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Post-War Boom and Growth (1946-present)

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Expansion and Preservation •  Water Works •  Consolidation & Expansion of Schools
Desegregation & Diversity •  General George C. Marshall •  Arthur Godfrey

1960 aerial of Leesburg
1960 aerial of Leesburg. Hugh Grubb, Jr. Photograph Collection (VC 0018), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

The pace of change in Leesburg and Loudoun County accelerated after the end of the Second World War. With the end of war-time restrictions on fuel and rubber, and new with government programs like the GI bill, which enabled returning veterans to pursue higher education opportunities previously out of reach, a life dominated by the cycles of agriculture was challenged.

 

Expansion and Preservation

In 1950, Leesburg’s population was about 1,700--the same as it had been at the outbreak of the Civil War nearly a century before. Following the Civil War, the population declined slightly as residents moved out of Loudoun to industrialized areas in search of opportunity. But by 1960, the Leesburg’s population had rapidly grown to 2,869. Although much of the county’s population growth was in the eastern portion of the county, which was transformed from farmland to suburbs, Leesburg experienced rapid growth as well. By the end of the millennia, it had grown nearly ten-fold from its 1960s level to 28,311.

 1956 Leesburg Town Plan
Thoroughfare Plan, 1956. Courtesy Town of Leesburg Department of Planning and Zoning.

As early as the mid-1950s, Town of Leesburg officials sought to mitigate the impact the exploding population would have on Leesburg’s small streets. A 1956 town plan shows both proposed cross-town thoroughfare, now Catoctin Circle, and the Routes 7 & 15 Bypass, both of which were begun in the 1960s.

At the same time, some Leesburg citizens sought to preserve and restore the downtown’s historic character. As early as 1949, the non-profit group Colonial Leesburg, Inc. sought to raise public awareness of Leesburg’s many historic buildings. In 1963, a Board of Architectural Review (BAR)was established and Leesburg’s Old and Historic Leesburg District officially designated. Many of the hallmark features of today’s downtown, such as the brick sidewalks, are thanks to the standards established and enforced by the BAR. Both the records of Colonial Leesburg, Inc. and architectural surveys of the buildings in the Historic District are available for public research from the Thomas Balch Library.

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Water Works

Leesburg special election water tower
Leesburg Special Election Notice, 1906. Courtesy of Gary M. Clemens, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Loudoun County, VA.

By the early 20th century the town saw a need to build a water works to serve its residents. A special election was held 1 May 1906 proposing that town be allowed to issue bonds in the amount of $30,000 to establish and construct the water system. Voters approved the measure. A Water Works Committee was established to oversee the building process and a water ordinance was established in 1907 detailing how the system would be managed. The water works went into service in the summer of 1907.

During the 1970's, Leesburg, like the rest of Loudoun County, saw surge of growth due in part to the construction of Dulles Airport. In response to the growing need for water, the town proposed a water treatment plant drawing from the Potomac River to replace the old water works. The plan was nearly derailed by federal oversight of the initial grant. Ultimately the plan was successful and a modern water treatment plant was built; the old water tower near the center of town was torn down.

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Consolidation & Expansion of Schools

Loudoun County High School Home Ec class, 1955 
Loudoun County High School home ec class, 1955.
Winslow Williams Photograph Collection (VC 0004)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
When the 1869 Virginia Constitution mandated free public education for all school district residents between the ages of 5 and 21, the model adopted in Loudoun County for educational facilities had been based on the community model: every community would have its own school. As soon as 1871, there were 55 public schools in the county. By the mid-1920s, the number had grown to 79 public schools in Loudoun County, 58 of which were one-room schools.

High schools were first legally established and accredited by the state in 1906; at its peak, Loudoun County had twelve institutions, mainly in the western portion of the county. In the 1940s, the State Superintendent of Education pushed consolidating Loudoun County’s 843 white high school students--spread between the six schools in Aldie, Ashburn, Leesburg, Lincoln, Lovettsville and Round Hill--into one school in Leesburg as a means of lowering the per capita cost of education, concentrating resources and enabling an expanded curriculum at the remaining facilities.

Loudoun County High School chemistry class, 1955
 Loudoun County High School chemistry class, 1955.
Winslow Williams Photograph Collection (VC 0004)
Thomas Balch Library
, Leesburg, VA
Consolidation was controversial. The remaining facilities were not always expanded in proportion to the increased numbers of students, resulting in overcrowding. Nor were the new curricula always adequately supported. Opponents argued that the demise of community-based schools contributed to the unraveling of community cohesiveness, not to mention the labor burden it placed on the farming families of students who were transported across the county for school.

After more than a decade of wrangling, Loudoun County High School in Leesburg opened its doors in 1954. In less than a decade, the rapidly expanding population necessitated the opening of a second high school in Purcellville in 1962, and a third by the end of the decade in Ashburn. There are currently 12 high schools in Loudoun County, with two more scheduled to open in the next few years.

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Desegregation & Diversity

The 1870 law creating the Virginia public school system stipulated that "white and colored persons shall not be taught in the same schools; but in separate schools." Of the 79 public schools in the 1920s, 24 were solely African-American schools; while the white schools were consolidating in the 1940s, nearly all the African-American schools remained open.

Like many areas in the South, Loudoun County school administrators and some of its citizens resisted the government mandate to integrate schools handed down in United States Supreme Court, in Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka. In 1956, a group of prominent citizens formed the Loudoun chapter of the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, a Virginia-based organization founded expressly for the purpose of preserving segregation without violence or lawlessness. Elsewhere in Virginia, "Massive Resistance" successfully closed down the public school system. In Loudoun, a preliminary vote to close the schools rather than integrate them passed in 1956, but the schools ultimately stayed open. On the other side of the political spectrum, the Loudoun chapter of the League of Women Voters was on record as early as 1958 in support of desegregation to ensure the continuation of public education.

Douglass High School graduating class, ca 1950
Douglass High School graduates, ca. 1950
Winslow Williams Photograph Collection (VA 0004)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA 
Racial integration in Leesburg was not marked by the violence seen in some southern towns. In 1961 African American and white community leaders met in an effort to forestall possible demonstrations by the NAACP. The lunch counters were desegregated, and other businesses followed in the next few years. But the resistance to integration in other parts of life, particularly schools, remained strong. On 23 June 1965 four African American children went to the town's swimming pool, operated by the Leesburg Volunteer Fire Department, and were refused entry.

A suit was filed on their behalf, and in May 1966 the court ruled in their favor. But the pool remained closed, and the firemen ultimately filled it with rock and cement rather than integrate.

In 1962, four African Americans were admitted to Loudoun County’s two high schools after special application to the Virginia Pupil Placement Board in Richmond. In September 1968, Loudoun County Public Schools were fully desegregated. In the ensuing four decades since integration, the cultural diversity of Loudoun County’s public schools has increased to include a large minority of students speaking languages as diverse as Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Korean and Vietnamese.

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George Marshall, General and Statesman

George Marshall at WWII monument dedication
World War II and Korean War Memorial Dedications, 1956. Winslow Williams Photograph Collection (VC 0004), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

Since 1939, Marshall had been U.S. Army Chief of Staff, stationed at Fort Myer. In 1941, George Marshall and his wife Katherine Tupper Marshall acquired Dodona Manor in Leesburg as a weekend retreat. The Marshalls were active gardeners, and worked to revitalize the house as well. Following the war, Marshall served as a Special Presidential Envoy to China for two years, until he became Secretary of State for President Truman in 1947. In this role, he formulated and oversaw the implementation of a new European Recovery Plan, known now as the Marshall Plan, to rebuild and modernize devastated European countries, with the goal of preventing the spread of Communism. His efforts won him the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. In 1950, Truman named Marshall Secretary of Defense, a position in which he served less than a year before retiring in 1951. He died in 1959. 

 

 

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Arthur Godfrey, national radio and television personality

Arthur Godfrey and Loudoun Hospital nurses with new ambulance, 1952
Arthur Godfrey and Loudoun Hospital nurses with new
ambulance, 1952. Winslow Williams Photograph Collection
(VC 0004), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
 
Arthur Godfrey (1903-1983) was one of the most popular radio and television personalities in the United States during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Shortly after he and his wife Mary Bourke purchased Beacon Hill, a 326-acre farm near Leesburg, in 1946, he was on the air almost seven hours per week and on television an hour and a half. He flew his planes—first a Beechcraft, later a DC-3—from Leesburg to New York City as his weekly commute. Originally, the land he used for an airport was just east of what was then the edge of town, about where Leesburg Plaza shopping center is now. When the noise got to be too much for Leesburg citizens, Godfrey sold the land and donated the proceeds to the purchase of new lands on Sycolin Road, where the Leesburg Executive Airport is today.

Godfrey supported the Leesburg community with both time and money. In 1952, he donated funds to allow the Loudoun County Sherriff's Department to purchase a two-way radio system. He also donated the monies with which Loudoun Hospital acquired its first ambulance, and later monies for a new wing of the hospital. Godfrey also made charity appearances at an annual rodeo benefiting the Izaak Walton League, and rode in local parades on his horse, Goldie.

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Discover more about Leesburg from 1866 through the Second World War.