The first public school that was built in the United States was built by George Washington. It was built down on Harrison Lane, and the foundation is still there today. Right out in the woods, right out there about 100 yards is the stone foundation for that school house, and the house right there on the corner is built out of the material that was torn down from that school house.
Before Mount Vernon High School was built, which was opened in 1940, they went to school in Lee Jackson High School in Alexandria on Duke Street. That took care of the territory from Alexandria to Woodbridge to Annandale. You know where the old Groveton grammar school is? At the time they built that little school it had eight small rooms to it, but the people in this area got up in arms and wanted to know where they was going to get enough children to fill that school!
When they built Mount Vernon they didn't have any gym. Groveton High School was the first high school built in Fairfax County that had a track or stadium that was built by the School Board. Before Mount Vernon when they played basketball they went to Fort Belvoir and played in the Quonset hut down there at Fort Belvoir. They didn't have an auditorium. When they had a commencement exercise, they went to the Reed Theater in
I was county agricultural agent for Fairfax County, Virginia from 1937 through 1970. I was a representative of Virginia Polytechnical Institute and the County of Fairfax, and also of the United States Department of Agriculture. Our main objective was to take the information from the experiment stations of the state of Virginia to the farmers and the homeowner who use it. This included home demonstration work, food, nutrition, and clothing. It also included farm crops, livestock, horticulture, vegetables, Four-H club work, youth programs, and things of this kind, that the state agriculture and Home Economics Department was interested in distributing to the people. In addition to that we distributed various outlines and bulletins which were published by the Federal Department of Agriculture and by the state of Virginia which the people in Fairfax County used in their every day life and programs.
The land in this area here was principally farming. Fairfax County was the leading dairy county in the state of Virginia. There were 317 commercial dairy farms in Fairfax County when I came here to work in 1937. They marketed their milk through a cooperative known as the Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Association. Fairfax County was large enough to have three directors in this area. One of them was Mr. Lud Popkins who lived right down the road here on Popkins Lane. Shortly thereafter he went out of the dairy business. His brother, Earl Popkins, became the director from this eastern area of Fairfax County. This was in 1937-38.
This part of the county also produced a lot of truck crops. They had grapes, apples, and vegetables like cabbage, turnips, tomatoes, and string beans. We had farm markets in those days, where a farmer could take his produce from the farm. He'd pick it one evening, take it in the next morning and offer it for sale right there in the farmer's market in Alexandria, and also in Washington, D.C. In those days we had automobiles and trucks so it didn't take them very long to get to market.
Down the road there were several nurseries that grew flowers for sale. One of the largest nurseries was right down at the end of Number 1 highway, just at it entered Alexandria. They wholesaled their flowers to the flower shops in Washington and Baltimore.
A third thing which we had down here was poultry. People needed eggs and fried chicken in the restaurants, and at the military reservations. Many of those eggs and chickens were produced right in this neighborhood. You see, we didn't have electrical refrigeration and we didn't have good highways with large refrigerated trucks to keep farm produce fresh as we do today. Most of the foods that were grown for the cities or urban communities were produced nearby.
Another factor which wasn't too healthy in some respects were hog farms. The farmers had a great big fence around a piece of woods. They would go to the hotels and the military reservations, get the garbage, and bring it out and put it on a board or concrete platform and let the hog go in and eat it. After the hogs got all the garbage they could handle they'd go down and take a nap in the woods. This was quite profitable because anyone could make a profit in producing a farm product if you got feed free. Health ordinances today do not permit this type of activity.
There were two Popkins brothers, Parker brothers, the Masons, W. F. P. Reid over here on Beacon Hill. C. K. Wilkinson down the road here just a piece. There were many that I didn't become personally acquainted with because in 1941 I was called to war and I didn't get back for 4½ years. By that time Springfield, Groveton, Kings Park and all the others were starting to have housing developments. The pigs had gone and people were coming in. Although these dairy farms lasted a little longer than this because somehow cows don't smell quite as bad as pigs.
The farms varied, but the average farm was about 100 acres. Back in those days many people had farms of 150 acres, and 50 acres of it was in woods. Also, a farmer usually cut his own fence posts out in his own wood. If you wanted some lumber you hauled your own logs to the saw mill from your own trees. The woods furnished leaves for bedding and for mulching. It furnished a place for the cow to go down in the woods and have a baby calf or the horse to find a place to hide to have a baby colt. It produced some protection on cold winter days when the animals were out getting some exercise. Many of these pig pens were down in the woods because it didn't need much shelter. 30 to 50 acres of most all the farms being in woods and bushes was a pretty good idea.
Generally speaking, a farmer could support around from 20 to 30 cows on a hundred acres. This meant about 3 acres per cow. There was quite an advantage to raise your own feed. It was also to your advantage to have your own pasture and let the cows eat all the grass they could.
The corn crop was usually followed by wheat or oats. The wheat was sold to the mill for somebody to make bread out of and some was kept over to feed the chickens. If they grew oats, horses or chickens either one could eat oats. Then the third or fourth years you had it in clover or timothy or some form of hay. Most of these people had a four year crop rotation. You generally tried to have as many or twice as many acres of hay as you had either corn and wheat. This rotation was a good thing to do because if they planted corn in the same field every year the insects or diseases would get bad. Now later on there were strains of corn developed which were resistant to the insects and the diseases. In those days they didn't spray corn at all. They found that if they rotate around, the corn insects didn't bother the hay and the hay insects, if there were any, didn't bother the corn.
Deer and wild turkeys did all right until automobiles came along. A deer will not live in an area where automobiles are. That's one of the big problems we have with the parks today. Just as soon as they build a big park they build a big road right through it and the deer will not live where you have automobiles. We had possums, and 'coons, and I expect you still have possums and coon around here. Crows didn't do much except eat corn and get in the farm crops and one thing and another and it was usually considered a nuisance, but we had 'em anyway.
We had a little bird that was right much of a nuisance because he carried disease from one farm to another and that was the English Sparrow. I've been in Washington, D.C. and Alexandria too, and seen those things just as thick as they could be because they had a lot of horses in Alexandria, and Washington and they'd drop grain all around the streets. The birds would come out and eat. Also, the rats came. You hear conservation people saying, "Why don't you save pollution and get a horse?" Can you imagine what Washington, D.C. would look like today if it had as many horses in there as it would take? The horse manure would be four feet deep on the streets from one place to another! In those days the men had to go up and down the streets with wheelbarrows and brooms to pick up the horse manure allover the streets.
The areas that started to being developed first were those areas in woods and bushes because the farmers didn't want to sell any farm land. The reason they did was because the taxes got so high that they couldn't compete with the markets to the west and to the south of us. With the good roads and with refrigeration it doesn't make any difference to you, now, whether an egg is produced in Groveton or whether that egg is produced up in the Shenandoah Valley where most of 'em are.
Fishing of course took place out in the Potomac River until it became so polluted that no one wanted to eat the fish or the fish couldn't live. There was even oysters, clams, and all kinds of fish.
Now it's against the law for you to shoot and the reason its against the law is for safety purposes. It's almost impossible to shoot or explode anything now without it damaging the neighbors. Whenever you get so that you build as many as three houses on an acre, there's no place on that acre that you can shoot safely.
Same with steel traps. They used to trap possums, and now every time you tried to trap something like that you'd catch somebody's dog or cat. Well, you just as well catch one of their children as try to catch their dog or cat 'cause they'd make just as much fuss over it.
Originally the means of cultivating was with a hoe. Then people got a horse or a mule.
Later on we got garden tractors after W.W. II was over and they became popular. It used to be that all the tractors were run with kerosene. They didn't start very easily and you'd have to crank and crank and sometimes you could get your hoeing done before you got the tractor started. It was an evolution from a hoe, to the single shovel plough with a mule or a horse, to the garden tractor.