School History

Garfield Elementary School opened during the post-World War II period known as the baby boom. In September 1949, there were approximately 12,300 students enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) at 42 schools. By December 1959, that number would climb to 54,100 students at 84 schools. FCPS administrators had been projecting record enrollment growth for several years, but were unprepared when actual growth far exceeded their expectations. Rapid development of the Springfield area in the 1950s led to severely overcrowded conditions at Franconia Elementary School which, until 1953, was the only elementary school in the area.

Black and white photograph of the original main entrance of Franconia Elementary School taken in 1942 for the Fairfax County School Board’s Fire Insurance Survey. A late 1930s-era car is visible to the right.
Franconia Elementary School, 1942

Following World War II, the United States Congress appropriated financial aid to school districts impacted by the growth of the federal government workforce. In February 1951, FCPS applied for $241,500 in federal aid to build a school at Simm’s Corner near Springfield. In 1949, during the earliest planning stages of this school, the Fairfax County School Board chose to name it Garfield. Designed by architect Joseph Saunders, the original plans called for eight classrooms, a combined assembly room and cafeteria, library, administrative office space, and a clinic, with a total pupil capacity of 240. Garfield Elementary School was built by the Cowles Construction Company of Alexandria, Virginia. Shortly after construction commenced, it became evident that an eight classroom school would not suffice. Plans for an eight classroom addition to the building were approved during the winter of 1953, bringing the total construction cost to $452,000.

Black and white photograph of Garfield Elementary School taken in 1954 for a fire insurance survey for the Fairfax County School Board. The picture was taken from Old Keene Mill Road and faces the east side of the building. This side of the school looks very similar today, except the main entrance has been moved to face Spring Road.
Garfield Elementary School, 1954

Garfield Elementary School officially opened on September 8, 1953. Our first principal was Woodrow Thomas “W. T.” Robinson. More than 525 children walked through the doors of Garfield on opening day. The Springfield Independent reported: “While construction work is being finished… some classes are meeting in the auditorium. As soon as the work is completed, however, facilities are expected to be adequate with an average of about only 42 pupils per room.”

Black and white photograph taken during the 1955 to 1956 school year. Pictured is the fifth grade classroom in room ten. 34 children and one adult are pictured.
Garfield Elementary School, 1955-56 Class Photograph

The Population Boom

By September 1955, student population growth in FCPS had jumped to 33,058 students at 61 schools. FCPS administrators hastened to build Lynbrook and North Springfield elementary schools to relieve overcrowding at Garfield and Crestwood, but construction proceeded slowly because there was very limited funding for school construction. It became necessary to operate some grade levels on a half-day basis, splitting the students into two groups who attended school in separate morning and afternoon shifts. Prior to the construction of nearby Springfield United Methodist Church, the congregation met on Sundays in our school. When the church building opened in the fall of 1955, FCPS rented 11 of the church’s Sunday school classrooms for use during the week as overflow classroom space. 

Black and white photograph from a newspaper clipping, published in The Evening Star on April 24, 1955. The caption reads: Filled to capacity. Pupils pour out of Garfield School, attended mostly by Springfield, Virginia pupils. The rapid jumps in school population in the burgeoning area is forcing the building of a new school in the Crestwood section of Springfield and eventually another in the Lynbrook subdivision. The picture was taken east of the school on Old Keene Mill Road. The road is barely wide enough to fit two cars. It was taken before all the shopping centers in this area were built and much of the surrounding area is still forest. Groups of children walk along a dirt path toward Backlick Road. One student is riding his bicycle up the street, followed by a long line of cars pulling out of the school’s driveway.
The Evening Star, April 24, 1955
I grew up in Springfield, in one house the entire time, and opened every new school. I was at Garfield from grades 1-4. My fourth grade class was held in the basement of the Methodist church. I was at Lynbrook for grades 5-6, Springfield Estates for grade 7, Washington Irving Intermediate for Grade 8, and finally Lee High School for grades 9-12. Sheesh!
~ Nancy Byrd
I walked a mile to Garfield from Frederick Street. I was there from second through fourth grade until Crestwood Elementary School was completed. Our classroom was on the stage. I can still smell the Garfield cafeteria. It smelled like canned spinach and spilled milk. I used to hide my bologna under my plate. It fit perfectly!
~ Patty Flood

Integration

During the decade of the 1960s several major changes happened in the public schools of Fairfax County. In 1960, FCPS opened its first intermediate schools. Prior to this time, elementary schools educated children in grades 1-7, and high school consisted of grades 8-12. Seventh graders from Garfield were assigned to the newly built Washington Irving Intermediate School.  

Black and white aerial photograph of Washington Irving Intermediate School taken during the 1960s. The L-shaped building is much smaller than it is today. Visible in the distance are the newly built homes along Old Oaks Drive and Greeley Boulevard.
Washington Irving Intermediate School, Opened 1960

When Garfield opened, public schools in Virginia were segregated by race. In the early 1960s, FCPS began a slow process of desegregation, culminating at the end of the 1965-66 school year. Prior to this time, African-American children living in our area were bused to Drew-Smith Elementary School, an all-African-American school located at Gum Springs on Route 1. School segregation and residential segregation were deeply intertwined in Virginia. Since at least the early 20th century, legal land documents for Springfield area properties had language in them which was designed to permanently restrict the sale of the land to Caucasians only. The restrictions “ran with the land,” meaning that no future owner of the property could undo this practice. These restrictions were already in place on much of the land when developers purchased it, so homes in nearly all of the newly developed neighborhoods were exclusively sold to white families.

Black and white photograph of Drew-Smith Elementary School. The building is a single-story concrete structure with a brick veneer. It had much fewer classrooms and fewer amenities than the schools built for white children during this time period.
Drew-Smith Elementary School closed in 1965 and was converted into a special education center. Courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

In 1965, almost every former all-African-American FCPS elementary school ceased operation (one notable exception is Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna). These schools were located in predominantly African-American enclaves, necessitating the busing of students out of these neighborhoods to formerly all-white schools. In 1968, the Fair Housing Law was passed, eliminating racial barriers to homeownership. Garfield’s student body remained largely Caucasian until the 1970s, by which time the effects of the passage of the Fair Housing Law began to be evident in Fairfax County’s suburbs.

Black and white photograph taken during the 1967 to 1968 school year. Pictured is the third grade primary classroom. 27 children are pictured, however their teacher and principal are not shown as was typically custom during this era.
Garfield Elementary School, 1967-68 Class Photograph

Stories from Garfield

In 1962, a United States Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter made an emergency landing at Garfield Elementary School. Alumnus Stephen Dunn recalls, “It happened when I was in 1st grade. A second chopper landed and brought parts and repairmen. I remember they took all us kids out there and then we got to draw pictures about what we saw. Mrs. LeVan was my teacher.”

Color photograph of a United States Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter, pictured in flight above a hilltop in Vietnam. There are soldiers encamped on the hilltop. The helicopter has two sets of rotors and is painted a dark grey or green.
U.S. Army CH-47 in Vietnam, 1967, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that when Garfield opened there were no kindergarteners in our school? A kindergarten program was piloted in several schools in 1967 and proved so successful that one year later FCPS implemented kindergarten county-wide. FCPS enrolled approximately 8,000 children in kindergarten in September 1968.  

Two color photographs of Garfield Elementary School taken in January 1977. There is snow on the ground. One photograph shows the classroom windows close the main entrance and has a caption that reads: The main entrance to Garfield. The second photograph is of a separate classroom wing on the building, possibly taken from the area that is now the courtyard. The caption on this photograph reads: Nobody is out on this snowy day at Garfield.
Garfield Elementary School, January 1977

In October 1949, the Fairfax County School Board agreed to adopt the name Garfield for our school, but in July 1952 the community voiced opposition to this name, preferring the name Springfield Elementary School instead. The Board agreed to the community’s request, but reversed its decision in January 1953 because another school, later named Crestwood Elementary, was under construction in the Springfield area. Learn why the name Garfield was chosen in this video produced for Fairfax County Public Schools’ cable television channel Red Apple 21.   

Collage of three Garfield Elementary School yearbook covers. Pictured on the left is the cover of our 1972 to 1973 yearbook. It is a plain yellow cover with an illustration of an eagle printed in black. The eagle is surrounded by a large letter G and the words Garfield Eagles. In the center is our yearbook from 1983 to 1984. It also has a plain yellow cover with an illustration of an eagle in flight. The words Highlights of Garfield Elementary School are printed above the eagle. The third cover, on the right, is our 1993 to 1994 yearbook. The cover features student-drawn artwork. The picture is of NASA-like Space Shuttle rocketing into orbit above the Earth. The words Blast Off to Success are on the right side of the cover. Two planets, colored yellow, orange, red, and blue are visible in space behind the shuttle.
Garfield Yearbook Covers, 1972-73, 1983-84, and 1993-94  

Renovations and Additions

Since 1953 there have been three additions to Garfield Elementary School. The first was built in 1968 by the M. L. Whitlow Construction Company at a cost of $527,000. This addition consisted of a gymnasium, music room, and science room, and enlarged the building capacity to 660 students. The first building-wide renewal took place in 1990 at a cost of $2.8 million, and the most recent renewal and addition to our facility was constructed in 2013.

Two color photographs from Garfield's 2013 yearbook showing construction on the new wing of the building. The photograph on the left shows the cinderblock walls that have been erected, but there is still no roof on the structure. Construction equipment and vehicles are stationed around the building. The photograph on the right shows a construction worker cutting bricks to fit around a window frame. The brick veneer on the outside of the building is in place, as is the roof.
The newest addition to Garfield Elementary School connected the north and south wings of our building and gave us a brand new library.  

Travel back in time, from 2017 to 1937, and explore the evolution of Garfield Elementary School in this series of aerial photographs courtesy of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Our Library and Cafeteria

In 1993, the Fairfax County School Board passed a resolution naming our library "The Helen Dusault Memorial Library." Helen Dusault taught at Garfield from 1963 until her retirement in June 1973. She returned to Garfield and served as a part-time secretary in the library from September 1973 through June 1988. In 2006, the School Board passed a resolution naming our cafeteria "The Paul Knott Cafeteria." Paul Knott was the building supervisor and custodian at Garfield for 23 years. During that time he garnered numerous accolades for the tremendous care, attention to detail, and passion he put into his work to make Garfield a safe environment for students and staff.

Yearbook photographs of Helen Dusault, taken in 1983, and Paul Knott, taken in 1997.
Helen Dusault (1983) and Paul Knott (1997)

Garfield's School History was written with assistance from Robyn Carter and Allie Guidry.