One of the neat reminders of Fairfax County’s not-so-distant rural past just got added to the National Register of Historic Places. But without some financial help from the community, it may not last.
It is Fairfax County’s last one-room schoolhouse, the Sydenstricker Schoolhouse, a long-time landmark in the Pohick community of Springfield. But after 112 colorful years as both a school and meeting place, it has no money for things like running water, air conditioning and a new roof, and survives on the hard work of the all-volunteer Upper Pohick Community League.
Often called “the Little Red Schoolhouse,” though it started its life white, the modest structure on Hooes Road is the last remaining schoolhouse in Fairfax that is still unaltered and on its original site. It has got its original tin roof, large leaded windows and concrete foundation. It didn’t have electricity when it functioned as a school, and the heat came from a pot-bellied stove.
But as an outpost in rural Fairfax, it served as a place where people could come bring their trash on certain weekends, and also hosted fund-raising turkey shoots, in which marksmen could sit inside the school and fire out in comfort.
“This little school,” said Lisa Friedrich Becker, the Upper Pohick league president, “is what this place was like 100 years ago. There’s nothing like this anymore.”
The school was built in 1900, burned down in 1928 and was promptly rebuilt on the same spot. But around that time, the idea of small one-room schools was falling out of fashion. Whereas in 1900 the county’s student population of 2,246 was served almost entirely by small schoolhouses, by the 1930s larger schoolhouses were seen as more efficient, according to Becker’s extensive research.
“Pohick School #8” also served as a chapel for a growing Methodist congregation in the area, led by the minister Christopher Sydenstricker. The Methodists in 1911 built the Sydenstricker Chapel next door to the school, which also still stands, and now have the modern Sydenstricker United Methodist Church across the street.
When Pohick School #8 burned in July 1928, no time was lost rebuilding it. The low bidder was hired at a cost of $1,649.75, Becker’s research shows. Construction was completed in October 1928, and the school reopened in November 1928. The Fairfax Herald called it “a model one-room schoolhouse.”
But larger schools were overtaking the First-through-Seventh Grade schoolhouses, and the school closed for the first time in 1934. Parents in the Pohick region complained that the roads from their rural area wouldn’t allow them to get to the fancy big schools, and Pohick #8 reopened for two more years from 1937 to 1939 before it closed for good.
“The last one-room school in Fairfax County, Va., passed into discard yesterday,” The Washington Post reported.
The building was not abandoned though. Soon after World War II started, it became a Red Cross center for rolling of bandages, according to Manuel Pablo, a former Upper Pohick Community League president and member since 1972. The community league was formed in 1948, is the oldest civic group in Springfield and one of the oldest in Fairfax County.
The league or its predecessors had been using the building since 1939, installed electricity and heat, and in 1954 bought the schoolhouse from the school district for $550. It was used by many local groups, the league sponsored Boy and Girl Scout troops, and held an annual fund-raiser, the turkey shoot from out of the windows. Pablo said that revenue source dried up in the 1960s when Fairfax County outlawed the firing of guns in public.
“This building has been the hub for this community,” Pablo said. “Dances and social events,” even “park outs.” “Park outs” were when the county would bring a large truck every so often and folks could come and dump their trash. This occurred until the mid-’80s, Pablo said.
But the Upper Pohick league does not have the financial wherewithal to maintain the building, particularly as the area became less rural and other neighborhood groups sprang up in recent years to carve away members. “We have beaten the bushes to find somebody to take over and preserve this place,” Becker said. But no parks or preservations groups have stepped up for the relatively small property.
“We want to sustain it as a community asset” for meetings and events, Becker said, “but we’re a small group and this needs thousands and thousands of dollars.” The original tin roof is starting to leak. The 1950s-era heater is declining. There’s no air conditioning. There is lead in the windows and elsewhere. Where once it shared a well with the Sydenstricker chapel, there is no connection to the current water system. Repairs are estimated to cost perhaps $100,000.
Eagle Scout projects over the years have helped preserve parts of the schoolhouse, including one which enabled the original bell to be rung again after many years of silence.
The group is trying to save the schoolhouse, and hopes that getting it on the National Register is a step in the right direction. A coffeehouse with live music is scheduled for the night of Sept. 22.