The first thing this morning when I left home I had a flat tire. When I came to Gum Springs that was before the days of drop center rims. It used to be you had to change your tires just like you change some bicycle tires. Take the casing off. Pull the tube out and patch the tube and put it back. Well, that's the way all automobiles were when I first came to Gum Springs. I think the first car I came to Gum Springs in was a 1924 Studebaker and it would do about 60 miles an hour down the hill and that was new in '24.
Another noticeable change. In those days if you stood on the road looking at your tire somebody stopped to see if you'd had tire trouble. If you had your hood up, somebody stopped. Today nobody pays attention. You better not stand out in the road or you'll get run over.
There was one little two-room school when I came then. It was originally a one-room school. It sat approximately across from the drive-in theater. That little school stayed there until a new school was built in Gum Springs. It was my task, or my pleasure, or my folly, that I tore that building down about three years ago. I had lots of thoughts about how we had to twist the county school board's arms to get that school, and yet it was so inadequate! To replace it they built the Drew Smith School.
I was going to school in Richmond, but I visited the family here who were descendants of the people for whom the Drew Smith school was made, Aunt Maria Smith was the first black teacher of the community in that school.
Mrs. Gibbs was the white lady who taught the Negroes (in that day they were Negroes) in her laundry room foyer. Then, when the county did provide a school, Aunt Maria Smith was the teacher.
I came to Washington to live 10 about '35 or '36 and I looked for somewhere in the suburbs to buy that I could raise some chickens and a pig. I happened to drive down Number 1 and something was familiar to me. I'd actually forgotten the days I did spend there enjoying the pear trees and the apple trees and the cherry trees down on the old Smith farm. Pines were all growing in the road way, but I found the old house, the well, the old root cellar where food was kept in the winter. It brought back very fond memories of a very good childhood. That farm is where the Drew Smith school is and the Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Up the road was the Kirk Wilkinson farm, a gentleman farm. Most of the people in Gum Springs worked around on those farms. They were dairy farms. They were the principal supply of the city of Alexandria's milk and some went into Washington.
There wasn't any time to fight; everybody had to work too hard to survive. The blacks in the area worked for the whites and there were practically no poor whites. I think that racial strife comes from competition for the same jobs.
The Wilkinson mansion was a big gentleman farm. They didn't have to farm for money. Negroes who did domestic work were hired by the Wilkinson Mansion. It was just like a pre-war plantation except the Wilkinsons were very generous and very kind people. They figured out the logic and were generous. The other neighbors were just as fine people, I think but they just didn't have anything to express it with.
There might be a couple of boys fighting about some apples or fish or things boys fight about, but they would get a thrashing by the first man who came by. He'd whip both of them and send them home and tell them, ''I'm gonna tell your daddy." That was what they really feared, because when he told your daddy and your daddy worked you over you didn't want to fight anymore for a long time. That was discipline to us.
The law of the county was on the other side. We had a sheriff that had an old A model Ford. When you ran all the way out to Fort Hunt Road or to the Wilkinsons to get to a telephone to tell the sheriff there was a disturbance; by the time you ran out there, called the sheriff and he drove down here - why if there was a murder the body would have been buried!
In early days if anybody thought it was necessary to call the Sheriff, citizens took the responsibility and they told what they knew. Later they had developed and there was no need for the Sheriff to come, and when he got there nobody knew anything.
Route 1 was macadam when I first started to travel it. Gum Springs was right on Number 1 in those days. When Mr. Roosevelt became president, one of his first WPA projects was to straighten Number l out. At the intersection of Sherwood Hall and Route 1 there was no straight road that ran through. Route 1 went through Gum Springs and came back up at the Belle Haven lodge. It went from behind McDonalds by the Post Office then it looped over across the present Route 1 and went down into the valley. Because horses couldn't pull wagons up Snake Hill, they had to wind around the hill.
Wherever there was poor folks and unlearned folks there was the ghost stories. There was stories of local folklore about the Civil War participants. Mt. Vernon was sympathetic with the Union side of the Civil War. A Miss Pruitt was in charge of the estate at that time. She was hiding out Union spys and Union army and that same Miss Pruitt kept the money from the Burke and Herbert Bank, hidden away in Mr. Vernon. Whenever she had a chance, she took it into Washington by horse and buggy in a large egg basket covered with eggs. She had to tell some lie about taking them to somebody in Alexandria until she got past Alexandria. After she got past the Confederate line she said she was taking them in to the President. "The President's sick and he needs fresh eggs and I'm taking them to him." So the Union lines let her through into Washington and she switched the money. Colonel Burke and Captain Herbert had left it in her care while they left in the war. She deposited it in Riggs Bank (in Washington).
Confederate money was worth nothing, absolutely nothing. So when Colonel Burke and Captain Herbert came back they had money on deposit with Riggs in Washington. That's why Burke and Herbert used to be called the oldest bank in the old dominion.
The most notable change that the county has experienced I think is in schools. Groveton High is now a campus. High schools used to be a school building on a little lot. There was no parking. Nobody had any cars - the teachers, the principal, nobody. We didn't have any school bus. There were no baseball teams with schools. The boys just went out and played in a field. So you see, we have overcome the old "grass roots" that I remember!
When we first prepared to pass a 10 million dollar school bond issue, people said, "How are we ever going to pay 10 million dollars off in school bonds? We can't do it. We're a county of poor people, farmers, and we can't. I was temporarily living in Alexandria at the time. They came in town and got me and said, "Why don't you come and help us campaign?" I rigged up the first sound truck that I knew anything about to do campaigning with. I got people who knew how to hook up a speaker and mike and I went down through Gunston, a black man campaigning among all the whites down there. I talked with a person and then I got on the sound truck. We must have persuaded them for the county to change its pattern. We cannot stay in the shadow of the Capitol.
Fairfax County never really did have marginal land; it was sub-marginal. Somebody said that George Washington became a politician because he couldn't make a living on the land. That's what we were saying. Our children were going to have to be employees of the federal government, going to have to go into the service industries because agriculture is not Fairfax County's thing.
We got that bond through and built schools like Drew 8mith, modern brick schools with sanitary facilities. We didn't have to go out to the old stinking john anymore and they didn't get water out of an unsanitary well. We began to pay teachers a more respectable wage and we saw the return. Our children became brighter and more enlightened and as soon as they were finished with school they were getting jobs.