 class

Early classes were large. The District Superintendent’s report to the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1868 recorded 63 students enrolled, with an average attendance of 42. Twenty-eight were older than 16. By the early 1870s the school became part of the county’s new public school system.

The school finally closed its doors in 1957 when Brown v. Board of Education made segregation illegal in the United States. Waterford’s students were bussed to Leesburg to consolidated schools until 1965, when “the new school”—Waterford’s present brick building—was completed, integrated, in that year.

The new building served from the beginning as church as well as school. African Methodist Episcopal services were held here until 1891, when John Wesley Church was built near the mill. One student recalled attending Baptist services at the school around the turn of the century. Black children from the village and nearby farms attended the school until 1957, when it was closed by the School Board. Recognizing its historical significance, the Waterford Foundation acquired the building in 1977.