Laurel Grove School Museum preserves the history of a one-room schoolhouse that operated between the early 1880s to the 1930s to serve the black children in Franconia and Springfield. The school was the first publicly-supported school for black children in the region. Prior to this time, several free black families pooled resources to support teachers and subscription schools operated in private homes, given the prohibitive costs of renting a facility and the likelihood that such a school would be attacked by a white mob. At the end of the Civil War, there were thousands of few former slaves who wished to attend school but did not have the resources to build one. Because segregation laws prevented black children from attending white schools, the efforts of black communities, often with the support of charitable whites, were essential. Today, the Laurel Grove School has been fully restored and is operated as a museum to preserve and share the history of this building and its larger role in American history.
The Laurel Grove School is a historic symbol showcasing the values and dreams of freedmen and women in the post-war south. It also provides valuable insight into what public education was like in the 1880s, as well as the freedmen and women’s value of education.
The history of the Laurel Grove School begins in 1881, when William Jasper, a former slave, and his wife, Georgianna, reached out to several members of the community regarding the urgent need for their children’s educations. As such, in 1881, Jasper deeded one-half acre of land from their farm to the Franconia school district.
Soon after, the freed men and women got to work on the school, finishing the one-room schoolhouse in the early 1880s. To build the schoolhouse, parents, grandparents, and neighbors provided the materials, tools, and labor, and the founders (William Jasper, Middleton Braxton, George Carroll, and Thornton Gray, and others) hired teachers, fundraised for books, and found donations for the school’s piano and other furnishings. Emma J. Quander was the first paid teacher at the school; she was 18 at the time and earned $18 a month.
There was substantial resistance and harassment coming from the community’s white residents, but the enthusiasm and pride within the African American community prevailed. This did not, however, prevent rocks being thrown through windows, for example. The school remained a fixture in the Franconia and Springfield black community until 1932, teaching grades one through seven.
The Laurel Grove School is the only remaining African-American schoolhouse in Northern Virginia. As a living museum, Laurel Grove provides hands-on activities to children and offers tours by request. The museum also offers other cultural and educational activities, such as pictorial history exhibits, talks by history makers, children’s story hour, and other subjects.1