What do you recall of junior high school grades 7- 9, when we became full-fledged teenagers? Man-o-man, those were the days when the girls were taller than the boys, when some of us sported those ugly tinsel-teeth braces and got zits – many a guy even started to grow facial hair. Those were some awkward – but awesome years!
We thought it would be fun to jog everyone’s memories about our adolescent years in junior high. After all, many of us started grade school in Arlington County and continued through high school. Who could forget those crazy dances – the twist and the mashed potato! Do you remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show ?
Most of us may remember John Glenn’s trip into space and the Williamsburg field trip to the New York World’s Fair. And many of us attended Cotillion where we learned how to ballroom dance and behave (yeah, right)! And some of us remember playing spin the bottle and dancing the Locomotion and the Wah-watusi! We hope that you will search through those old boxes in the basement and send us photos and memorabilia to supplement our middle school experience.
By way of background, several Arlington County junior high schools existed back then: Thomas Jefferson opened its doors in 1938, and Swanson and Stratford Junior High Schools opened in 1939 and 1950, respectively. In addition, Wakefield served the dual purpose of both a junior and senior high school for several years. The Arlington County School Board Minutes reported that in 1950, middle school enrollment was increasing by 200 pupils per year. This was the justification for the construction of 3 new middle schools: Williamsburg in 1955, and subsequently Kenmore in 1956 and Gunston Middle School in 1960. All these middle schools are still open, but Stratford has changed its name to HB Woodlawn and offers an alternative education program for grades 6-12.
Enjoy reliving those middle school days at Williamsburg Jr. High and Swanson Jr. High, which were the two feeder schools to YHS!
1952 WILLIAMSBURG JR. HIGH IS BORN Mrs. Campbell, the same member of the Arlington County School Board who also proposed re-designating the Greenbrier School to Yorktown Elementary School, moved that if and when a school is constructed between Nottingham School and Madison Elementary School, it be named Williamsburg. The motion was passed unanimously in April.
The School Board requested financial assistance for the construction of Williamsburg Jr. High School under Title II of Public Law 815. Rhees Burkett (who was also the architect for YHS) was appointed in May. The estimated cost for Williamsburg was $2,025,000 for a facility of 1,200 students. The Federal Government granted the sum of $1.73 million for its construction in July 1952.
In 1953 the School Board purchased 21.0409 acres of farmland owned by George and Hermoine Saegmuller and family, for $128,875.28 -- a loan carrying 5% interest (or $4.2 million in today’s dollars). You may recall that Saegmullers built the Saegmuller School which was on the current site of James Madison Elementary School. The Saegmullers lived at what is now the Knights of Columbus estate on Little Falls Road around the corner from YHS.
Skinker and Garrett of Washington DC were awarded the bid of $2,041,370 for the construction of Williamsburg. Under Public Law 815, the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency was not permitted to finance the $200,000 auditorium, $18,000 for spectator seating, nor the costs of a gymnasium. [Evidently the Federal Government didn’t want students to be entertained or in good physical shape!] Arlington County financed these items for a total construction cost of $2,336,000 (or $20.5 million in today’s dollars).
The construction of Williamsburg was to be completed by October 1, 1954. But there were numerous delays because of a painters’ strike that affected window installation, and steel strikes in 1954 that added 44 days to the construction timeline. Williamsburg Jr. High School premises were occupied on November 29, 1954; the gymnasium & auditorium were completed in January 1955.
Did you know that the plans for constructing Williamsburg Junior High School required extending Williamsburg Boulevard from around 35thStreet North and 35th Road North from the subdivisions of Woodland Acres to their intersection with proposed North Harrison Street? North Harrison Street was also extended to Williamsburg Boulevard and to the terminus of the Stratford Hills housing subdivision.
Williamsburg Junior High School boundaries. Children who attended 8th grade at Swanson and lived west of North Ohio Street could continue attending Swanson Jr High for the 1954-55 ninth grade school year. However, those children had to furnish their own transportation to Swanson. Children who lived south of 22nd St North between North Lexington and North Illinois who were in the 6th grade at Robert E Lee Elementary School would attend the Williamsburg Junior High School for the 7th grade 1955-56 school year.
Do you remember your Junior High school teachers? Do you recall Miss Elzey, the girl’s gym teacher, or Mrs. Nystrom, a math teacher? Mr O’Meara was the Principal, and Mr. Guter was the Assistant Principal. Do the names of Mr. Hurley, Mr. Gebhart, Mrs. Willers, Mrs. McAllister or Miss Jesnak ring a bell?
How good is your memory? Can anyone name all of our Williamsburg Junior High cheerleaders? Here's one of our gals who revved us up at pep rallies and cheered on our teams at the games!
LOVELY GALS - W'BURG PROM NIGHT
Many of us will remember where we were when we learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Fred Gosnell and George Yeonas were in Mrs. Cheatum’s English Class when Mr O’Meara informed us over the intercom, and Karen Rasmussen recalls being in Mr. Field’s civic’s class.What about our winning football team!
Do you recall that boys were not allowed to wear pegged pants (the modern-day leggings for men)? If Mr. Guter couldn’t grab material from your pantleg, you were sent home.
Who was your date to the 9th grade prom?
Discovery Elementary School
In 2013, construction commenced on a new elementary school on the Williamsburg campus to serve 630 students in 27 classrooms. The Discovery Elementary School was estimated to cost $35 million and opened its doors in September 2015. It is the first Net Zero school in Virginia and the largest Net Zero school in the mid-Atlantic region.
So what exactly does “Net Zero” mean? Here is what the proponents had to say: The way you get to Net Zero is that you buy electricity and hope that by the end of the month, you’ve generated enough electricity to cover what you needed, producing a net zero or a net positive bill. The Discovery School has 2,000 solar panels and all LED lighting. There is a geothermal well field made up of 70 different wells underneath the school’s playing fields. Discovery will run purely on electric energy, with no gas. The building has been designed to use about one-third the energy used in a typical elementary school, according to Arlington County documents. Let’s hope this experiment worked for all you Arlington County taxpayers!
John Glenn’s Orbit Around the Earth
Do you remember when John Glenn orbited the earth on February 20, 1962? His family lived on Harrison Street directly across from Williamsburg Jr. High. Astronaut John Glenn piloted the "Friendship 7" spacecraft on the first US manned orbital mission around the earth. Launched from Cape Canaveral Florida, he completed a successful three-orbit, 5-hour mission around the earth. While we didn’t enter Williamsburg as 7th graders until September 1962, many of us, including Tim Thompson and John Kline, recall an outdoor student celebration by the bus lane in front of the school near John Glenn’s home. In fact, John Kline remembers carrying his family's 19" portable TV to class to watch his liftoff!
Williamsburg 9th Grade Field Trip
Do you remember taking a Greyhound (or was it Trailways) bus to New York in 1964 to visit the New York World's Fair? These 9th graders were having fun on the bus trip!
The Worlds Fair introduced 51 million visitors to American culture and a range of technological innovations like video phone calls, asking computers for information and touch-tone phones.
Sports-car enthusiasts had another roadster to salivate over after the Ford Motor Company introduced the now-iconic Mustang at the fair. Thanks to the model’s novelty and its affordable base price (around $2300), the Mustang went gangbusters, with more than 400,000 sold in its first year.
Do any of your Williamsburg 9th graders remember visiting the RCA exhibition that debuted color television ?
American companies dominated the World's Fair exposition. The theme was symbolized by a 12-story high, stainless steel model of the earth called the Unisphere. Many of the structures erected for the fair were torn down once it closed in October 1965, but this enormous steel sculpture—which has since been featured in Men In Black -- and still stands. Fun factoid: The globe’s three rings are meant to evoke the first NASA satellites to orbit the earth.
Lyon Village Cotillion. Do you remember that quaint facility near Hot Shoppes, down near the intersection of Lee Highway and Spout Run where some of us spent a series of Saturdays learning ballroom dancing and dressing up? Guys wore those clip-on bowties and the girls wore their dress finery, white gloves and patent leather shoes (obviously, Mrs. Pawley was not in attendance)! Girls learned not to cross the center of the dance floor but to skirt around the side so as not to attract attention. How many of you who attended Cotillion have ever done the box step or foxtrot since then?
John Kline remembers doing the Polka at "dance shows" held at Williamsburg Jr. High and is pretty sure that Mr. Courtney didn't teach that dance at Cotillion!
Junior High Air Raid Drills
If we were to tell our kids about "Air Raid Drills" , they would think that we were speaking a foreign language. They wouldn't have a clue about the paralyzing fear that came along with these drills (though we did learn that George Yeonas was sent to Mr. Guter’s office for talking during an air raid drill). Back then, this was the height of the cold war. Nuclear bombs were being used to put fear into people, and there was a race going on to see who could stockpile the most weapons. We unearthed this tidbit of information on our past through a visit to Williamsburg. Thank you Principal Laurie for pointing out the air raid system is still located in the principal's office at Williamsburg Jr. High!
Back in the day, do you recall being shown a film in school called "Duck and Cover." We can look back now and think how absurd it was, but it was a means to educate kids on how to protect themselves should a nuclear blast take place near their school or home.
Williamsburg Middle School Today
Williamsburg Junior High School, formerly grades 7-9, is now called Williamsburg Middle School and houses grades 6, 7 and 8. With 1,061 students, it has the largest middle school student body in Arlington, with a student-teacher ratio of 12.9 to 1. But don’t expect to be able to walk on the Williamsburg grounds, because our “recess” area on that big sloping hill is GONE! A new wing was added on to Williamsburg Jr High around 15 years ago along with a new Physical Education block. Today, there are 22 portable classrooms situated behind the school on the tennis courts, next to the astro-turf soccer field. Another factoid: the principal told us that all Arlington middle school students are now issued iPads that they can keep! Way to go taxpayers!
Swanson Junior High School is the oldest surviving middle school in Arlington County. The building is a grand example of Georgian Classical Revival style that was prominent in the first half of the 1900s. The middle school, constructed in 1939, was named for Claude Augustus Swanson, a prominent Virginia politician who: served in Congress (1893-1906); was Governor of Virginia (1906-1910); was a U.S. Senator (1910-1933); and was also Secretary of the Navy under President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1939).
Swanson Junior High School was designed by Raymond Long, the Virginia State architect, for a cost of $249,000 (or $4.2 million in today’s dollars). Swanson Junior High was partially built with funding from a New Deal-era program initiated by the Roosevelt administration in response to the 1930s economic depression. The land on which the school is situated was owned by Nicholas Febrey, a civic leader in Arlington and one of the largest landholders in the area. Swanson Middle School opened in January 1940 with 15 faculty and 372 students who came from as far as Chain Bridge to the north, Arlington Boulevard to the south, Rosslyn to the east and East Falls Church to the west. Lena Wolfe, the school’s first principal, served the school for 27 years before retiring.
The original school consisted of a 2½-story main block with prominent two-story perpendicular wings flanking each side (refer to first photo of Swanson above). It contained 12 classrooms, a library, an auditorium, a small cafeteria, an office and a gymnasium. In 1965 the addition of eight new classrooms, a new library featuring on 2 floors with about 9,000 square feet of new space, a new mass media center, expansion of the gymnasium to seat 1,200 students, a new cafeteria, industrial arts facilities and administrative offices were completed – plus the original central courtyard was enclosed. This increased the school’s capacity by 1,000 students. Until that time, students had to eat in their classrooms and lunches had to be ordered and brought in each day from YHS!
In June 1977, a fire reportedly started by a student as a prank, destroyed most of the school’s roof and its cupola, one of the building’s most prominent features. Although the roof was repaired, the cupola was never replaced. In 1978, Swanson became an intermediate school for the 7th and 8th grades. In 1990, Swanson officially became a middle school for 6-8th grade students, along with Kenmore, Williamsburg and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools. Swanson renovated again in 1994, and an addition was built in 2004. In May 2006, Swanson Middle School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building to the Westover Historic District.
Wayne Scott remembers being a student at Swanson when the Principal was Lena Wolfe (they called her affectionately "Leap'n Lena") and Tom Webber was her Assistant. Scott remembers Tom Martin and Herb Rouse who were Health and PE teachers and who also coached football (Mr. Martin was the wrestling coach as well). Wayne recalls that his English teacher, Ms. Webster, was a direct descendant to Noah Webster...of Webster Dictionary!
We are counting on those Swanson Middle School grads to send us photos and memorabilia of back in the day, to fill everyone in on your middle school days! Did you go on a 9th grade field trip? Please send us information so that we can recount your middle school experiences!
Swanson Middle School is historically significant for the role it played to support the growth and development of west-central Arlington in the 1930s and 1940s, including the communities of Westover, Highland Park and Overlee Knolls. At the time of the school’s construction, the Westover community immediately surrounding the school was mostly undeveloped and predominantly farmland, with only 2 small apartment buildings across the street on Washington Boulevard. Shortly after the school opened in 1940, the Westover area was subdivided by Mace Properties. Most of the detached single family homes in the community, the garden apartment complex known as Westover Apartments, and the Westover Shopping Center were built.