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
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.
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.
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.
The Foundation’s Second Street School Living History program, developed with the help of the National Endowment for the Humanities, fosters an appreciation of the opportunities and limitations faced by black children in a segregated one-room school. Recitation, seat work with slates and copy books, memory exercises, and a spelling bee are part of the two-hour school “day.”
Waterford Foundation volunteers take on the identities of the teacher, Miss Aura Nickens, and her assistant, Miss Lizzie Simms. The program reaches some 1,500 young scholars during a five-week fall session and a nine-week spring term each year. To reach an even greater audience with Waterford’s cultural history, interactive Second Street School and African-American history modules are now available. Visit this link to experience life as a student in Waterford in 1880. See how a student would learn, play, read, write, and even be punished.
Teachers: Sign up for the program for the 2013-14 school year begins in August. Phone or email the foundation for more information.
The Waterford Old School
The public school for the white children in Waterford incorporated Quaker Elisha Walker’s private “Waterford Academy. ” When the Academy burned down in 1909, the following year the school building we know today as the “Old School” was constructed on five acres at the northeastern entry point to the village.
The building was expanded in 1928 to include a large auditorium and hallway connecting to the classroom building. The school served the white students of Waterford until 1957. It stopped operating the same year the Second Street School was closed.
For 80 years those two structures—classroom building and auditorium—played a vital role in the life of the Waterford area. Then, on January 25, 2007, a fire ignited in the basement of the auditorium and engulfed the building in flames.
Fire companies from many Loudoun County (and even some Maryland) jurisdictions battled to extinguish the three-alarm blaze and save the classroom portion of the wooden structure. The auditorium was a total loss. (The Loudoun County Fire Department ruled the fire to be accidental, starting in the basement of the auditorium, in or near the propane furnace.)
For the greater Waterford community, including friends and supporters who live far outside the village, the loss of this familiar structure was devastating. For the Board of the Waterford Foundation, rebuilding the lost auditorium was imperative to its mission. But the decision was more a declaration of will than an assessment of resources. The Board created a task force that immediately focused on pulling together the resources necessary to reconstruct and rehabilitate the building to the highest standards of historic preservation and to meet community goals of broad functionality.
Five years later, in April 2012, after the Foundation’s Raise the Roof capital campaign secured the funds needed to construct the new auditorium, and after meticulous planning and design approved by the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, and historic easement holders, the Waterford Old School auditorium opened its doors. Linked to the impeccably restored classroom building by a glassed atrium and a gracious entry hall, the new auditorium is already fulfilling its promise as a venue for the Waterford Concert Series of classical music, Waterford Books & Wine authors’ lectures and wine-tasting series, Waterford Lectures on History & Ideas, [all preceding programs link to related sections in in ENJOY] community theater, art and photography exhibits, educational programs, town meetings, and, of course, the Waterford Homes Tour & Craft Exhibit.
In addition, the new Waterford Old School is available for rent for private events, including weddings, family reunions, graduation celebrations, conferences, and meetings.
The Waterford Foundation, Inc., welcomes all inquiries for use of the Old School auditorium. And we welcome your financial support in our efforts to acquire lighting and furnishings. Please click here for more information on the many ways you can help and the many benefits of participation.