Oakton Schoolhouse
by Debbie Robison
December 22, 2004

The Oakton Schoolhouse was the third schoolhouse to be erected in the vicinity. The first schoolhouse in this locality is supposed to have been erected c. 1854 when the area was known as Flint Hill. It purportedly burned down following the Civil War.[1]


The second schoolhouse was erected c. 1873 at “the intersection of Hunter’s Mill Road with the road leading from Fairfax court House to Vienna” on Gibson Whaley’s land. Whaley sold the one-acre parcel where “a schoolhouse had been erected” to school trustees for $50.[2] This schoolhouse faced Hunter Mill Road.


Construction of the third schoolhouse, identified in this article as the Oakton Schoolhouse, coincided with the relocation of the second schoolhouse to Jermantown Road for use as a residence. Oral tradition maintains that the schoolhouse was constructed about 1897 by a Mr. Thompson.[3] Perhaps he was Mr. James Thompson, a carpenter who was contracted to build the nearby Jermantown schoolhouse in 1890.[4] Mr. Thompson was listed in the 1900 census as a 33 year old carpenter living in the Providence District.[5] The Oakton Schoolhouse, built facing the Fairfax to Vienna Road, was located east of the second schoolhouse on the same one-acre parcel.


The Freedom Hill schoolhouse, constructed several miles away in 1871, was very similar to the Oakton Schoolhouse.


Miss Mary Sager was thought to have been the first teacher. A local news item in the Fairfax Herald confirms that Miss Sager taught at the school during the winter of 1899.[6] In March 1900, she resigned her position as principal, causing the school to be closed for a period of time.[7] The following fall, the school opened with Mr. Moss Love as teacher, whose father was a judge of the county court, and Miss Nellie Shawen as assistant.[8] Oral tradition asserts that in 1900 the schoolhouse was partitioned into two rooms due to overcrowding and that one teacher taught in each room.[9] This contention is somewhat supported by news accounts, since 1900 was the first year two teachers were noted in the newspaper as instructing students at the Oakton Schoolhouse.[10]


By 1903, Miss Mary Huntington was principal. She continued as a principal/teacher for many years, likely through the remaining period of time that the Oakton Schoolhouse was used a school building. Following is a list of teachers mentioned in newspaper accounts who likely taught at the Oakton Schoolhouse:[11]


1899/1900         Miss Mary Sager

Fall 1900           Mr. Moss Love, principal and Miss Nellie Shawen, assistant

1903/4              Miss Mary Huntington, principal and Miss Ethel Jones, assistant teacher

Fall 1904           Miss Mary Huntington and Miss Ethel Jones

Spring 1907       Miss Mary Huntington


Overcrowding became a problem that was temporarily alleviated by building an annex to the existing schoolhouse. The annex was in existence by December 1904 when the following news item was published in the Fairfax Herald:


Upon each trip through Oakton one is almost sure to discover evidences of the progressiveness of its charming people. The entire hamlet makes a pleasing impression and the well planned annex to the handsome schoolhouse adds much to the beauty of the place which, for its size, has one of the best conducted schools within Providence district, with a constantly growing attendance which may soon require even more extended accommodations should the management continue under Miss Huntington and Miss Ethel Jones.[12]


By January 1905, the school building was once again at capacity.


Public school opened on Monday after a week’s holiday, with an enrollment of 45 pupils in the principal’s department, and 40 in the primary. The attendance is being constantly added to, and both rooms are now taxed to their utmost.[13]


Oakton Schoolhouse 1907A photo of the enlarged schoolhouse was published in 1907 by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. School children are gathered on the porch and along a walkway that extends along the western side of the building, perhaps leading to a privy.


A painting depicts the structure with the same plan layout.


The Underwood Constitutional Convention, held in 1867, crafted a new Commonwealth of Virginia constitution adopted July 6, 1869 that provided for a statewide, tax-supported public school system in Virginia. As a consequence of this new constitution, Congress permitted Virginia to reenter the Union in 1870.[14]


The Providence District School Board, under which the Oakton Schoolhouse was administered, had seats on the Fairfax County School Board (FCSB), an organization that was the precursor to the current Board created in 1922. Captain Franklin Sherman and Franklin Williams represented the Providence District during the period of time the Oakton Schoolhouse was in operation.


Taxes were levied on citizens to financially support the schools. The funds were managed by the FCSB and disbursed to the various school districts. Fiscal reports were submitted to the FCSB for auditing. Additional data was compiled and filed with the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction in accordance with Chapter 52 Sec 2 of the Acts of Assembly 1884/5.[15]


The FCSB was responsible for auditing financial ledgers, setting policies on the method used to calculate the amount of funds disbursed to the various districts, establishing the school calendar (including holidays), and the selection of text books. The state board created a list of textbooks from which the county selected books to utilize.[16]


report on textbooks by Messrs. Donohue & Machen… would respectfully submit that since its appt. the question as to the selection of textbooks for the public schools of the county has assumed a much wider scope in consequence of recent legislation and action on the part of the state board than was at first contemplated.  For this reason, your committee would suggest that a committee of six be appointed to examine the books adopted by the state board and select from that list the books to be used in the public schools of the county.[17]


The school term typically started in early October and ended the following April. For example, the FCSB set the 1899/1900 term per the following minutes:


…term will start October 2nd, Christmas holiday from Dec 22 to 2 Jan 1900.  Thanksgiving and 22 Feb will be legal holidays.  Vote on holidays was 8 to 8, chairman of school board voted in affirmative to break tie and approve the holidays.[18]


In 1908, the Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation that made education compulsory for children. A special meeting was held by the FCSB on April 5, 1909 to rescind previously declared estimates made for county and district purposes due to changed laws.[19] The already overcrowded Oakton Schoolhouse was likely impacted by this legislation.


The FCSB also discussed compulsory vaccinations. In 1908, the Oakton School was closed due to an outbreak of disease.

There are a few cases of diphtheria in the Oakton neighborhood, and the public school at that place has been temporarily closed. [20]


Occasionally, the schoolhouse was used in the evenings to exhibit the school children’s talents.


The schoolhouse was filled to overflowing with an attentive audience on Wednesday evening to hear the entertainment given by the school children. The program consisted of dialogues and recitations interspersed with songs, and the excellent manner in which each number was rendered reflects great credit not only upon the pupils but also upon the teachers, Misses Mary Huntington and Ethel Jones, who are taking an active interest in the welfare of the school. Proceeds amounted to $15.[21]


In August 1903, the schoolhouse was used as the venue for a fundraising event held for the Sunday School Fund. The young ladies of the Methodist Episcopal Church rehearsed a play given at the schoolhouse prior to its production.[22] The newspaper review of the event was favorable.


The entertainment in the school house on Friday evening consisted of humorous dialogues, recitations, vocal and instrumental music, and judging  from the applause the audience was well entertained. The proceeds of the evening amounted to $15.[23]


The German Baptist Brethren held their religious services in the schoolhouse on Sunday mornings at eleven o’clock during the last six months of 1903.[24] Once their own meetinghouse was constructed in Oakton and the schoolhouse became overcrowded, the Baptists returned the hospitality and provided space for some of the school’s classes.[25]


By May 1911, local citizens were discussing constructing a larger schoolhouse at another site.


We had a very interesting school meeting Friday night. Mr. W.W. Long, was appointed chairman. We have three pretty sites and wishing to please all of our people, we can’t decide which will be the best. We have an offer for the old site…The children are pleased to think they are going to have a larger schoolhouse.”[26]


Oakton residents had raised the funding required to construct the new schoolhouse.[27] Thus, in 1912, the property was sold by the school trustees to S. L. Whitesell.[28] The 1913 land taxes for the county show Whitesell as the owner of the 1 acre lot with property taxes at $25 per acre with the building(s) valued at $250.[29] The taxes remained the same until 1916 when the per acre value rose to $35 and the building value was assessed at $300. Whitesell, it is believed, converted the schoolhouse into a residence.[30] The 1920 United States census lists Whitesell as the head of  a household consisting of his wife, two sons, and two daughters. His occupation  was manufacturer of novelties. In 1933, Whitesell’s widow sold the property to Irvin Payne.[31]


Irvin Payne was a successful businessman who operated merchant stores at Oakton, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Centreville.[32] The Oakton store, located on the same parcel as the schoolhouse, was in operation by April 1934.[33]


Local tradition maintains that Payne converted the schoolhouse into two apartments prior to leasing the building to Lynn Moyer for a hardware store and garden shop in 1944.[34] 


The hardware store counter remains in the schoolhouse at this time.


A garage addition was attached to the western wall of the schoolhouse to provide storage and display of large items.[35]


Oakton Schoolhouse 2004Lynn Moyer began subletting a portion of the store in 1969 to Dan Couch for his outdoor adventure retail business. Mr. Couch began with a counter in the c. 1904 portion of the schoolhouse and a small storage space above the cellar stairs.[36] In 1972, the trustees of Payne’s estate sold the lot to Dan Couch’s business, Appalachian Outfitters, Inc.[37] Appalachian Outfitters closed in 2003.





[1] Helen Rector Jones, “A History of the Oakton School,” Historical Society of Fairfax County, Virginia, Inc., Vol 7- 1960-1961, p.27. From a research paper submitted to the School of Education  of George Washington University, May 1, 1953, copy at Fairfax County Public Library Virginia Room.

[2] Fairfax County Deed Book (FXDB) R4:13, Gilson R. Whaley & Sarah F. to school trustees, 1 Jan 1874.

[3] Mrs. Ross D. Netherton, “Oakton School,” Historic American Buildings Survey Inventory, 25 Aug 1969.

[4] Fairfax Herald, 19 Sept 1890, p. 3.

[5] Twelfth Census of the United States, 2,4 Jun 1900.

[6] Fairfax Herald, 25 Jun 1900, p. 3.

[7] Fairfax Herald, 04 Mar 1949 p. 4.

[8] Fairfax Herald, 05 Oct 1900, p. 3. Also Twelfth Census of the United States, 01 Jun 1900, p. 178.

[9] Jones, p. 28.

[10] Fairfax Herald, 05 Oct 1900, p. 3.

[11] Fairfax Herald, 02 Mar 1900 as published in 04 Mar 1949, p. 4; 25 Jun 1900, p. 3; 15 Oct 1900, p. 3; 02 Oct 1903, p. 2; 15 Oct 1903, p. 2; 25 Oct 1903, p. 2; 04 Dec 1903, p. 2; 11 Dec 1903, p. 2; 15 Jan 1904, p. 2;02 Dec 1904, p. 3; 15 Mar5 1907, p.3.

[12] Fairfax Herald, 02 Dec 1904, p. 3.

[13] Fairfax Herald, 06 Jan 1905, p. 2.

[14] “Virginia”, MSN Encarta, http://encarta.msn.com,

[15] Minutes of the Fairfax County School Board, 1872-1922, Fairfax County Public Library, MICR V379.153F, Fairfax, VA., p. 51.

[16] Minutes of the Fairfax County School Board, 1872-1922, Fairfax County Public Library, MICR V379.153F, Fairfax, VA.

[17] Ibid, 29 Aug 1989, p. 71.

[18] Ibid, 31 Aug 1899, p. 76.

[19] Ibid, 05 Apl 1909, p. 110

[20] Fairfax Herald, 30 Oct 1908, p. 3.

[21] Fairfax Herald, 04 Dec 1903, p. 2.

[22] Fairfax Herald, 14 Aug 1903, p. 2.

[23] Fairfax Herald, 28 Aug 1903

[24] Fairfax Herald, 24 Jul 1903, p. 2; 09 Oct 1903, p. 2; 23 Oct 1903, p. 2; 04 Dec 1903, p. 2.

[25] “Oakton P.T.A. Honors Mrs. Magarity; Hears History of Community,” The Providence Journal, 18 Nov 1955, col.1.

[26] Fairfax Herald, 05 May 1911, p.2.

[27] Fairfax Herald, 14 Jun 1912, p.2.

[28] FXDB M7:570.

[29] Fairfax County Land Taxes, 1912, Fairfax County Count Archives, Fairfax, Virginia.

[30] D’Anne A. Evans, The Story of Oakton, Virginia: 1757-1982, The Optimist Club of Oakton, 1991, p. 104.

[31] FXDB I11:463

[32] Fairfax Herald, 27 Nov 1936, p. 4

[33] Fairfax Herald, 13 Apl 1934, p. 7

[34] Evans, p. 104

[35] Oral remarks, Jeanie Couch, daughter-in-law of Dan Couch, to Debbie Robison, 2004.

[36] Ibid.

[37] FXDB 3741:358