On Nov. 8, Douglas Cobb, Vice President of the Great Falls Historical Society, introduced a panel of four speakers at the Wednesday night meeting at the Great Falls Grange – Joan Wehner, Bob Mobley, Joan Bliss, and Phil Stone.
They spoke about the 1983 community-wide effort 34 years ago to buy and then to renovate the Olde Forestville School House. They were instrumental in these efforts that allow the continued use by Great Falls residents for many years to come. Many other “old timers” also helped raise the $50,000 toward the purchase and another $50,000 for the restoration. The Fairfax County Park Authority put up another $150,000 in bond money to complete the purchase from United Virginia Bank. Initially Supervisor Nancy Falck, and the Park Authority were not in favor of the purchase, but when they saw how committed the community was, they came to see it in another light.
JOAN WEHNER also showed a few pictures of the long and earlier history of the little school. The building had been a one-roomed school, then a two-roomed school, then a residence, long before conversion to a bank and our Post Office. Additional earlier history was spontaneously recounted by Caroline Miller, who lived there as a child, and was in the last graduating school class in what was then called Forestville School, prior to the 1959 relocation to the next Great Falls school where two fire stations have since been built. Perhaps we can devote another whole program to this some day.
Joan Wehner led the presentations and displayed the many newspaper accounts including in the local papers and the Washington Post, which had been diligently researched by Alex Brudno of the Historical Society staff, and organized into the power point by the Society IT manager, Rebekah Johnson.
Joan also described the historical evolution of Great Falls before the two shopping areas came, when there was only the Grange, the school, Buck Werner’s general store, the 7-11, two gas stations and the old fire station along Georgetown Pike.
Names of prominent Great Falls citizens from the past were remembered, including Jack and Mary Bird, Harrison Wehner, Frances Davila, George and Elke Summers, Milburn Sanders, Mack (Jack) Crippen. The list goes on, and does, on the plaques still on the school-house wall, naming the dozens of benefactors and contributors to the effort. Just looking at this list is a history lesson.
Phil Stone told how he and Don Zeigler had created Great Falls Heritage as a 501c3 organization to accept tax-exempt donations and negotiate with the First Virginia Bank and the Fairfax County Park Authority for the transaction. Many people of the Great Falls Citizens Association had devoted time to “preserving the semi-rural character of the area” since it was created in 1967, and joined this effort as well.
Joan Bliss told of the fundraising efforts that she managed with help from Mary Bird, Dorothy Horvath and Francis Davila and others, including mailings, two fundraising Galas, with cars given for auction by the Ford and Toyota dealerships.
Bob Mobley, our local decorated architect, described the efforts on the restoration of the school, including replacing the roof with the traditional standing seam roofing, some floor joists and interior wall coverings, and installing the ground level handicapped entrance, the electrical service and the heating.
A handicapped bathroom was also added. Joan and Bob organized and oversaw the restoration work, which was done by many local artisans working pro-bono to help preserve a piece of our beloved little community.
AFTER THE MEETING, the attendees moved from the Grange for a tour of a little school, where all enjoyed home made cookies, apple cider, coffee and good company with good and friendly people.
Who knows what the future of our Best Little School House will be? It has not been utilized very often in recent years, ever since the Fairfax County Park Authority began charging an hourly fee for each use of the Grange and Olde School, particularly since the Library allows free use of the meeting rooms in the Great Falls Library. George Adeler has led a group the past few years, to form a local organization, which would assume management control from the Park Authority and possibly allow more beneficial community uses. Some of the uses discussed are a Great Falls Visitors Center, a location for businesses to meet and a home and museum for the Great Falls Historical Society. At the present time, our Olde Foresteville School just sits there, waiting for someone to love and take care of her. If our readers wish to provide input to the Historical Society on these future uses, send in your suggestions it at www.gfhs.org.