Reconstruction through World War II (1866-1945)

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The Coming and Going of the Railroad • Bailey's Institute •  Leesburg Town Hall/Opera House
  Baseball • Robinson's Barber Shop •  Littlejohn Drug Store
Westmoreland Davis, Leesburg's Governor • Frederick Douglass High School

Leesburg, ca. 1900
Leesburg, ca. 1900
Town of Leesburg Records
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
Following the Civil War, Leesburg's proximity to Washington speeded its economic recovery. Loudoun's farmers contributed goods to both sides of the war effort, and had endured the scorched earth tactics of both retreating armies. But because these problems were common throughout the south, local farmers could send what little crops and stock they had to markets in Georgetown and Baltimore at lower transportation costs than farmers further away from markets and capitalize on the inflated prices. Leesburg, as the economic hub of Loudoun, facilitated and benefitted from this recovery.


Over the next decades, Loudoun County retained its predominantly agrarian character. Farming diversified, as corn replaced wheat as the main crop, and the dairy and beef industries gained importance. In 1910, Loudoun had 2,144 farms; in 1945, the number was down to 2,015—a decrease in only 129 farms. Between 1909 and 1944, the whole milk production of Loudoun farmers increased more 1,200%, from 4.4 million pounds to 56.3 million pounds. 

Saffer Mill
C.C. Saffer Mill, ca. 1910. Thomas Balch Library
Photograph Collection (VC 0001)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
In Leesburg, companies such as the W.S. Jenkins Grain Company, a flour mill in Leesburg between Loudoun and South Streets, and the C. C. Saffer and Brother corn mill, on the west side of today's Harrison Street, supported the farm industry.


Other Leesburg industries included the Leesburg Lime Company and the Norris Brothers' Planing Mill. The mill, which was located on South King Street along the railroad, supported the brothers' construction business; they built many of Leesburg's architecturally significant buildings. The ruins of the Lime Company's kiln operations are still visible along the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park trail near mile marker 34. The site of the Jenkins mill is where Market Station is today.

One of the buildings incorporated into the structure when it was revitalized in the mid-1980s is the old Saffer Mill. In 1926, these four companies employed about 40 men.

Leesburg was also a social hub. Circuses, like W. W. Coe's "New and Greatest Show on Earth," came to town regularly. Leesburg also hosted the annual county agricultural fair, which President U.S. Grant attended in November 1873. Supporters of various religious revival and temperance movements flocked to Leesburg for events from 1870s on. In 1914, 58% of Leesburg voters opposed statewide prohibition, while 54% of Loudoun County voters as a whole favored it. In the years that a Prohibition candidate ran for the U.S. Presidency, Loudoun County had a larger percentage of its voters vote in favor of the Prohibition candidate than did the U.S. as a whole; Leesburg's favorable response rate was usually less than that of the whole county. 

WWI Infantry Parade
World War I Homecoming Parade, July 1919
Thomas Balch Library Photograph Collection (VC 0001)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
Although the United States stayed out of combat for most of the First World War, Loudouners wholeheartedly embraced the patriotic fervor when war was declared. Of the thousands of eligible men who registered for the draft, 591 served. Returning military personnel were feted on 25 July 1919 with celebrations lasting until 1 a.m. Following a parade, Governor Westmoreland Davis presented medals, which was followed by square dancing on the Court House green and round dancing at Town Hall.


From victory gardens to tire drives, Leesburgers supported the war effort. Air raid drills and black outs became part of life, as did food rations. A Leesburg barber wrote hundreds of letters to servicemen overseas.

Loudoun farms were received some special considerations, such extra gas rationing and special government loans. But wartime military necessities ended the farm exemption from the draft, and the farm labor pool dropped 21% by the end of 1943. Nonetheless, demand was high and farms prospered, and farmers were generous in buying war bonds with their profits. German POWs interred at Moss Farm near Leesburg helped with harvest.


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The Coming and Going of the Railroad

Leesburg Passenger Station, c. 1906
Leesburg Passenger Station, ca. 1906
Courtesy Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
Leesburg was envisioned as a mid-way point along a rail route that would connect Alexandria with coal fields in what is now West Virginia. Although it never fulfilled its many owners' hopes and dreams, the railroad connected Leesburg with the vibrant business and government enterprises to its east, and the railroad's impact on Leesburg should not be underestimated.


The first passenger train of the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire railroad reached Leesburg on 17 May 1860. The Civil War brought a temporary end to public service as the rails were re-appropriated for military purposes. War-time damages to the rails meant that services did not resume until mid-1867. That year, a person could ride from Alexandria to Leesburg for a mere $2, and catch a stage to Winchester for $3 more. During the booming temperance movement of the 1870s, extra cars had to be added to transport hundreds of supporters from Washington and Maryland to Leesburg for revivals that drew 3,000-4,000 supporters.

Sporadic growth, due mainly to continuous financial troubles, characterized the railroad's extension—or lack thereof. By the turn of the twentieth century, the railroad had extended only another 20 miles west from Leesburg. Yet the railroad was already running thrice-daily services that connected Leesburg with Washington, allowing people to commute to the city for work and from the city for pleasure.

In 1913, the railroad—now the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD)—had an additional four trains serving Leesburg daily on the part-electric/part-steam engine railroad. Commuter service to Leesburg was improved in 1920 with addition of the Washington-Leesburg Limited (later the Loudoun Limited), an express train from Leesburg that traveled at a remarkable 26 mph. In 1928, a parlor car, complete with individual seats and a porter, was added to the Limited. Still, the real money was in freight, which moved grain, livestock, fertilizer, bricks and lumber to Alexandria. Additionally, rail cars helped give birth to Loudoun's dairy industry.

The growth of the automobile industry, combined with the Great Depression, created new and in the end insurmountable challenges for the W&OD. Ridership dropped from 2.6 million in 1915 to 396,000 in 1932. By 1933, milk revenues plummeted to a meager $4,438, down from $23,451 only three years earlier. By the late 1930s, only four passenger trains served Leesburg, and the Leesburg commuter trains, no longer express service, were down to two cars. Public outrage, perhaps most vocally Mrs. Nellie Fletcher of Leesburg, over the end of passenger service in 1941 resulted in its temporary reinstatement in 1943.

Leesburg Passenger Station, 1951
Leesburg Passenger Station, 1951
Photograph by William Streit
Courtesy Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
The end of war-time gasoline and rubber rationing spelled the end of the Leesburg commuter train run, which ceased in 1951; W&OD passenger service ended permanently the following year. Even with pared-down freight service, operating with comparatively efficient diesel locomotives, the W&OD only survived until 1968. 


Within twenty years, the length of the railroad out to Purcellville had been converted to a multi-use recreational park, the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park, maintained by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.



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Bailey's Institute

 Bailey's Institute
Bailey's Institute. Winslow Williams Photograph
Collection (VC 0004), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
In the antebellum period education of enslaved African Americans was forbidden by law. Following the end of the Civil War, former slaves saw education as a critical tool for progress and came together in their communities to establish schools. The Freedmen's Bureau, which had two offices in Loudoun County, provided a limited amount of aid.


Loudoun County resident Richard Bailey, a literate man, started one of the earliest institutions in the area. He purchased a piece of land in Leesburg in 1867 and granted a portion of it to the trustees of the Bailey School Society of Leesburg. By 1873 the school was known as Bailey's Institute.

Bailey's Institute was later used for church meetings. In the 1930's it served as a nursery school and day care center; it became Bailey's Community Center in 1953. The building was sold later, and the trustees created a scholarship fund with the money.

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Leesburg Town Hall/Leesburg Opera House

Leesburg Opera House
Leesburg Opera House, ca. 1900
Thomas Balch Library Research Photograph Collection (VC 0002)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
At a meeting on May 20, 1887, the Leesburg Town Council accepted the bid of $14,985.00 from the Norris Brothers, a prominent local construction company, to build a two-story structure on the northeast corner of King and Loudoun Streets.


The ground floor housed the town offices, and various retail stores. The fire department was located at the rear of the building where a tower housed the bell used to summon firefighters.

The Leesburg Opera House occupied the second floor with one balcony seating 450 people on folding wooden chairs, lighted by kerosene lamps. 

It is doubtful that an opera was ever performed at the Opera House. It was used for various functions, including a grand ball in September 1895, but mainly for films during the silent movie era. The Leesburg Town Council sold the building in 1955 for $35,000. It was demolished the next year and White's Department Store built a new structure on the site.

Maria Isabella Boyd, better known as Belle Boyd, was a spy for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and arrested and imprisoned three times. In the late 1880's she toured the south, describing her exploits as a Confederate spy. She made two appearances at the Leesburg Opera House, 22 November and 4 December 1894.

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Leesburg Baseball, 1937
Leesburg Baseball Team, 1937
Russell Gregg Photograph Collection (VC 0008)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
Leesburg, along with many other communities in Loudoun County, had an enthusiastic baseball culture. As early as the 1870s, the first clubs were forming, including the Potomac Baseball Club of Leesburg. In many cases, baseball was a family tradition, with brothers, uncles and fathers playing the game. Leesburg's teams played against other local clubs, as well as occasional feature games with teams from outside the county. Baseball was particularly popular in the early twentieth century up to the thirties, and enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the fifties. By the 1960's and 70's, a shift occurred in which adult team play declined and youth baseball came to the fore.





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Robinson's Barber Shop

Verdie Robinson
Verdie Robinson as a child
Winslow Williams Photography Collection (VC 0004)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
Robinson's Barber Shop has operated at a number of locations in Leesburg over the years. Thomas Robinson established the shop in 1888 when he and his family moved from Baltimore. It was run for many years by his son, Verdie Robinson. As was the case with many other African American-owned barbershops, the shop served only white customers; the barbers served blacks in their own homes.


In 1962, two of his barbers, Raymond Hughes and Horace Nelson Lassiter, bought the business from Robinson's widow on the condition that the business would be integrated. The barbershop continues to operate today. 








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Littlejohn Drug Store

Exterior of Littlejohn Drug Store
Exterior of Littlejohn Drug Store.
Ethel Littlejohn Adams Photograph Collection (VC 0015)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
In 1843 A.R. Mott opened a pharmacy on King Street across from the Loudoun County Courthouse. H.C. "Hobby" Littlejohn came to work for the drugstore, then called Mott and Purcell, in 1900. He purchased an interest in the business, renaming it Purcell and Littlejohn, and moved it north one door from its original location. Littlejohn continued to operate the business until he retired in 1963.


When Littlejohn moved the pharmacy to its larger location at 7 North King Street, amenities included a 14 foot marble lunch counter and terrazzo floor. The drugstore was a social center in Leesburg, both its soda fountain and its back room, where businessmen met for coffee and cards.








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Westmoreland Davis, Leesburg's Governor

Westmoreland Davis was born at sea, 21 August 1859, to Annie Morriss and Thomas Gordon Davis. After his father's death, he and his mother moved to Richmond, VA to live with her uncle Richard Morriss. Davis entered Virginia Military Institute as a scholarship student in 1873 at the age of 14. After graduating in 1877, Davis worked for the Richmond & Allegheny railroad until 1883, when he entered University of Virginia for a year's study in order to prepare for law school. He attended Columbia University Law School in New York City, graduating in 1886. By the 1890's Davis was a successful corporate lawyer.

In 1903, Davis and his wife of eleven years, Marguerite Inman, purchased Morven Park in Loudoun County, VA. Davis resigned from his legal practice and the couple moved to Virginia permanently. They joined the Loudoun Hunt Club, and entertained frequently. Davis concentrated his attention on improving the farm and became interested in livestock breeding and an advocate for progressive farm techniques. In 1909 he was elected president of the Virginia State Farmers' Institute, an association of farmers who promoted education. Under his leadership, the Institute developed into an effective lobbying organization.

Davis Innaugural
Program cover from Westmoreland Davis'
Gubernatorial Inauguration
Westmoreland Davis Political Collection (SC 0020)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
Davis ran as an independent Democrat in the 1917 Virginia gubernatorial race. He was known to be an opponent of Prohibition, although he tried to downplay his position and took care to say that he would support any laws on the books if he were elected. He focused his campaign on areas such as agriculture, education and establishing an executive budget. After beating out the "dry" candidate backed by the Democratic Party in the primary, Davis won the general election by a generous margin. During his term of office, Davis' efforts to make changes to institute a more businesslike approach to government faced opposition from the machine-dominated General Assembly. In spite of efforts to thwart him, Davis was able to institute some progressive changes.


In the years following his defeat, Davis focused his attention on opposition to the Byrd Organization and its dominance of the Virginia political system, largely through editorial comment in the journal Southern Planter, which he purchased in 1912. Davis campaigned vigorously for Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1932 election, and was also an avid supporter and promoter of the New Deal. Davis died 2 September 1942 at Morven Park. The Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation, Inc. recently restored the mansion at Morven Park, provides tours, and maintains the grounds to host equestrian and other events.


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Frederick Douglass High School

In the early 1930s, education in Loudoun County for African Americans did not extend beyond the seventh grade; families sent their children to Washington or Manassas for advanced education. The existing facility, known as Loudoun Training School, had no inside toilets and no fire escape. Parents, not the school district, provided transportation. By the end of the decade, two more grades had been added, but the facilities remained the same. And despite the 1939 offer of land in Purcellville, the school board protested that no land was available for a true, accredited high school. The County Wide League, founded with the explicit purpose of achieving "equal educational opportunities of Negro children in the public schools of Loudoun," purchased eight acres of land in Leesburg in 1939 for $4,000. The League also enlisted the help of the NAACP attorney Charles Houston, who finally persuaded the school board of the illegality of their continued resistance. They purchased the land from the League for $1.

Douglass High School, ca. 1945
Frederick Douglass High School, ca. 1945
Winslow Williams Photograph Collection (VC 0004)
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
Frederick Douglass High School was completed in 1941. The four-room building received an additional five classrooms, a science lab, and a home economics suite in 1950, and gym, shop, cafeteria and more classrooms in 1960. Parents and students continued to play an active role raising money for supplies and furnishings that the county failed to supply.


Since Loudoun County integrated its schools in 1968, Douglass has been used for many other purposes, including a middle school and an administrative annex. In addition to serving as the school district's alternative school, Douglass School is also home to Douglass Community Center, which provides preschool, child care and other activities.

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Discover more about Leesburg during the Civil War.

Discover more about Leesburg's Post War Boom and Growth