The lone farmer heading towards Unison on the Bloomfield to Unison road that morning mopped his sweaty face with his handkerchief. The Farmer’s Almanac of 1916 had been right in its forecast for the Virginia spring and summer to be a hot one. The dried winter mud on the 2 mile long road had already been pounded down by numerous hooves into a silt so light and powdery that it rose high in even the slightest eddies of air. The farmer ignored the dust as he gazed upon the farmlands on either side of the road, already rich in grass and cattle, and resplendent with the fine juvenile stalks of young corn in acres of well planned rows. The corn liked the heat, and the harvest this fall was already promising to be good. He then glanced at the steep hill in front of him, the lone hill separating the two thriving rural towns of Bloomfield and Unison. Local lore had it that the hill had been used as a scouting post by both Federal and Confederate forces during the war only 50 years prior, but the campfires where soldiers sat in a circle and cast their handmade bullets, and worn patches of ground where sentries stood surveying the countryside for signs of enemies on the move, now lay hidden under a shroud of thick grass that waved gently in the summer breeze. Narrowing his eyes he spotted a number of figures at the top of the hill, standing on the spot of the old Confederate encampment.
As the team of horses leaned into their leather collars at the base of the hill to draw the heavy wagon up to the crest at a steady walk, the farmer eyed the shiny new car parked at the top of the hill, gleaming in the sun, just a few yards away from a small group of men standing on the grass next to the road. The men were looking over the lay of the land, one pointing at something nearby. Their smart business suits gave their intent and purpose away. A new school was about to be built, and these men were looking over the property where it would stand. Talk in both towns was for a fancy large building, large enough to accommodate the numbers of local children who swelled past the limits of the small one and two room schools in both Unison and Bloomfield. Just a few months prior, the farmer himself had stood in front of the Unison Post Office with the local crowd, watching as the old Unison schoolhouse, with its 1 acre land, had been auctioned off, falling under the gavel at $801 to the new ownership of local mercantile Henry Saffel. It had been a bittersweet moment for all in the village. That small schoolhouse had been a well worn and loved fixture in the village for decades, Why, just that past year the school’s baseball team had won the county trophy. The little Bloomfield school had been next on the auction block, but there were no bids so it was withdrawn. He was glad his neighbors, Ida and Virgil, purchased the old schoolhouse land for $500 when it went up again for auction just this past March. They planned to keep the building on it as it would make a nice dwelling. But a school no longer.
The plans for this new consolidated school, complete with an auditorium, had the local folks abuzz with excitement. The farmer felt sure that his children were going to benefit far more at this modern new school than they had at their old school, plus it was well within walking distance from his farm in Bloomfield, being little more than a hop, skip, and a jump away. He smiled to himself, remembering the oft heated discussions when folks had gathered around the potbellied stoves of the local stores to haggle over the selection of names for the new school. The eventual chosen name, “Unison-Bloomfield School”, was more of a nod to the lesser distance of Unison to the new site than it was for any favoritism of one town name over the other.
As the team crested the top of the hill, the farmer recognized the voice and figure of one of the men. It was Thomas Iden, the owner of the land. The farmer raised his head, catching the eye of Iden, and both exchanged nods of greeting. The farmer glanced at the other men, then let his eye roam the acreage that the men were discussing, a small slice of the bigger land holdings that old John Hall had bought from the Keen family but had been forced to sell a while back to climb out of some bad business debts. Thomas Iden had been high bidder for the land auction, adding the 90 acres to his own extensive holding. Known as a man who valued a solid education for every child, his son having been schooled as a veterinarian and now a married man with a growing family, it hadn’t taken much for the senior Iden to offer the county school board 4 acres of the land at the top of the hill for a mere $10 token to build the new school. The farmer nodded again to himself. Iden was smart. He knew his grandchildren, as well as all the local children, would be the ultimate beneficiaries of the new school, and that was why he stood with the suited men today, pointing out the best aspects of the land for the new school, barn, and outbuildings.
The dust eddies under the horses’ hooves gently rose and fell as the team crested the hill and began the downward journey at a trot, the group of men slowly retreating from view. It was less than a mile into Unison, and the horses ears pricked forward. The farmer's thoughts soon drifted to the other issues of the day. The new laws of Prohibition were going to make it difficult for the town drunks, and even the normal population, to enjoy a tot here and there, and that maybe setting aside a basket or two of peaches and apples to ferment this fall might not be a bad idea. Just for the medicinal purposes, of course. That's what he'd tell his wife. She had been bending his ear for the past few months with news of the growing Suffrage movement of women demanding the right to vote, while his German neighbor had been bending the other ear on the Great War raging far away in Europe. He sighed. Good thing he only had two ears. Both topics were enough fodder for the local wags to exercise their jaws. Thankfully most of the folks hereabouts were more concerned with local issues: would the farming be good this season, would goods and supplies be plentiful or short.
The team and wagon rounded the final bend as the byway straightened directly into Unison. The village was bustling with people as he maneuvered his team towards Saffel's store, ready to quickly make his delivery and acquire his wife's list of purchases. No time for idle chatter today, the chores at home wouldn’t wait, nor would the sun, and he’d have to be getting back to Bloomfield soon. He stopped the team at the hitching post, and went to work unloading the wagon.
The small crowd of locals that stood in the chill October morning of 1915 in front of the Unison Post Office had gathered to watch a hallowed part of their history go up for auction. It was a bittersweet event, set in motion only two months prior when the Mercer District of Loudoun County advertised in the local paper that a lot of land in Unison, and one in Bloomfield, both with buildings formerly used by the school board as the community schools, would be auctioned off for sale. As the auctioneer’s hammer fell, Unison’s old 2 room schoolhouse, a link to the past through many generations, would be the next thing to fall, removed from the land in pieces, its rich history of education soon to be only a thing of memory and faded photographs. Bloomfield's schoolhouse narrowly missed the same fate of demolition by being withdrawn from the auction for lack of bids. A year later the Bloomfield lot sold and the old school converted into a dwelling. It was repurchased by Mercer District in the 1920s and subsequently known afterwards as "The Unison-Bloomfield Teacher's Cottage".
It was a new century for education. However, new ideas and new innovations left no room in the picture for the old 1 and 2 room schoolhouses of limited resources. When the 1869 Virginia Constitution mandated free public education for all school district residents between the ages of 5 and 21, the model adopted in Loudoun County for educational facilities had been based on the community model: every community would have its own school.
A nationwide push in 1904 by the newly organized Cooperative Education Association had raised a coast-to-coast campaign to advocate for progressive public education reform via bigger multi-community school buildings with elementary and high school grades in separate classrooms staffed by professional teachers following a state mandated course of study. In response to the growing public push towards quality education, Virginia General Assembly enacted several pieces of Progressive legislation, including a 1906 bill legally establishing and accrediting high schools by the state. The bill also provided $50,000 in state funds on a matching basis to any county that wanted to establish a high school.
In less than 3 years after the passage of the 1906 educational bill, the Commonwealth had built more than 860 new modern-era schoolhouses, committing its youngest generations to the care of professional teachers and administrators from that point onward into the future. The number of high schools in the state increased from 75 to 360.
By 1916 Loudoun County, having jumped on the bandwagon to boost its own education standings in the Commonwealth, had built 12 modern high schools for white students, mostly in the western portion of the County. This number including a brand new high school in the process of being built on the outskirts of the towns of Unison and Bloomfield.
1917 would be an auspicious year with the start of the Russian Revolution, Woodrow Wilson being elected to a 2nd term as US President, the election of Jeannette Rankin as the first woman Congressman, the US entering WWI by declaring war on Germany (principally due to the annoying habit of German submarines blowing up US ships in US territorial waters), the British royal family changing their unwieldy German title of “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha” to the elegantly simple and sophisticated “Windsor”, thereby discretely, yet skillfully, amputating their German ancestry in one fell swoop (and by default saving a bundle on future stationary engraving), and the Red Sox selling Smokey Joe Wood, his arm dead at 26, to Cleveland for $15,000, coincidentally being the identical sum Loudoun County had paid to build the new Unison-Bloomfield school.
1917 also saw the Unison-Bloomfield school open their doors for the very first time, welcoming 4 teachers and 106 students. Finally the year saw the installment of a bright, energetic new administrator by the name of Oscar L. Emerick stepping into his starring role as Loudoun County's Mercer School District Superintendent.
With Loudoun County seated in the upper 1/3 of the Commonwealth’s most populated counties, accounting for 5,649 of Virginia’s 597,426 students per the 1920 school census, Loudoun’s new school district superintendent was determined to begin raising the standards of education. As one who believed that educational practices of the past needed to remain in the past, Emerick was a passionate proponent for the progressive education movement. His new tenure seems to have been met with a lukewarm reception by the county school board, especially as they didn’t even see fit to give their new Superintendent his own office. Emerick worked from his own home, counting himself as his only staff. It wasn’t until later years that he hired his sister to help out, and many years after that he finally moved into a proper business office.
However, he wasn’t a man to be deterred, and on April 1st 1919 he wrote an impassioned 9 page letter to the County School Board, urging them to adopt a platform of higher pay to the professional teachers, certification for all teachers and substitutes, inspection and repair of schools on an annual basis, fixing of a uniform school year across the county, better methods of record keeping for elementary school students and for the teacher base, and adoption of “business-like methods” to ensure proper delegation of supervisory tasks promoting consistency in all aspects of education in the county schools. He especially encouraged the Board to adopt strong measures to safeguard the health of the children. Diseases and infectious illnesses such as diphtheria, typhoid, and flu that continued to run rampant in the population were a primary concern of the progressive movement, and much of the movement’s resources went towards finding ways to eradicate these daily, and sometimes fatal, threats. Bare feet in the classrooms, communal drinking out of a bucket and scoop, and outdoor latrines, all common in the old days, headed the target list to be eliminated. The devastating effect of the 1918 pandemic Spanish Flu that killed an estimated 80 million around the world was the final catalyst in demanding school health resources remain front and center.For 52 years each magisterial district paid different amounts to fund public schools, but in 1922 the system consolidated with one county school tax. Emerick now became the head of the unified system, remaining at the helm through the Spring of 1957. Under his leadership the county would herald the beginning of the modern school administration for the next century. However, that same leadership would take a darker turn for several of Mercer district's new high schools in less than a few decades.
Loudoun’s Mercer District was more fortunate than many of the other districts. Not only did they have state funds to help build schools, but in the case of the Unison-Bloomfield school, they had found a devoted patron by the name of Thomas Iden. In August of 1915, just as the old schoolhouses in Unison and Bloomfield were being advertised for sale in the local newspapers, Iden sold 4 acres of land to the school administration of Mercer District for essentially a “donation” price of $10. (Source: Loudoun County deed book 8Y, pg 137-140) The location at the top of a rise, about midway between the two large towns of Unison and Bloomfield, directly on the main byway traversing the 2 mile distance between both towns, was the perfect locale for the two thriving communities. The new lot was earmarked as the site of a new Elementary and High School. The building's exterior work was scheduled to begin in the summer of 1916. The interior work followed in due course, seeing completion in the spring of 1917, well in time for the start of the September classes.
The tall, imposing structure of the Unison-Bloomfield school incorporated many of the functional aspects of the “modern” school design that would become standard around the country by the 1920’s. A wooden frame with a “pebble and dash” [stucco] exterior kept the school warm in the winter by sealing out leaks and unnecessary air. Large, high windows were prominent, offering the best of natural lighting for the 8 rooms comprising the interior building. The square design afforded efficiency of both space and heat, and at the same time allowed separate classes to be held in different rooms, a far cry from the old one room schoolhouse that bundled all the grades into one crowded room.
The entry to the building faced the street, with a solid portico over a wide set of stone stairs coming up from ground level to the front door. Inside the building a small set of wide stairs mounted to the first floor which opened up into a wide hallway, flanked by four classrooms on either side, and the principal’s office at the end of the hallway at the back of the school. Two wide stairways on both sides of the building swept up from the first floor to the second floor where the high school classes were held.
Christmas Play - c. 1919
Photo source: LCSB Records Department, Old Round Hill School Building, Round Hill, VA
A tall bell tower topped the roof of the majestic building. The school’s site at the top of the rise overlooking the countryside could not have been a more perfect locale to enhance the broadcast of the bell’s call to school every weekday morning. A sturdy wire fence enclosed the school grounds, accompanied in 1920 by a newly built stone wall courtesy of funds raised and donated to the school by the active PTA (Parent Teachers Association) through the PTA’s annual local horse show. The stone wall, with the embedded sharp stones to prevent children from sitting or walking on the wall, and a jutting stone “step up and over” stile, still exists today.
When the school opened in the fall of 1917, 104 students had been enrolled. By 1925 the student population had increased to 112. However the next years saw a slow decline in the number of students. By 1932, with the country locked in the downward spiral of the Great Depression, the number of students attending had fallen to 55. In 1933 the School Board ordered the Unison-Bloomfield High School closed with all remaining students being bused to Round Hill High School, 8 miles distant. The loss of the high school dropped the remaining number of students in Unison-Bloomfield to only 33, and the teaching staff to 2. The numbers rebounded only slightly the following year to 46 students total, and the year after that to 47. In the summer of 1935 the closure of nearby Blakely Grove school, four miles south of the Unison-Bloomfield school, mandated the subsequent transfer of those students to the Unison-Bloomfield school, thus swelling the Unison-Bloomfield student numbers back up to almost double. A third teacher was added to the staff roster,and for the next seven years the total student population would average in the 90's.
Photo source: LCSB Records Department, Old Round Hill School Building, Round Hill, VA
Beyond the ebb and flow of students and teachers, the basic workings of the school did not vary for the next two decades. Heat, plumbing , and lighting were the main concerns, for without them the classes could not continue.
The old one room schoolhouses had employed wood and coal fed potbellied stoves that the teachers would stoke during the day to provide the necessary heat in the cold winter months, but the new modern buildings were designed with clean and safe steam radiators, fueled by a coal fired furnace in the school’s dirt floor basement. The furnace was maintained by the school custodian, and supplied by regular shipments of coal to the school. The arriving coal would be emptied down a shute which directed the pile into the basement next to the furnace for easy stoking, a procedure that was followed faithfully throughout the life of the school.
The task of keeping the coal furnace supplied and fired fell on the shoulders of the school custodian. The school board gave responsibility of this position to the school PTA who oversaw the hiring, firing, and salaries of the hired custodian. Loudoun historian Eugene Scheel relates a story of one such custodian, “Upty” Pierce:
During the 1920’s into the early 1930’s “...“Upty” Pierce was the janitor..[and was] paid $15/month by the PTA. He walked the 7 miles to and from his Airmont home each day. At one PTA meeting the parents decided to fire Upty, who was sitting in the last row of the audience. “If they fire me, I’ll quit!” he announced. After the laughter died down, they rehired him.”Towards the end of the 1930s Pierce left, and the custodial work was farmed out to some of the surrounding residents who had children in the school. Some daily jobs were even relegated to the children, as Rosser Iden recalled as a student in the middle 1940s:
“When the classrooms would get a little cold, our teacher, Miss Beavers, would send my brother Billy, who was 2 ½ years older than me, and Cliff down to the basement to throw more coal in the furnace. She knew we knew how to work the furnace because our mother came early to school every morning to start the furnace. This was after my father had died, and we had moved to Bloomfield. Now, we knew a trick with the furnace if you put just enough coal in that it would start to get hot, but not enough to keep the fire going, and then you'd put a bit more in, and then a lot in and the fire would suddenly get too hot, that would pop the relief valve so that a fire drill would be called. Whenever we wanted to get out of school work, we’d just put enough coal in the furnace to make the fire hot enough to pop the valve and force a fire drill.”
It would only be during the height of the Depression, when student attendance dropped to a severe low, that the furnace would be temporarily bypassed in lieu of a pair of cheap potbellied wood/coal stoves that were brought into the (by then) two remaining occupied classrooms. The room stoves remained for just two years until the economy turned around and students returned in numbers to fill the school. In 1938 the 20 year old old furnace was replaced with a new coal fired hot water furnace.
Lighting was another critical element in the daily running of the school rooms. For the most part the overlarge windows flanking every exterior wall of the building offered enough natural light during the day to dispense with the need of artificial light. Dim days, however, demanded an alternative light source. In the early days of the schoolhouse, while electricity was still a dream waiting to happen in the rural countryside, the primary source of artificial lighting was acetylene gas. The on-site process to create the gas was via a "generator" which resided in a shed outside the school building. This "generator house" was kept isolated, at about 100 feet distance to any building, due to the extreme flammability of the gas. The "generator" itself was fairly simplistic: Calcium carbonate pellets would be gravity fed into a hopper inside the generator to be mixed with a small amount of water. Acetylene gas was the chemically produced result. Once created, the gas was then pressure fed into underground pipes going into the schoolhouse, traveling through a labyrinth of interior piping until it finally reached the valved gas jets in the wall and ceiling light fixtures.
It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that power lines were run to the rural west of Loudoun. In 1935 President Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) by executive order to aid the agricultural parts of the country, and Congress then funded $100 million in emergency relief funds to bring electricity to rural areas. A main power line was put in place near Unison in 1938, running east-to-west, to support the government facility at Mount Weather (at the top of the Blue Ridge) when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal cabinet and staff called a conference in July 1938 at Mount Weather to implement planning for the nation's agricultural industry. Since this new power line passed right through Bloomfield, a 1/4 mile side line was established up Bloomfield Road to supply the Unison-Bloomfield school with electric power. Electric wires were installed inside the building for both outlets and electric lights. Incandescent bulb lighting now replaced the old acetylene gas. The old generator remained in place for many years as a backup source of light, but on a regular basis was not used anymore.
The sanitary requirements for the children and their teachers were of the utmost priority to the school board. Infectious diseases were the unwelcomeed scourge of the old one room schoolhouses where outhouses served all the students and teachers for toilet facilities, and drinking water was bucketed with a common cup for all. In keeping with the progress towards modern sanitation and disease control, the Unison-Bloomfield school was built equipped with indoor lavatories, and drinking fountains. However, from the initial opening of the school, until 1933 when the High School was transferred to Round Hill, only the upper classes and the teachers used the indoor lavatories. The elementary classes continued to use the outhouses which, in the cold of winter, was sufficient enough discouragement against the youngsters loitering for too long away from the warm classroom. It could well be that this upper/lower class segregation to access the school's new septic facilities was done to protect a system that was either a touch too fragile, or so under-planned, that it struggled under continuous failure to meet the needs of 100+ people a day.
However, even with restricted use, the toilet facilities in the basement never seemed to be up to the expectations of the teachers and the principal in their annual report to the school board. In the beginning years up to 1921 the sanitary facilities were graded at either fair or good, but the term “poor” “not good” or “very poor” suddenly found their way onto the reports beginning in 1922 until the following year when the annual report form changed and the indoor plumbing conditions category ceased to be a line item. The only other mention of plumbing in the school records was part of the 1944 fire insurance report that indicated the school "received plumbing in 1934". Quite possibly this was an upgrade to the 17 year old system because that same sentence gives that the school also received "heating in 1938" when we have documented proof that a coal fired steam furnace had been in place since the school's inception twenty year prior.
However, the absence of the reporting did not mean that the sanitary problem had gone away. Through subsequent interviews with former students of the school in the 1930’s and 1940’s we learned that the toilets continued to have operating difficulties, capably explained by the succinct sentence "they stopped up pretty often”. It could be that many of the poor farm children, unused to the delicate nature of modern septic tank plumbing, used both the indoor and outdoor facilities as they used their own outhouses at home: for the disposal of more than just human waste. Thus, major untimely blockages of the indoor septic system appeared to be a too often occurrence well into the 1940’s. The teachers whose classes were relegated to the outhouse, scathingly noted those facilities as "poor", which was probably not too far from the truth.
By default, and by curious design the only educational feature that transferred from prior centuries into today’s society virtually intact, formal school education continued to follow the old tradition of being held during the lull of the farming season. The overwhelming majority of people in the county were farmers, and it was only natural that farm help was generally homegrown, thus being considered immediately available free of charge from dawn to dusk. Trying to carve a crack in that foundation was seriously detrimental for educators to attempt, and so the firmly entrenched practice of formal school being held from September to early June was one of the very few old customs that would be adopted unencumbered and undaunted into future decades. Even when family farming, as the nation's #1 profession for centuries, would be eventually supplanted by industrialization, large corporate entities, and advanced self-operating machinery, the Fall to Spring school term remained hallowed ground.
Building a school is one thing; having the students be able to get there is another. In the early decades of the new century, children ranging in age from 5 to 19 began their school day by coming to school just as their parents and grandparents had before them – either walking or riding a horse. Based on Unison-Bloomfield school records, Thomas Young and Catherine Hall hold the honor of traveling the longest distance (8 miles) to the school. They began attending school during the 1920’s when they were 15 and 13 years old, respectively.
Needless to say, those that walked to school lived relatively close, but for the rest who lived a mile or more away, the horse was the chosen mode of transportation. A stable built at the rear of the school was used for daily boarding. Students were charged a stall fee at $1 a month for board, hay and water. For those families who didn’t want to pay the fee, or needed the horse at home during the day, the horse would be released at the school’s door by the child/children and left to its own devises to get home. The incentive for the animal not to wander, and to make haste returning home, was facilitated by the smart farmer who would only feed the horse upon its return, and not prior to leaving.
The daily presence of so many horses on the school grounds also had its own unique benefits in providing lots of “ammunition” for the farm boys when personal disagreements arose. According to the memoires of Marvin Wharton, who was born in Unison in 1938, his older brother Bobby attended the school “…back in the 30’s. I was told he got into trouble one time because he had picked up some dry horse biscuits [ie: manure] and threw them at some kids. It was very common then for children to ride horses to the school, so ammunition was plentiful around the school. …”The horse and the horse drawn bus remained fixtures of the transportation mode until automotive bus transportation was introduced in Loudoun in 1925. According to archived school records (extant from 1920 through 1945), each student’s distance from home to the school was recorded each year. By the mid 1930’s a public bus system was employed to pick up school students in the closer suburban areas, and by 1944 the bus system had widened to include rural western Loudoun County. The era of the horse as transportation ended with the new bus routes. The school’s once filled stable now stood silently empty, no longer occupied by horses.
Ella Moore Brown - 1921**
Unison-Bloomfield High School
The very reason for the existence of the Unison-Bloomfield School was to fulfill the obligations of the county to the Commonwealth for the building of high schools. High school students, because of their age and status, were afforded the top floor classrooms of the school. They had a wide range of studies including classes in the romance languages of Latin and French, as well as the more pragmatic courses in History (both US, British and Social), Science, Advanced Mathematics, and Chemistry. A chemistry and biology lab was part of the upper level curriculum, and was also housed on the 2nd floor with the high school classes. A separate library was part of the school complex, housing over 300 books per a 1920’s end of the year report by the school principal. The library grew to 500 volumes by the 1936 report, eventually swelling to 900 books by the mid 1940's.
The typical school day began with a prayer, or with the teacher sometimes reading from the Christian Bible. An American flag was not yet part of the classroom décor. That wouldn’t happen until the 1940’s when a flag, and the pledge of allegiance, would become a morning ritual before classes began.
A daily schedule of the high school classes was found for the 1932-33 session with the arrangement of classes was under the tutelage of three teachers:
|9:00-9:10||Opening of School||35|
|9:10-10:10|| General Science I & II |
|10:10-11:10|| Civics I & II|
|11:40-12:40|| Math I|
English III & IV
Civics 7, History 6&7
|12:40-1:20||Recess - Lunch||35|
|1:20-2:20|| Geometry, Math III|
English I & II
Drawing, Reading, Spelling (6&7)
|2:30-3:30|| Math II|
Writing,Geography, Hygiene (6&7)
Recess for the high school girls usually involved a team sport such as basketball. The 1921 photo below shows at least four members of the Unison-Bloomfield Junior class girl’s team (those dressed in their sports uniform of white shirts with the knotted dark scarf) with (obviously) three close friends from their class. In the background is the basketball court with other students at play. The smiles and comradely huddle for the photograph speak volumes about the classroom friendship of these young ladies who, one year later, would launch into the world with a high school diploma in hand, and –for the very first time- the right to vote in their country’s elections.
Indeed, it was a pivotal time to be alive, and to call their high school their own.
Ella Moore Brown (center of photo)
Unison-Bloomfield Elementary School classes - 1921-22
Teacher: C. Ida Monroe - Grades 1, 2, 3
Unison-Bloomfield Middle School classes - 1921-22
Teacher: Tillie J. D. Monroe - Grades 4 & 5
The youngest classes were limited in study to the three “R’s” – reading, writing, and arithmetic. In 1920 one classroom alone held students in ages from 6 to 10. It wasn’t uncommon for the higher elementary class students to help the lower class students in their studies and learning, thus freeing up the teacher to offer more individual assistance and to help maintain the pace of learning. For the mixed elementary school classes to effectively help one another, the classrooms featured long benches and tables rather than the individual desks which were used by the higher classes.
From the 1920's into the 1930's annual school fairs were held to foster and reward students who excelled in a varying list of educational arts such as recitation, home economics projects, mathematics, literature, arts, penmanship, and sports. It was a feather in the cap of any school to have a prize winner in these categories, and the fairs helped promote school spirit as well as education. In the 1920 school fair 9 year old Ethel Simpson of the Unison-Bloomfield School won 3rd prize in the category of Arithmetic - Grade 3, while in the category of "Drawing – A United States Flag Outlined by Teacher and Colored In by Pupil", 2nd place was won by 9 year old 3rd Grader Warren Kines. Mary Warton won 2nd place in the category of "Original Drawing of a Snow Scene". In the category of sports both the boys and girls basketball teams from Unison-Bloomfield were listed on the opening of the program as part of the morning and afternoon sports competition. The admission to the competition was 25 cents.
However, the staid reality of the daily classroom was a far cry from the accolades awarded to one or two exceptional students at a once-a-year fair.
25 year old Florence Keen, a native of Unison who, coincidentally, posed with her classmates for a photo of the Unison School in 1910 when she was 13 years old, was hired by Unison-Bloomfield to teach the elementary school classes of 1st and 2nd Grades during the 1922-23 year term at an annual salary of $630. A graduate of Elizabeth College and University of VA, Keen had begun teaching elementary school 2 years ago at age 23. She had come from the era of the 2 room schoolhouse where all the grades combined fell far short in numbers to the 48 students in the over-saturated classroom of her new job, all from just 1st and 2nd Grades. If she felt overwhelmed, we wouldn't have been surprised. In her annual report she stated that the classroom only had desks for 39, so where she ended up planting the 9 excess students is anyone's guess. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending upon how you look upon the situation, she had 5 students that barely warmed a desk the entire year. One 9 year old 2nd Grader saw the inside of the classroom a total of 6 days that term. Two other 9 year old 2nd Graders were hot on the heels of the first, tying each other at darkening the classroom threshhold only 31 days of the 190 day term. Runner up for third place in non-attendance was a 9 year old and 11 year old set of 2nd Graders, logging only 35 days of the Three R's. Not to be outdone, the sole representative "not there ever" was a 7 year old 1st Grader who squeaked by with only 33 days to his name. This may have made the game of musical chairs a bit more palatable for the overworked Keen, but she refused to surrender and doggedly taught the remaining 42 students as best she could, missing only 2 days out of her 190 day schedule. Yet, it must have been with keen (if you'll pardon the pun) disappointment that she only managed to advance 30 of her 48 students at the end of the term. A woeful 62 percent.
She was game, however, to give her profession the old college try for a second year. In the 1923-24 term she was probably relieved with teaching a much lighter student load of only 36: 22 students in her 1st Grade, and 14 students in her 2nd Grade, including one 15 year old who was at school for only 24 days before that student dropped out. The majority of her students ranged in age from 7 through 9. Again, she tried her best, rolling up her sleeves and remaining stalwart at her post with not a single day taken for rest or sickness. A remarkable achievement that, sadly, failed to instill in her students the same dedication to meet the school's expectations. The pitiful success rate in her maiden year of advancing her students to the next grade fared not much better this year. The success rate had crawled up a mere percentage to 66%. Only 12 students passed in 1st Grade, and 12 in the 2nd Grade. Four students had dropped out completely. Keen, obviously by now completely discouraged, threw up her youthful hands, packed up her chalk and erasers, and joined the ranks of those that had dropped out of school, leaving at the end of the term, never to return.***
***[Editor's Note: We are delighted to share a silver-lining ending for our poor maligned teacher Florence Keen - shortly after she decamped from her teaching job forever and ever, she found true love (outside the classroom, we will assume), and the following year on the 14th of June at 4 o'clock in the afternoon became the blushing bride of handsome, gray-eyed 2nd Lt. Harry Lee McCann of the Winchester National Guard. A full 2nd page article in the Loudoun Times Mirror waxed poetic on her "blue and blond crepe" gown, rose flowers, "sweetly rendered" music, the "tastefully decorated parlor" for the "impressive ceremony", and admiring friends in attendance. It also added to wit: "The bride has been a member of the faculty of Unison-Bloomfield High School where she has greatly endeared herself to pupils and patrons." (Well, alrighty then.) She and her new hubby immediately escaped to Winchester where he would one day became the county treasurer, and she would enjoy a full life of wedded bliss encompassing a lovely home, local charity work, and lots of social teas until the ripe old age of 93, happy, content.... and totally child-free. (Do we even need to ask why...) ]
In the 1924-25 term the departed Keen had been replaced by a new teacher, Mary Able, who was given the additional burden of teaching Grade 3 as well as 1 and 2. At age 36 with 16 years teaching experience and a degree from Columbia College (but no high school degree), she tackled the problem of the diverse age groups scattered among the classes. It was a tough row to hoe, apparently, and she followed in Keen's footsteps, showing a low advancement rate of 8 out of the 44 total students failing to advance. Worse yet, fully 10 students dropped out of school altogether. The next term, however, Able appeared to have gotten a handle on the educational needs of her younger classes and happily graduated all her students to the next class level. Her annual salary for all her hard work was $744.
Interesting to note that same year the 3rd and 4th Grades were taught by Elsie Shawen, who at age 22 had already been teaching for 2 years. Unlike Keen, Shawen had only a high school education, yet commanded a salary of $855 for the term. In her 4th Grade class she had two 15 year olds, one 16 year old, and one 18 year old. The remaining majority were 10-12 year olds. Teacher M. K. White took over for Shawen in 1926. At age 23 with a high school diploma, but not a college degree (although she had taken a course or two at William and Mary College), she also commanded the bigger salary of $765, although her class promotion rate suffered the same malady as Keen’s former classes. During White's first year teaching 4th and 5th grade, only 20 of her 41 students graduated to the next grade level. Seven failed, and fourteen dropped out completely.
It makes one ponder the problems presented to teachers with an overwhelming classroom proportion of farm school children who faced a lack of educational support at home, many with (quite possibly) semi-illerate parents who saw little to no benefit in schooling and did not actively encourage school attendance. Records revealed the struggle many of these students faced as they failed to advance year after year, aging out while spending less and less time each term attending school until they finally left altogether. Or it could well be they were victims of the old acceptance that a 4th grade education was good enough for a farm child since their eventual job career would be that of a farmer. If the parents didn’t see the value in further education, neither did the children. Too many children in those early days never envisioned the embarrassment they would face in later decades when they were asked why they never finished school. Some explained that the reason was economic necessity. Their parents needed them at home, or to work to help support the family. For those who wished to continue their education, but were denied that desire through no fault of their own, the hurt would resonate well into the future. For others that dropped out, it was simply a lack of interest or the feeling they just weren’t going to get anywhere. Farming parents generally were more accepting for a struggling child to stay home and help with the chores instead.
Bill Iden, age 7, 2nd Grade
Unison-Bloomfield School - 1936
The teachers were fighting an uphill battle in the 1920s to not only make "learning" educational, but also to retain the at-risk students who were ingrained in a culture that said “it’s OK to drop out”. The Great Depression era of the 1930’s would just make teaching the rural student far tougher and far more tenuous in the face of the long dry stretch of economic and agricultural disasters.
In 1936, the year this photo of Bill Iden was taken, there were 36 children in his class: 23 boys and 12 girls, although the average daily attendance was only 25. Teacher Virginia M. Parks, aged 29, had been teaching elementary school for 6 1/2 years. She wrote in her annual report that of the 36 students in her class (Grades 1 and 2) only six of the fourteen 1st graders were promoted to 2nd grade, while seven were held back in 2nd Grade. Two children dropped out of school completely. During that school term she had visited 24 of the students homes, showing a level of dedication towards the recent greater push by school administration to try to retain the students in school with the goal of giving them a better chance at making a living in the country's changing environment. Agriculture was still the primary employer of people in the county, but the country overall was moving towards rapid industrialization and the jobs to be had were ones in the cities and non-rural areas. In order to compete in the job market outside of farming, children needed an education, one that went beyond 4th grade. It was important to instill that in the mindset of the parents, even though they themselves were struggling with just day-to-day life during the depression. Looking out at an uncertain future, when the present was locked in a bitter struggle just to make ends meet, was surely a parent's nightmare. And it was about to get even worse in the following decade.
The most important part of the day to the children, and probably to the relief of the teachers as well, was the break period known as recess. Now a standard of the educational day, recess at the Unison-Bloomfield school took the form of two short breaks mid-day and an hour long lunch. The school’s expansive yard included a basketball court, a baseball field, and playground equipment for the youngest classes. Bill Iden recalled two games the middle school students loved to play: Prisoners, and Fox and Hounds.
In the game of Prisoners there were two sides and each side would try and capture players from the other side... [But the most popular game was Foxes and Hounds]...We loved Foxes and Hounds the best and played it every recess. Me and Jr. Williams used to be the foxes because we were the fastest runners. We used to take off running, and after we were gone the "hounds", who were rest of the boys, would run to find us. We would go pretty far most of the time, in the woods and fields well beyond the schoolyard. Our teacher, Mrs. Beavers, didn't mind as long as we were back in time. If we didn't make it back at the end of recess and were late by 5 minutes, we lost 10 minutes of the next lunch period. Because we didn't want to miss any recess, we made sure to be back in time.While the youngest simply took the time to run amok with tag-and-chase games of their own creation, organized team sports tended to be the recess mainstay of the upper and middle classes since such sports allowed the students into a world outside their own grounds. The high school girls and boys both fielded winning basketball teams that regularily met and played on the dirt court of the schoolyard. The championship high school baseball team of the old Unison school continued to be a dominate force in the new high school, and continued to win games in tough inter-school competition for at least two more decades.
Bill Iden recalls:
I remember our principal Mrs. Monroe taking the boys to baseball games in her big old car after school. We would all pile in, and she'd drive us to wherever our game was. I remember some of the schools we played against were Lincoln, Berryville [Clarke County], and Hamilton.
The high school classes remained a mainstay of the school for 16 years, but at the close of the 1920's a disaster lay dead ahead for the nation as a whole. In 1929 the stock market crashed. It rallied for a short glimmer, then began a free fall. The 1930's opened with a stunned nation scrambling to understand and deal with a rapidly decreasing money supply when Mother Nature delivered a worse blow that was far more devistating overall. From Eugene Scheel's article 1,000 Years of Loudoun printed in the Washington Post, December 26, 1999:
Rainfall was light from summer 1929 through spring and then from July through November. Bentley Gregg's Lincoln rain gauge registered 1.6 inches in five months. Some parts of the county receive no rain. County's recorded precipitation was 20.08 inches, lowest ever. County's normal 1.5 million corn crop shrinks to 5,000 bushels. Hay crop was one-fourth its usual yield. Pastures are barren by August, and two-fifths of the county's 10,000 head of beef cattle must be shipped out. Autos crossed a nearly dry Potomac bottom, avoiding bridge tolls. During the Great Depression, wheat prices drop from $1.30 to 51 cents a bushel, corn from 92 cents to 33 cents a bushel; cattle and hogs that once went for 10 cents a pound now bring less than 5 cents. Five percent of the county's population is unemployed, and the county trims its budget for the poor by 70 percent. Teachers take a 10 percent pay cut...
Another newspaper from August 1930 displayed a photograph showing..."wagon tracks across the muddy bottom of the Seneca River in Montgomery County at a spot that normally was five feet deep. ... The Loudoun corn crop was a total failure. Prayers for rain were requested at all Arlington churches." By the end of 1931 the loss of crops and livestock for farmers in Loudoun and Fauquier totaled $6 million (equivalent to $132 million today).
As an unfortunate coincidence of the Depression there was a pronounced drop in funds for education. School superintendent Emerick persuaded the school board to begin closing high schools, and Unison-Bloomfield’s high school fell under the chopping block. At the start of the 1934-1935 school term all Unison-Bloomfield High School students were bused to Round Hill’s high school. It is indeed an ironic shame that the very funds procured from the Commonwealth to build the school came from a promise by Loudoun's School Board to that Commonwealth that it was to be a high school that was built. In only a decade and a half, that promise had been discarded by Emerick without a backward glance. It would not be the first time he would turn his back on the Unison-Bloomfield school and the needs of the community. The second time he would do so would be far more serious. It would prove disasterous.
Not much has been left behind to tell us in detail the agendas of the Unison-Bloomfield PTA, but we do know that in the school term report of 1936 that the organization was comprised of 25 individuals. The National Parent Teacher Association was first organized in Washington DC on February 17, 1897 originally entitled the “National Congress of Mothers” by founders Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Conceived only a few years before the Progressive Movement, the new organization was quickly buoyed aloft in the wave of educational changes swept in at the start of 1900. As a result the Virginia PTA formed in 1904 and became a state association in the National PTA in 1921. The goal of the organization was to encourage the parents of the students to become a more important player in the school system by actively ensuring the best school environment for their children.
The Unison-Bloomfield PTA took the national organization’s goals to heart and played an active role in helping encourage the health and education of their children as well as finding ways to fund improvements to the school grounds, such as building the stone wall along the front of the school in 1921. They also oversaw the custodial duties, and organized benefit events to help fund school sports and repairs, as well as pageants and parades. It was surprising to note that Principal Monroe stated in one of her annual reports that the PTA was not active, and yet in that same report she stated the PTA met 3 times that year, quite possibly to help plan and organize supportive activities, including the fund raisers. Indeed, fund raising was a key goal of the PTA in this poorer rural enclave, and the most effective event, for many of the rural schools, seemed to be the hosting of an annual horse show.
Horses, both sporting and working, greatly outnumbered the human inhabitants of western Loudoun in the 20’s through the 40’s. As a result horse shows reigned supreme as one of the key local entertainments. Both rich landowners and well-to-do farmers were always keen for an opportunity to display their equines for the chance of ribbons and even cash prizes. The Unison-Bloomfield PTA was quick to jump on the benefit horse show bandwagon as their key fundraiser. Held in May during each school year, the Unison-Bloomfield show, originally called “The Unison-Bloomfield Community Horse Show”, quickly filled the show classes with the cream of the equine stock in the area. Results of the show were published in both newspapers and the local equestrian magazine, and enough profits were generated each year to give back to the school for building projects, grounds improvements, exterior and interior maintenance, and smaller odds and ends that needed funding. It was a lucrative enterprise that served both the surrounding community and the school.
It could well be that the PTA, looking for that one special person to organize the show into something that would build on success and bring in more competitors, and thus more revenue, decided to look further than their own numbers and encourage the participation of a notable figure who had their hands on the pulse of the horse community. At some point, probably during the late 1920’s, the Unison-Bloomfield show committee contacted a well known local horsewoman, Miss Charlotte Noland, to see if she would be willing to undertake the task of heading the show board. An avid foxhunter, and a well-known educator, Miss Noland was the Headmistress and Founder of Foxcroft School, located about 2 miles east of Unison. She ended up the perfect choice for taking up the reins of the annual show, and helped transform it from a simple rural affair to one that drew in the likes of the affluent foxhunter and landowner crowd. From that point on until the fateful day in 1944 when the school burned to the ground, Miss Noland was to be an integral part of the school as a whole.
Of all the patrons who would eventually promote and financially support a richer and more global education in the Unison-Bloomfield school, no one would stand above Miss Charlotte Noland.
From early documents it is found that Noland’s patronage to the Unison-Bloomfield school may have begun in about 1918. Unfortunately, the details are no longer extant, so there is scant hint of the scope she may have participated in with the school. The archived files at Foxcroft School show much greater detail of her patronage from 1937 through the 1940's. Helen McDonald, RN's September/October 1937 report to Noland for the Foxcroft Social Service (for the Public Health of Mercer District), details ...
"Have started class in Home Nursing at the Unison School. The classes at the Unison School in boy's carpentry and girl's sewing and cooking have been started and are going along nicely. The pupils are most enthusiastic about these classes and seem most grateful for the opportunity offered them."
The patronage of Foxcroft School to the Unison-Bloomfield school was no small matter. Not only did Foxcroft donate money to fund the Home Economics and Shop departments, but it also funded the salaries of the Home Economics teacher and the Carpentry Shop teacher at $50/month plus expenses and supplies, not to mention the purchase and upkeep of equipment for both departments. In one school year that sum totaled $1,190.10.
Miss Charlotte Noland teaching drill exercises to Unison-Bloomfield school students on their school grounds - 1942
Photo courtesy of Foxcroft School Archives, Middleburg, VA
The practical application of both Home Economics and Shop output was indeed a boon not only by the students, but by the entire school as well. Hot lunches were prepared by Home Economics for poor students, and while the breath and scope of the meal was rather simple and limited, it went a long way towards providing a nutritional benefit to aid in helping retain greater school attendance of those poorer students. Shop students honed their newly learned lessons by maintaining, repairing, and replacing wooden school equipment. In one year the fledgling carpenters built a whole new suite of outside playground equipment, then expanded their talents by crafting inside play items that could be used “by the younger students” on rainy days. In a 1943 correspondence to Noland, Monroe mentions how Shop students were taking on small repairs around the school, generally this being the bailiwick of a (presumably no longer extant) school janitor.
Throughout the exchange of correspondence of Monroe to Noland, the need to teach a trade to the students was uppermost in Monroe’s mind. Not just something of a hobby, or a creative effort, Monroe saw these departments as critical to many of her students in order to give them a skill for their adult lives beyond the classroom. Again and again, Monroe emphasizes the surrounding community as “poor”, but what one should remember is: those that could afford private education for their children would do so. Noland saw fit to offer her own school’s services to better the lives of the nearby public school children so that all the surrounding communities, both black and white, could benefit in the long run. The Foxcroft records go into great detail regarding the Foxcroft Social Services program support to 10 of the Mercer District public schools. In conjunction with the county Health Department in providing dentists and nurses, Foxcroft Social Services helped with transportation to hospitals and medical facilities, hot lunches for children, and distribution of foods from the community and benefactors. Foxcroft even promoted patriotism by encouraging participation in the war effort via Victory Gardens, purchase of bonds, and 4th of July parade ground drill exhibitions with distinguished speakers. Their efforts into the health and education of Unison-Bloomfield School was such that it would be fondly remembered by the participating students throughout future decades.
Rosser Iden, age 12, 6th Grade
Unison-Bloomfield Middle School - 1944
Both Rosser and Bill Iden recalled the patronage of Miss Noland to the Unison-Bloomfield school Carpentry Shop:
Rosser: Pokey Parmer taught Shop the first year*, and then George Freeman took over teaching us during WWII. We used to make wooden guns [rifles] for Miss Noland that were realistic. Because this was her project she provided all the tools. I think she used [the guns] for drill practice for her students. Only the boys in grades 5 to 7 were allowed to take Shop, but one day a week the boys were allowed upstairs to learn cooking. We always made the same thing - apple brown betty - because we loved it.
[*existing records from Foxcroft archives indicate Parmer was employed to the Unison-Bloomfield school from 1937 to 1939]
A Unison-Bloomfield School Carpentry Shop made gun - held in the Foxcroft Archives
Photo courtesy of Foxcroft School Archives, Middleburg, VA
Bill: "Miss Noland took a great interest in the [Unison-Bloomfield] school. She used to have Christmas with gifts for the children [held] at the Foxcroft school, and she set up a kitchen for Home Ec on the second floor, and a [Carpentry] Shop in the basement with a hand gig, planer, and saws. In Shop [we] used to build swings [for the playground] and tied auto tires to the oak trees [for swings as well]. One time during shop we went to the 2nd floor and tied a line from the 2nd floor window down to the stables. We had made a seat that could be hung on the line, and we took turns riding the seat from the school window all the way down to the barn. When we were finished we had to untie the lines from the window before we could close the window down. [Editor's note: the line would be called a "zip line" today. The distance from the school to the stable was about 80-100'].
The Home Economics department was overseen by Lenora Nalle whose salary was paid by Foxcroft School. Various local newspaper reports throughout the 1940's, detailing the events of the local communities, often wrote up the special events that were hosted by Foxcroft with the aide of the Home Economics students from the Unison-Bloomfield School. Teas, social meetings, community gatherings, and other newsworthy happenings that could highlight the cooking and social skills of the Home Ec students were proudly extolled by the news articles, all the way down to the menus served, or the type of sewing displayed. Foxcroft archived records show expansive equipment purchases for the Unison-Bloomfield Home Economics Department to the tune of $983.03 between 1937-1939: a stove, refrigerator, sink, cabinet, stools, clock [timer], linoleum [for the classroom floor], iron, ironing board, china, silver, kitchen utensils, basin, brooms, buckets, note books, and material for Pokey to supply whatever carpentry needs were required by the Home Ec department. Materials for sewing and cooking, averaging at a cost of $6.13/mo. and $14.0/mo, respectively, were also paid by Foxcroft School through Nalle. Between the years 1937 and 1939, Nalle received a salary plus out-of-pocket compensation totaling $1,294.47, including transportation [gas at $26/mo] and extra class help when required. Nalle reported monthly to Noland on the progress of her classes, emphasizing the virtues of the department in providing the young ladies with a viable means of job support, which Nalle termed "service", after they finished school.
It is to Noland’s credit that she never wavered in her determination, despite the lingering negative financial ripples of the slowly receding Great Depression or the advancing onslaught of a second world war, to provide much needed medical and vocational support for the schools that she had adopted under her Foxcroft banner.
Around 11:15pm on August 12th 1944, a few citizens of Bloomfield still awake on that hot and humid Saturday evening noticed a strange red glow on the hill where the school was located. The glow quickly developed into a massive bonfire that lit up the night sky. The school was on fire. The alarm was quickly called in to Middleburg’s Fire Department, but by the time the firemen arrived on the scene the school was fully involved. There was nothing they could do but try to prevent the fire from spreading beyond the school past the nearby trees and grounds already burning as well. By morning nothing was left of the building but smoking rubble. It was a complete loss, and a devastating one to the community.
The newspaper, beyond reporting that this was the second high school to have burned this year, also interviewed Superintendent Emerick who declared the School Board would undoubtedly rebuild the structure since "Unison-Bloomfield had been already selected previously as one the county’s permanent white elementary schools" to be retained.
With the next school term less than a month away, there was a frantic scramble to get a suitable site ready for the incoming students. The nearby Unison Methodist Church was chosen, and efforts were immediately put into action to get the church retrofitted as a schoolhouse during the weekdays.
No records have been found as to what, if any, official investigation was done, nor was any information revealed as to the cause of the fire. Neither the records of the Loudoun County Fire Department, nor the Middleburg Fire Department, go back as far as 1944, and the insurance company that paid out the policy has been long out of business, the whereabouts of their records unknown. At the time of the fire, however, local speculation ran rampant. Whispers of exactly what, or more importantly, who, caused the fire has made its way down through the ages of families that were affected. Scuttlebutt argued a local town drunk had started the fire after sneaking into the school to sleep off his extended forays to the local taverns. It was well known that certain persons of interest were quietly pulled aside by the towns' more affluent and respected personages in an attempt to get a lowdown on the cause of the fire. Suspected but unproven accusations traveled word of mouth through the communities, but without a solid lead it all remained conjecture. Josh Craun however, was bluntly succinct in his assessment; he told his family that the fire was started as a result of "a poker game in the basement of the school attended by a bunch of local drinkers who were hiding out from their wives...and their preacher". In lieu of the fact that the floor of the basement was dirt, and the time of year wasn't conducive to needing a fire to stay warm (actually, quite the opposite), it may well have been a simple overturned candle or lantern, one brought in to provide just enough light for the gaming, but not enough to be seen by anyone passing by the building.
For such a small misjudgement, it couldn't have happened in a worse place. Bill Iden recalled that his mother, Rebecca, was the custodian of the school at the time, and one of the duties he helped her with was the washing down of the floors at the end of the school year. "We used motor oil on the wooden floors" he recalled, "because it helped to pick up the dust and gave the wood a really nice shine." While the motor oil had been new, not used, this practice still made the whole school a ticking time bomb ripe for a fire. "That's probably the reason it [burned] really quickly," Iden said. It also didn't help that decades of coal being thrown down into a heap in the basement caused a huge amount of coal dust to infiltrate the stone walls and flooring above. The school was a tinderbox, and the blaze that night was both terrifying and fatal to the building. In a matter of a few hours, the communities lost more than just a school - they lost a combined sense of identity.
Hope remained high that a new school would be built, even as the insurance company paid out the $10,000 coverage for the burned building, but as the months went past and nothing towards rebuilding the school was done, the community began to worry. When rumors began circulating that the school board was planning to sell the Unison-Bloomfield school grounds and transport the remaining students to other schools, a petition was circulated far and wide to help change the school board’s mind. The petition included signatures from all the surrounding landowners, parents, and teachers.
Sadly, the community effort was all in vain. On Friday, May 11th, 1945, Lucas D. Phillips, the school board’s Attorney, stood in front of Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge, J. R. H. Alexander, and petitioned for the sale of four school properties, one of which was Unison-Bloomfield school grounds. The sale was held on the courthouse steps the following month, on June 9th. The Unison-Bloomfield school grounds went under the hammer for $1,100 to the highest bidder, former Piedmont Foxhounds Huntsman Joshua Craun, and his wife Mary Francis Craun, who soon installed a private residence on the site of the burned down school.
A private residence continues to sit on the spot where four decades of school children learned their 3 R’s. Today the only traces of the old school are the stone wall at the front of the property, a portion of the stone foundation, and the stable in the back which survived the fire.
Faded and aged with time, the school's important contributions to the communities and people of the county have been quietly relegated to the dusty annals of forgotten history. We hope, if only for a brief moment, they have come back alive in this article.
William and Rosser Iden: whose oral memories of their schooldays, their teachers, and their classmates was nothing short of a merry, not to mention sometimes hilariously funny, romp into a time long gone by. I can't thank you both enough for allowing me, a total stranger, to share in your past lives. Your stories were offered with both generosity and graciousness, and turned out to be icing on the cake for this article, the engaging human interest side of the more esoteric historical data, the colorful paint of real life as seen through a child's eye.
Terri Teeter: You were a wealth of information, photographs, genealogy, an all around terrific person who happily invited me into your home, even when I popped in on the spur of the moment, to see the original school foundation, talk to me about the old building, and share an entire drawerful of old photos regarding the old Unison-Bloomfield High School, many of which are not to be found anywhere else. You were gracious enough to let me sit on your floor and snap photos of the old photos, let me browse with delight through your collection of Craun and Wiley family albums, and happily answered my endless streams of questions with a genuine fondness towards all the old school history your grandparents, Josh and Mary Frances Craun, had once shared with you.
Beverly Tate, Loudoun County Public Schools, Department of Planning Services for your enthusiastic help in providing me with the initial photos and data for the Unison-Bloomfield school, and for the contact information for your father who was a student at the Unison-Bloomfield Elementary School in the 1930s. You were the perfect start I needed, and truthfully set the directional heading towards the research data I needed to find in order to make this article come to life.
Sue Hall and Cheryl Butler, Record Archivists for Loudoun County Public Schools who responded to my request for old data and sent me a whole slew of digital records that more than met my needs, and really gave me a fabulous start on rebuilding the literary picture of the Unison-Bloomfield School. I loved your cheerful smiles when I would pop in at your office, and your willingness to allow me access to the old archived records so that I could hunt for bits and pieces of Unison-Bloomfield's past. I'm also glad you enjoyed the homemade chocolate chip cookies I brought in as a thank you. I know it barely compensated for your continued graciousness every time I popped in at your office unannounced, but I do want you to know that I truly appreciated your help, guidance, and access to the archived records for the valuable data into the workings and staff of the school during its lifetime.
Larry Roeder of the Edwin Washington Research Project who had already cataloged and made orderly much of the scattered archived documents of the old Loudoun County schools, and helped steer me in the right direction to the bits of Unison-Bloomfield school history that had already been uncovered and recorded. You saved me hours and hours of time by putting your hands right on the data I needed, and you did it not only with a smile but also sans shoes. I'm glad I could reciprocate by finding newfound data mined elsewhere on the schools that your project had earmarked, and could give you contact information to further your research with new and exciting information.
Kerri Gonzalaz, Librarian, Foxcroft School who eagerly gave me an entire afternoon, and a pile of correspondence folders belonging to Foxcroft's founder, Miss Charlotte Noland, which encompassed a unique and totally unexpected treasure trove of the history Foxcroft shared with the Unison-Bloomfield School throughout the 1930's and 1940's. Your collection of Miss Noland's letters regarding her school's critically important social and financial patronage was a gift that I was overwhelmingly delighted to have presented to me. Your archived contributions made the article so much more rewarding in allowing me to write in praise of Foxcroft's sponsorship to the surrounding public schools. Miss Noland made the school experience for the students of Unison-Bloomfield that much richer, and that much more rewarding. She indeed stands out as the most exemplary individual, both in person and in the history of the Unison-Bloomfield School.
My very sincere thanks to Rosser and Dot Iden, to Beverly Tate, Sue Hall, and Foxcroft School for the use of their old photographs relating to times, people, and events of the Unison-Bloomfield School. I would like to especially thank Terri Teeter for Mary Francis Wiley's high school photo album (with school photos from 1921-22), her high school diploma, and for the photos of the school being built in 1916 as well as when it was completed in 1917. They all added a very unique and very personal touch to this article.
**The Search for Ella Moore Brown
Of special interest to me ... only because I tend to get intrigued (read that as "easily distracted by random stuff") regarding people or stories that have been lost to time... was the photo of Mary Francis' friend posed in front of the school. Identified only by the penned initials "E.M.B." at the bottom of the photo, I was able to determine the full name of the young lady by checking the class listing of 1920-21. The initials matched that of Ella Moore Brown who was 16 at the start of the school year, and went all the way through the Junior term with her fellow classmate and friend Mary Francis Wiley. But the following year, Senior term, Ella had disappeared. She was not on the class rolls, and was not on the list of those who graduated alongside Mary Francis.
Well, this simply intrigued me all the more, but she would have to wait for a while before I had time to set out looking for her. As I continued to write the article through the next several weeks, Ella lingered on the fringes of my mind, casually lounging against that old tree stump at the front of the school, smiling and waiting for me until I was finally finished. The last "t's crossed, the last "i's" dotted. It was now time to go hunting for Ella.
An initial foray onto the Net came back completely empty. Exhausting that avenue quickly, I decided to spend half a day camping out at the county courthouse in Leesburg, digging through their extensive archives, and the other half of the day cruising the vast database collections of the Thomas Balch Library, which (thankfully) is just a casual stroll up the lovely historic street from the courthouse. In both places I sat...and searched. But it wasn't easy. After she failed to appear in her Senior Class of 1922, slipping away unnoticed, Ella managed to stay completely under the radar, and out of data sight until I stumbled across her in 1930, living in Washington, DC with her Iowa born husband, Maury Hanson, an orchestra musician. She had just become a mother at age 26 with Maury Jr. after being married for 2 years. It wasn't much to go on, but it was a start. For the next ten years she played hide and seek in the records, once again flying well under the data radar as she moved out of state, leaving not even a ripple in her wake until she resurfaced in 1940 in Montgomery County, MD with two kids at home - 10 year old Maury Jr. and 6 year old Charles. Apparently, at some point in her life she had completed 2 years of college and was now a practicing nurse in the private sector. Hubby Maury Sr was still playing in the orchestra. I glanced forward in time, but once again the trail went cold. I regrouped and began casting a wider net, looking for a marriage certificate, college certificate, or any leads to her life between 1922 and 1930. But it was like hunting down an enigma. Nothing would hit. And then...I came across her death record. She had died in Alexandria, VA at age 66, just before Thanksgiving in 1970. But a small piece of extra data was included, and that is what made me stop and sit up in surprise. I gathered up my documents and headed home.
Once home I grabbed some silk flowers that I had sitting aside, hopped on my bike, and pedaled the one mile down the road into Bloomfield, then took a right turn, arriving a half mile later at Ebenezer Church Cemetery. I was prepared to spend an hour wandering through the 7 acres of roughly 2,000 graves, looking... but for the first time in all my research searching for her, she didn't hide from me. I found her almost immediately. Her tombstone was near the church in the Brown family plot, tucked in the right hand corner, right next to her mother, Ida. Maury was by her side, having first traveled out to spend his golden years at Palm Springs, California, he finally joined her again 13 years later to rest in peace.
I smiled and placed the bouquet of flowers at her headstone where stealthy spots of gravestone lichen were just starting to sneak into the deep engraving. In 1921 she had smiled into the lens of that camera, a sweet 16 posing as a young 'thoroughly modern', yet as graceful as any work of Art Nouveau. In two clicks of the camera shutter she breathed extraordinary life into two photographs, two brief moments of her life, both radiating youth and beauty and fun and charm, once by herself, and once among her friends in front of her school, only a mile or so away from where she now lay, and only 3 miles from where she'd been born. For a full half century she had ranged away from home, making a life for herself that I was only able to glimpse in bits and pieces. I doubt I'll ever find her missing years, but at least I now know where she is, and where she will stay.
"Welcome home, Ella," I said, patting her tombstone gently. "Welcome home."
- Loudoun County Teacher Term Reports for the Unison-Bloomfield School - 1920 to 1945 (digitalized); Correspondances of Loudoun County School Superintendent O.L.Emerick (1919-1945), Courtesy of the Loudoun County School Records Department, Round Hill, VA
- Correspondances of Miss Charolette Noland (1937-1945), Foxcroft School Archives, Middleburg, VA
- Online article "Cooperative Education Association" contributed by Jennifer Davis McDaid. Source: encyclopediavirginia.org/Cooperative_Education_Association
- Loudoun Times Mirror newspaper issue dated August 17, 1944 (microfilm), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
- Loudoun County Deeds, Archives Department, Loudoun County Courthouse, Leesburg, VA
- Online information regarding Mount Weather in 1938 from "Service as Mandate: How American Land-Grant Universities Shaped the Modern World - 1920-2015" edited by Alan I. Marcus and Amy Sue Bix, Google Books online excerpts.
- various and sundry entertainingly factual articles on Unison, and Loudoun County in general, far too numerous to detail, all written by cartographer and resident Loudoun historian Eugene Scheel, including his "1,000 Years of Loudoun", Washington Post newspaper, pub. December 26, 1999, and online article "Drought Survivors of 1930 Recall the Ultimate Dry Spell", uploaded November 2007, Source: loudounhistory.org. Mr. Scheel wrote volumes of newspaper articles for decades, mingling fact and local lore from all sources of Loudoun County history, including many private interviews of people now long gone. He never missed a good story, or spicy detail, much to the blessings of all who will forever enjoy, and quote, his writings. (I should put his contributions in my Thank You section, but think he rightfully belongs here in References instead.)
- "My Yesteryear" by Marvin Wharton, privately published 2001
- And finally to my laptop and tablet as my magical portals to the Internet (formally known as the World Wide Web) which instantly responded via a mere touch of a button by visually presenting an unimaginable wealth of information on rural traditions, peoples, schools, wars, historic trivia, and a plethora of notable whatnots during the time periods from 1900 through 1945. What did we ever do before the Internet? (Yes, I know. The Encyclopaedia Britannica. An outdated reference before it was even printed, let alone sold, yet it was the solid, undisputed mainstay of every school and personal library for a century. I think I might still have a dusty, unused set sitting somewhere on a lowly shelf in my library. One of these days I'll take a look ...)