1920-1945: Small Town Life
Narrow, tree-covered dirt roads served Braddock District through mid-century and even into the early 1960s. The railroad continued its central role in district life. Fairfax and Burke prospered as station sites on the way to Alexandria and Washington, DC, serving the surrounding communities as well. Smaller stations at Ravensworth and Springfield served nearby farms.
Making a Living
During the first half of the twentieth century, many Fairfax county residents were farmers. In 1936, four hundred and forty families farmed in the county. Dairy farming had become the county's largest industry. One hundred dairy farms generated about ten percent of the tax revenue and many residents worked in businesses which supported farmers with supplies or equipment.
Farming was a major occupation in Braddock District through the 1950s. Some residents commuted to jobs in government agencies and companies in Washington, DC, often traveling by train.
Small general stores dotted the landscape and provided basic necessities not raised or made at home. These stores gave a sense of community to their customers. For other purchases, residents traveled 15 or more miles to stores in Alexandria, Arlington and Washington, DC, often a whole day's excursion, traveling on dirt or single lane roads.
Segregation meant separate schools for white and African American students. Integration eventually came to local schools in the 1960s, following the Supreme Court's 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education
Until well into the 1930s, elementary schools were small frame buildings like Ashford School, Belle Aire and Burke Elementary. Then the pressure of growing school populations and the desire to consolidate pupils in fewer sites required larger facilities. Larger brick buildings, built by the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA), replaced Burke Elementary and Fairview Elementary structures.
High school students often traveled long distances to school. White students went to Clifton and later to Fairfax City, when Fairfax High opened in the mid-1930s. African American students traveled to the Manassas Industrial School in Manassas. With proper arrangements, both whites and blacks could attend high schools in Washington, DC.
War Changes Everything
World War II brought sweeping changes to Braddock District, as it did to communities throughout America. Enlistments and the draft took many young men off to war. Young and old contributed on the home front in jobs in war-related companies such as Alexandria's Torpedo Factory and in military and government positions. Large numbers of women, many of whom had never before worked outside the home, took full time jobs to help meet the labor shortage.
Civil defense activities relied on volunteers to watch the skies against aerial attack, run air raid drills and administer nighttime blackout policies. An air defense watchtower in Burke and a facility on the grounds of Annandale United Methodist Church were part of the facilities defending the nation's capital.
Many foods and war-related items such as gasoline were rationed. Everyone was asked to conserve, share and recycle to help win the war. Government-issued ration stamps controlled purchases. In Home Demonstration Clubs, women learned about growing victory gardens, preserving food, and caring for clothing. Buying government bonds helped pay for the war effort, and children contributed by buying war stamps at school.
Near the end of the war, German prisoners-of-war were imprisoned in camps in Fairfax County. One camp, located near the intersection of Shirley Gate Road and Lee Highway, operated from June to November 1945. Its nearly 200 prisoners worked as laborers on local farms proving a boon to some and a source of fear for others.
Written by John Browne