Laurel Grove School

Historical Significance

Laurel Grove School, a one-room school, was built in the early 1880's by free blacks to serve the educational needs of the African American children in the Franconia community of Fairfax County, Virginia. Laurel Grove is one of the few remaining "colored" school houses in Fairfax County from the 19th century, and represents an educational institution that existed during the Jim Crow racial segregation period of Fairfax County history.

The history of the school paints a picture of what occurred in public education in Fairfax County after the Civil War, showcasing the importance that freed men and women placed on getting an education, through their own initiative and resources. 

In 1881, William Jasper and his wife Georgianna deeded one-half acre of land from their thirteen-acre farm to the local Franconia school district. Jasper, a former slave, cited in a Freedmen's Register as a "black man 5 foot 6 1/2 inches high, scar on the back of the left hand, scar on the ankle", joined Middleton Braxton, George Carroll, Thornton Gray and others in the community to address the urgent need of educating their children.

The school was built and sustained by the parents of the children who attended. Little help with furnishings, textbooks, or other necessities were provided by the County, which paid for one cord of wood per school year and the teacher's salary. Students walked several miles to attend and helped the teacher with daily chores to prepare the classroom each day.

Laurel Grove School served students in grades one through seven from the early 1880's until 1932, when it was closed by the County.  

Physical Description

Founder William Jasper was enslaved on Hayfield Plantation, owned by William Haywood Foote. His parents Morris and Eliza were enslaved on the Dogue Run Plantation, owned by George Washington. Jasper was freed in 1846 by Foote's will, and purchased 13 acres of land in February 1860, deeding 1/2 acre to build Laurel Grove School in 1881. William and his wife Georgianna's daughter's children attended the school in the early 1900's, and four of the five continued their education after attending Laurel Grove, taking a train into Washington, DC to attend high school. These four became teachers; two taught in Fairfax County during segregation. William and Georgianna Jasper deeded 1/2 acre of land to the Laurel Grove Baptist Church trustees in May, 1884.

Co-founder Thornton Gray, born free in 1813, was the son of Thomzen, a free woman emancipated by General George Washington. Gray purchased 5 acres of land and, like Jasper, was farming by 1860.

Jane Carroll, ancestor of co-founder George Carroll, was enslaved by Dennis Johnston. In 1856, his heirs freed the Carroll family and allowed them to farm ten acres. This area and the land purchased after the Civil War by George Carroll became known as Carrollton, located just a couple of miles from Laurel Grove. Wood from the Carroll property was donated to build the new school.                        

The Reconstruction Act of 1867 demanded that Southern states ratify new constitutions to gain re-admittance into the Union. Virginia registered voters and called an election to decide if the state should call a convention to revise its constitution. William Jasper and Thornton Gray were among the 226 Fairfax County blacks who registered. All voted for a convention. Jasper and Gray returned in 1869 and voted for adoption of the Constitution.

Emma J. Quander was the first paid teacher at Laurel Grove. She was 18 years old and earned $18 per month.

Marguarite Giles was one of the last students to attend Laurel Grove. In an oral history interview she discussed her 5 mile walk to the school each morning and her love of learning, particularly for mathematics. She felt she was just as smart as other students, but couldn't attend high school because her family didn't have the money to send her to Washington, DC to pursue further education.  Marguarite received her GED at age 60 and attended Northern Virginia Community College.      

The school structure has been restored by family descendants and interested citizens to interpret the story of the community's refusal to narrow its ambitions. Laurel Grove exists today as a "living museum" available to area schools and the general public.  

Geographical and Contact Information

6840 Beulah Street
Alexandria, Virginia
22310
Phone: 703-322-0833

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Laurel Grove School,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed June 29, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/239.

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