Opening and Closing
Physical and Map Location
33910 Willisville Road, Willisville (Middleburg), VA.
During the era of segregation, the school house was in the Mercer District
In 1938/39, the number designation for Willisville Colored was #43
The school board's title was held in Deed Book 9K, Folio 410, which is held in the Archives of the Circuit Court of Loudoun County, Leesburg. Source: Poster for Public Auction, Schools Box #2, Archives of the Circuit Court of Loudoun County, Leesburg.
Petitions about Willisville are found in the EWS Archives in box 2.5.A Willisville.
The schools used coal and wood for heat, which wasn't always easy to acquire, as seen in a petition of January 1956. The instructor had no coal and noted that all she did have was dirt "that doesn't half burn. Efforts by the instructor were so noteworthy that they led to the team naming its 2018 Conference Dirt Don’t Burn, which is also the name of the history of the impact of segregation on Black education by Larry Roeder and Barry Harrelson, published in 2023. This was the first history written on the subject.
Life could be hard at the school, as documented by a petition by the patrons in September 1930. "We, the patrons of Willisville, feeling and knowing the danger which will befall our children in case a wind storm or some other catastrophe strike the already damaged building, petition the School Board of Loudoun County to give some close attention at once and venture aid by looking after the school building and bracing it to take some other preventative measures to correct further damage to the lives of our children." 1930 Petition by Willisville (Location: EWS Petition Folder 2) The building, as noted in insurance files, was originally constructed in 1921, so it was only nine years old at the time of the petition. Evidently some relief did occur, according to a follow up petition of 5 February 1931 to the School Board and O.L. Emerick.
“We the patrons of the Willisville School take this opportunity of thanking the Board in answering our petition; straightening up our building and securing more seats thereby relieving our children of a little of their uncomfortableness. But we are not satisfied; we are still desirous of somethings. This has been brought to bear upon us by the steady increase, in love
1. The crowded condition of the school room makes it unsanitary, unhygienic. Think of each individual child breathing the breath of the others regardless of whatever disease germ. This condition permits the spread of contagious disease which is already claiming too many of our people daily.
2. The crowded condition makes for disorder. Think of 3 and 4 people crowded on each seat cramped, boring together each other for elbow room; proper spacing always makes for better order.
3. There is also a loss of interest on the part of the child for study, the teacher crowded for time, not being able to give the child the necessary information to interest him for real study as a child should. We are willing and do send our children to school; we want them to study; to learn, to grow to be useful men and women, good citizens but we know that the best result cannot be obtained in the unsanitary, unhygienic atmosphere of a close and crowded school room. Therefore, we as patrons are asking the board that Mrs. Gaskins, our faithful teacher, be released of a part of the heavy burden she has carried for years with an increase this year; an enrollment of 76 pupils average daily attendance 70 or more.
4. That the Board will for the coming term 1931/1932 build us a larger school or an additional room to the old building and supply us with a new teacher for the same. Making our school a two-room school; one that is much needed one that will be greatly appreciated by patrons, teacher, and children. We are willing to do our part; to do our best, and we are asking the school board, if it will give this matter (most vital to us) the best consideration and give our children an equal chance to learn in the best possible environment. We shall be pleased to have an early reply that we may get lined up with our share.
Respectfully submitted, Willisville patrons.” Signed by twenty patrons. Willisville Petition of of Feb 5, 1931 (The petition is the LCPS Archives in the petition folder) Perhaps the school board agreed to the second petition as well because an addition was constructed by 1934; however, as noted, we think this was simply a divider down the main room, not an actual additional room.
An excellent video by the Edwin Washington Society on transportation and Wilisville also exists on Youtube.
In the 1930s nearly one hundred parents and teachers petitioned the school board to provide bus transportation for Black students from Willisville, Saint Louis, Middleburg, Bull Run, and Gleedsville to the Loudoun County Training School in Leesburg.(See EWP: 2.5.A Yr. 1930s Petition No. 28 Req for Buses to Transport Pupils to Training Center).
The confluence of poverty and a lack of public transportation was the theme of a letter in 1940 to Charles Hamilton Houston. Henry Young, representing the Willisville parents, wrote, “We certainly need a bus for our children and above all a High School, for we have too many boys and girls ready for High School to be turned out in the world to go to destruction when they can be in school.” (See Henry Young, March 12, 1940, letter to Charles H. Houston, retrieved from personal papers of Charles Houston, Founders Library, Howard University.)
Similarly of Bluemont wrote in March 1940, “I am poor and have no way of getting [my children] to Leesburg.”
According to M. K. Jennings, who lived in Hughesville, a feeder village to Willisville, “There are children who have finished from the Willisville School for three years or more and no provision has been made for them to get to high school.” (See Mrs. M. K. Jennings, 1940, letter to Charles H. Houston on behalf of Howardsville and Bluemont parents, retrieved from personal papers of Charles Houston, Founders Library, Howard University. See also Elizabeth Warner, March 1940, letter to Charles H. Houston, retrieved from personal papers of Charles Houston, Founders Library, Howard University.
We found an additional document that we suspect was created in 1945 showing the list of children to be transported from the "colored" community of Howardsville to Willisville. Three African-American families settled the hamlet of Howardsville in the 1870s, including the Reid family which was represented on the document. For research on Howardsville, see also Loudoun County African-American Historic Architectural Resources Survey, created by History Matters, September 2004, and sponsored by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors & The Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library Leesburg, VA. In addition, consider, HOWARDSVILLE: The Journey of an African-American Community in Loudoun County, Virginia by Kevin Grigsby, self published September 2, 2013.
We suspect that the memo might be from 1945 because another memo from the County-Wide League on the Consolidation of Schools dated 20 March 1945 spoke of the need to move Howardsville Community students with transportation to Willisville, but this is just a guess.
Grades 1 through 7.
The earliest official education for African-Americans in Loudoun following the close of the Civil War included private efforts like Willisville where the land was obtained from farmers for the benefit of local “colored youth” to be educated during the week and to pray during the weekend, whereas the actual school house was paid for by the Freedmen’s Bureau, and we suspect the teachers were also paid by Freedmen’s, with help from the local community, which was common.
- The first school for African-Americans in Willisville was built on the same plot in 1868 by the Freedmen's Bureau for the cost of $150. For a photograph of the school and Ms. Anna Gaskins taken about 1905, see The Willisville School in Howardsville by Kevin Dulany Grigsby, (2008). Self-published. (page 281). The school then burned down on June 1, 1918. (see School Boxes: Circuit Court of Loudoun County, June 19, 1920).
- The next structure, which is still standing, was constructed in 1920 as a one room frame structure for a cost of $1200. For a contemporary photo of the second structure see The Willisville School in Howardsville by Kevin Dulany Grigsby, (2008). Self-published. (page 286)
- The building was sold in 1959 and is now a private home. The children were then transported to Banneker by bus. The sale itself was done at a public auction on Saturday, 4 April 1959 at noon on the steps of the Loudoun County Court House.
- The size of farms in Loudoun diminished between 1930 and 1935, but the number of farms increased, which as Ethel Smith, a longtime Loudoun teacher, recalled, could mean that labor demands caused students to be delayed arriving at the Willisville school, however, despite the schedule issues of living in an agricultural environment, none dropped out, demonstrating their determination and that of their parents to increase Black education. (See EWP: 9.3 Yr. 1940 Report of Survey Committee on Long-Range Planning, p. 10 and Ethel Smith, interview with Larry Roeder and Maddy Gold, August 5, 2017).
- Willisville students participated in the Victory Garden program run by Foxcroft School for Girls in 1942. See photo.
- Interviews by the EWP team indicated that in Willisville there was no money for linseed oil to treat the wood floors, so students had to rub the planks with old motor oil—an interesting choice, given poor ventilation and the presence of an open stove fire. While motor oil is not classified as flammable, it is toxic to breathe and is combustible.
- July 28, 1913: Mr. Edward Nichols returned check for Willisville School. Source: EWP Archives: 3.1.2 Emerick Ledger Red Record, pg 6.
- 1917/18 Anna Gaskins. Teacher employment cards show her starting in 1919; but the Superintendent Records of Teacher Certificates show that she was tgeaching at Willisville as early as 1917. At the time, she had 7 years of experience.
- 1919/20-1950/51: Anna Gaskins, born October 26, 1890 (alternate data is proposed to be 10/17/1881), Died November 3, 1956. Sources. Teachers Record: LCPS (Records Office, Round Hill Center) Loudoun County, Virginia, Loudoun Times Mirror Staff. (1930, June 12). School Board Holds Its Regular Session. Loudoun Times Mirror, p. 1. Willisville Schol in Howardsville by Kevin Dulany Grigsby, (2008). Self-published. (p 288-289)
- 1934/35: Flossie Furr
- 1942/43: The instructors were Anna Gaskins and Mildred B. Gray (also known as Boyde) who served from 1935/36 through 1942/43 academic year. Source: Teacher Records, LCPS Archives, Times-Mirror Staff. School Board, Loudoun Times Mirror, April 16, 1942. Pages 1 and 2. "Colored" teachers were listed on page 2. See section 18 in A History of Conklin Village, Loudoun County by Larry Roeder, (Conklin Press, 2015). As early as 1918/1919 academic year Anna also instructed at St. Louis. She also studied at Virginia State College and acquired at least 20 1/2 hours. Her husband Lucien was a cook and personal servant. I don't think she instructed as early as 1910, based on the US Census records.
- 1943/44 - 44/45: Louise V. Jones. Source: Term Reports
- 1945/46 - 1950/51: Emma E. Oldes. (Mrs. L. Thomas) Born Oct 14, 1916. Home was Norfolk and she was educated at Virginia State College. Sources: Teacher's Records and Term Reports.
- 1950/51: Mrs. Agnes Morse
- 1951/52 - 1957/58, then moved to Banneker until 1965: Ethel R. Stewart Smith. Born May 27, 1927. Graduates from Douglass High School in 1946 and then Storer College in 1950.
- 1956/57: Mary C. Jackson
- 1956/57: Edna James Brinkley (Mrs. Lawrence), born Dec 24, 1930. Graduated from East Suffolk High School (1949) and ;St. Paul Polytechnic Institute (1953). Home was Hobson, Virginia
- 1957/58: Ann J. Jones
- 1957/58: Ethel S. Smith
Insurance and Physical Description
The contemporary structure has been described as a two room frame school house; however, our impression is that this is only because a pre-existing single room was subdivided. Currently, it is a private residence resting next to a traditional Black cemetery.
1920: Constructed as 2 room frame school for $1,200.
1923/1926: Insured by LCPS system as a "colored" school in Mercer District.
More than one in some years. One of the problems with one-room schoolhouses was that up to seven grades had to be taught at the same time; but Willisville was given an additional room in 1931, thus allowing for two sets of grades to be taught at the same time in separate spaces.) However, it is our impression that this construction was done by dividing an existing room into two, not by actually adding additional space.
Health and Sanitation
See petition section about overcrowding. A white dentist, probably Dr. Charles Brown or Dr. Bernard Brann, inspected Black students from November 26, 1938, to March 26, 1939. In that period, he examined 710 pupils and treated 453 from a variety of Black schools including Willisville; but evidently dental health at Willisville was excellent that year, because no work was required.(see EWP: 7.5 Yr. 1938–39, Nurse Reports) Students also raised money for health issues, such as in April of 1958 when $3 was raised for the Cancer Society or in 1956 when funds were raised for fly spray.
Food and Nutrition
The students at Willisville were known to purchase canned lunches at Schenck’s store. FYI: Schenck Foods began in nearby Winchester in 1928 as the Valley Food Company, manufacturing potato ships. It then became a distributor for Kraft Foods, becoming Schenck Cheese Company and distributing food within a thirty-mile radius through the 1940s. It then became Schenck Foods in 1952.
- 1920/21: No library data. Teacher subscribed to Virginia Journal, Literary Digest, Current Events and League News.
- 1921/22: No library data. Teacher subscribed to Literary Digest, Current Events and Virginia Normal.
- 1922/23: No library data. Teacher subscribed to Literary Digest, Virginia journal, Current Events.
- 1923/24: No library data. Teacher subscribed to Normal Instructor, Literary Digest and Atlantic Monthly.
- 1924/25: No library data. Teacher subscribed to The Pathfinder, Normal instructor and Child Life.
- 1925/26: 17 volumes were in the school library. This is the first indication of a school library. The teacher subscribed to Pathfinder, Normal Instructor, and Literary Digest.
- 1926/27: 17 volumes were in the school library. The teacher subscribed to Pathfinder, Literary Digest, Normal Instructor.
- 1927/28: There were no volumes in the school library. The teacher subscribed to Pathfinder, Normal Instructor, Virginia Journal, Literary Digest.
- 1928/29: Same report as for 1927/28.
- 1929/30: 45 volumes were now in the library. The teacher subscribed to Literary Digest, Pathfinder, Normal Instructor and Virginia Journal.
- 1930/31: 65 volumes were in the library. The teacher subscribed to Normal instructor, the Pathfinder, the Grade Teacher.
- 1931/32: 60 volumes were in the library. The teacher subscribed to instructor, Pathfinder, Literary Digest and Grade Teacher.
- 1932/33: 78 volumes were in the library. The instructor subscribed to Normal instructor and Grade Teacher.
- 1933/34: Same report as for 1932/33.
- 1934/35: 65 volumes were in the library. The teacher subscribed to Grade Teacher, The Instructor, Child Life.
- 1935/36: Same report as in 1934/35.
- 1936/37: 69 volumes were in the library. The teacher subscribed to Instructor, Child Life and Grade Teacher.
- 1937/38: 69 volumes were in the library. The teacher subscribed to Instructor, Grade Teacher, Pathfinder.
- 1938/39 -58: No data was captured. This is because the term reports had no field for the data.