Frost and Fairfax History (Part 2)
A Journey Back: 1860 to the Present
The land that would become the site of Frost Middle School has a long and fascinating history. Join us as we take a look back and trace the owners of the land that would eventually become Frost Middle School and Woodson High School during the period of 1860 to the present.
Fairfax during the Civil War
- By the 1850's, although slavery was a huge moral and political issue, slave ownership was declining in Fairfax County. Artisans, business people and professionals had moved into Fairfax County. Plots of land were smaller and farming was more diversified. Regional ties were strong however, so, when northern Virginia faced a vote for succession, many were in favor. Many were not, but faced strong intimidation from their neighbors. By 1861, 6% of voters (all white men) were slave owners. Much of the "wealth" of these men was tied to the value of their slaves as property. 26% of the population of Fairfax were enslaved.
- On April 17, 1861, Fairfax County held a vote on secession. Should Virginia "secede" from the Union, stop being a part of the United States, and join the Confederacy with other southern states instead? 75% of Fairfax County land owners (all white men) voted "yes" to join the Confederate States. Virginia seceded. Those that chose to fight for the Union would move to D.C., Maryland or western Virginia (later West Virginia) and join up with the Union army there.
- After Virginia seceded from the Union and war eventually came, most young men from this area joined Robert E. Lee's army, the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's family lived at Arlington House, just across the Virginia line from D.C. His wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, was a Fitzhugh, a Washington and a Lee. Her father was George Washington's adopted son and her mother was William Fitzhugh's daughter. When Union troops endangered Arlington House, she had to flee to Ravensworth Mansion. She didn't know at the time, but, luckily for her, Ravensworth, as a property of the Washington family, had been designated as neutral ground, protected by orders from both sides.
- The closest major Civil War battle to the Frost area was the Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, however our area did see a number of smaller skirmishes. Mosby's Rangers, commanded by John S. Mosby, frequented the Annandale and Fairfax areas, harassing Union troops up and down Little River Turnpike, running raids in the middle of the night, stealing horses and ammunition, burning bridges, attacking without warning and then disappearing into the night.
- A local story goes that Noah Huntt, who lived in Vienna, had a 17 year old son Lewis who ran away one night to join Mosby's Rangers. Noah took off after Lewis to try and stop his son. He thought Lewis was too young to join the fighting and worried for his safety. Noah didn't catch his son in time though. Luckily, Lewis B. Huntt survived the war. He worked on the railroad as a young man, married and became a landowner and farmer as well.
- Many tried to catch and kill Mosby. The closest anyone came to getting him was a night at Gooding's Tavern in August of 1863. Some drovers and their horses had stopped for the night at the tavern. In trying to take them, Mosby was shot and badly wounded. He got away, probably with help from locals. Later after the war, he surprisingly voted for General Grant for president, became friends with him, and even worked in the federal government for Grant's administration after Grant became the 18th U.S. President in 1869.
READ ABOUT how Ravensworth Mansion experienced the upheaval of two wars as the house passed from the Fitzhugh family during the Revolutionary War to Robert E. Lee's family during the Civil War.
EXAMINE PHOTOS of Fairfax County during the Civil War from the Library of Congress collection.
READ MORE about Gooding's Tavern, why travelers stopped there, and the Civil War skirmish that happened there between Mosby's Rangers and Union cavalry.
LOCATE the historical markers for Gooding's Ordinary and Price's Ordinary.
EXAMINE AN ENGRAVED DRAWING of a "Civil War Skirmish in Annandale" originally published in the Illustrated London News on January 18, 1862, depicting action between troops on Little River Turnpike.
READ ABOUT Noah Huntt, a father who voted for succession, but wasn't ready for his young son to join up with Mosby's Rangers. See the cemetery in Vienna where they are both buried.
- After the war, Fairfax County seemed ready to move on. President Grant encouraged a quick re-establishment of the southern states to the Union by forbidding ex-Confederates from holding local offices and installing Unionists who were to make sure the states complied with the criteria for readmission to the United States. Northern Virginia was eager to comply.
- Slavery had been abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation. And now due to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, slavery was now illegal in the United States.
- A large population of Quakers from the north, strongly pro-Union, moved into Fairfax and many freed blacks as well, who appreciated the economic opportunities and the protections of the federal troops closer to D.C. and Alexandria. The Freedman's Bureau was established and worked for the education and job training of freed blacks.
- Near the present Frost/Woodson area, where Prosperity and Guinea Road meet Little River Turnpike, a thriving black community evolved called Matilda or "Ilda" for short. Named after Matilda Gibson Parker, "Ilda" referred to a thriving community of almost 400 acres of land with a church, shops and homes. Matilda's father, Horace Gibson, and his business partner Moses Parker had been slaves in Culpepper, but had earned the money to buy their freedom and come to Fairfax to start a blacksmith business. They first purchased 10 acres of land right next to the road on Little River Turnpike at the Guinea intersection, a prime location, and from there ran a thriving business that served the entire Fairfax County community, black and white. Eventually after her father's death, Matilda took over the blacksmith shop and ran it until 1910.
- Post-war, life in Fairfax County improved and residents prospered. Washington D.C. was growing as an urban center. Fairfax and its farmers produced the city's food, milk and other goods. Trades changed mostly to dairying, stock and poultry farming, flour milling and fruit, vegetable and flower growing to serve the growing market in Washington D.C. Fairfax County eventually led all other Virginia counties in dairy farming and dairy production.
- Members of the Seaton family inter-married with the Gooding family and the future Frost/Woodson plot was passed down to no less than eight Seatons after Peter Gooding's death. A number of farmers purchased the various parcels of land from members of the Seaton family. Over the years, the parcels changed hands through sale, inheritance after a death or foreclosure. The following individuals owned parts of the land from 1880 to 1913: John D. Newman and Anne E. Newman, John S. Bremmerman, James R. Steele and Ida L. Steele, R.E. Thornton, and Thomas M. Trew and Amelie Ann de Dietrich Trew.
Industrialization and Immigration
- In the early 20th century, industrialization came to Fairfax County. The number of railroad lines increased and trains and electric trolleys ran more frequently between Fairfax and D.C. Rail service offered quick delivery for dairy farmers in Fairfax to get their milk to stores in D.C. With rich grazing land for cows, dairy production boomed in Fairfax County.
- The immigration boom at the turn of the century brought Europeans to America in large numbers. Many had been successful farmers in their home countries. Fairfax County and its rich farmland attracted them, bringing a diverse population to Fairfax County.
READ MORE about why historically Fairfax County has been open to economic growth and development and its effect on county history.
- Students, staff, and visitors to Frost and Woodson schools often ask about the old white farmhouse that still stands on the corner of Main Street and Pickett Road next to Woodson HS. This remarkable, and still beautiful, house was built by an even more remarkable family, The Pfalzgrafs. It's care has been entrusted to FCPS and school employees maintain the house to this day.
- Adele de Dietrich Pfalzgraf, born December 4, 1880, was the fourth of five daughters of parents Baron Charles de Dietrich and Baroness Anne von Turcke of the wealthy de Dietrich industrial family of France. The de Dietrich's had made their fortune in the 1600's with iron mining. Later the company manufactured household appliances and eventually would even make Bugatti luxury cars.
- Jacques Pfalzgraf was born on August 19, 1877 in Niederbronn-les-Bains, Germany, the son of a country gardener. Adele de Dietrich was Jacques' second wife. He had been married previously to Magdalena Rubin, but, as coachman in the employment of the De Dietrich family, he met their daughter Adele , and they fell in love. Making a scandalous decision that ostracized her from her uncle (her guardian since her parents had died) and the rest of her family, Adele, the heiress, and Jacques, an already-married man, decided to leave their European families and move to America in 1907. The couple married in Washington, D.C on December 28, 1908.
- In 1908, using funds from the sale of her De Dietrich company shares, Adele and Jacques purchased the Seaton lots 1, 2 & 3 from widow Ida Steele and built the white farmhouse that still sits on Main Street. Today, the house is used for the FCPS GED offices. Jacques by all reports became a successful dairy and corn farmer. The Pfalzgrafs were well-known and had high standing in the community. Their pigs and cows even won top prizes at the county fairs!
- In an interesting turn of events, Adele Pfalzgraf's sister Amelie de Dietrich, would also join her sister in Fairfax County in 1909 and purchase the farm right next door (Seaton lots 4 & 5). Since both of her parents had passed away and being a woman and a painter, Amelie saw little future in her family's company. After a brief stay in Austria, she decided to try farming and moved to be with her sister in Fairfax. Thomas M. Trew, the brother of a friend she had met in Austria, joined her, and they married in 1910.
- When Amelie and Thomas Trew decided to emigrate their family to Canada, the Trew's sold their farm to the Pfalzgraf's, combining all five lots and creating the exact 100 acre parcel of land that Frost and Woodson sit on today.
- Amelie and Adele's youngest sister was the well-known French theologian Suzanne de Dietrich. A frequent speaker on the lecture circuit and avid traveler, Suzanne visited Amelie in Canada often and became close with her children. She visited Fairfax to see the Pfalzgrafs on a number of occasions as well.
- Sadly, Adele Pfalzgraf, reportedly given to bouts of depression and worried over gambling debts, took her own life on April 2, 1933. Six years later, Jacques passed away on April 15, 1939 of stomach cancer. They are buried in the Fairfax City Cemetery.
- The Pfalzgrafs had five children: Jacqueline Adele Pfalzgraf Wagener was a clerk for Chevy Chase Dairies. Rene Dietrich Pfalzgraf was a farm manager and then a farming equipment salesman for Marietta Silos, eventually moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Adele Suzanne Pfalzgraf Copeland taught English for FCPS. In 1936, she was a founding faculty member at Fairfax High School during its very first year. She eventually moved to Ohio. Marcel Chasseur Pfalzgraf, who attended Virginia Tech (called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or V.P.I. in those days), also taught Agriculture at Fairfax High and coached varsity boxing. He eventually moved to Fredericksburg. Didier Charles Pfalzgraf served in the U.S. Army and was a D.C. firefighter for over 25 years.
- Four years after his father's death in 1939, the Pfalzgraf's son, Marcel Pfalzgraf, and his wife Jane, sold his parents' farm to Ralph Lee and Ruth S. Feltman.
- Ralph Feltman started out as an auto mechanic and garage foreman from Aldie and ultimately became a successful entrepreneur. After purchasing the Pfalzgraf farm, the Feltmans made a number of improvements to the farm, building a large, new barn, a garage, storage buildings, adding electricity and phone service and bringing the main house and the entire facility into the modern era. He also continued his auto service business out of the garage on the farm.
- The Feltmans had purchased their dairy farm at just the right time. By 1958, ten years after their purchase, the war years, the building of the Pentagon and the expansion of the federal government led to a huge population boom in Fairfax County. Families in need of homes were pouring into the county. Land developers could not build homes fast enough. An entire neighborhood could fit on the land from one farm so, in the face of lucrative offers for their large tracts of land from developers, many Fairfax farmers made the hard choice to sell. Neighborhoods of single family homes would completely transform the landscape of the county.
- In addition to homes, schools also could not be built fast enough. With the family population increasing rapidly, the "baby boom" was on and children needed schools quickly. Fairfax County Public Schools was in the hunt for land to build schools, but the school board was finding it hard to compete with soaring land values. However, developers, eager to use quality schools as a selling point, encouraged the design of neighborhoods around elementary schools. High schools, however, needed much bigger plots of land. Then Superintendent W.T. Woodson, recognizing that the area east of Fairfax City would soon need an additional high school, took notice of the Feltman farm and encouraged the school board to pursue the purchase of it. The school board debated the purchase of such a huge piece of land and the cost effectiveness of such a purchase, but the location on Little River Turnpike, the farm's placement between Fairfax City and Annandale and the lack of other viable choices available at the time all convinced the school board that the purchase should be made. The plan for the land was to be for the new "Central High School".
- In the summer of 1959, Ralph Lee Feltman sold the the 104 acre dairy farm to the Fairfax County School Board for $270,000, over a quarter of a million dollars and quite a bit of money in 1959. He would then move his family to the Belle Haven neighborhood in Alexandria and continued to have many business interests including a taxi cab company and a Volkswagon dealership.
- The school board now owned the "Feltman Tract", one of the biggest parcels of land that FCPS would ever buy, and quickly began plans for a new "Central" High School that would offer more programs to students than any school before. When Superintendent Woodson announced his retirement in 1961 after 32 years, the planned high school was given his name. W.T. Woodson High School opened in 1962. Frost Middle School opened two years later in 1964.
READ MORE (coming soon!)