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Monday, February 10, 2014

Annandale native has fond memories of growing up in an idyllic small town

Annandale Elementary School students in 1953.
Annandale might be a transient, traffic-clogged suburb poised for redevelopment, but for many people who grew up here in the middle of the last century, it’s fondly  remembered as an idyllic small town where everyone knew one another.

That’s now it was for Nikki McDonald, 72, whose family moved to Calvert Street in Annandale in 1948. At the time, there were still cornfields and dairy cows on much of the land that would later be taken over by subdivisions. “I loved growing up in Annandale,” says McDonald, an active contributor to the “You Knew You Grew Up in Annandale If . . . ” Facebook page and is working on scrapbooks of old-time Annandale.

Tony's Market in 1948 [from a newspaper clipping].
Although McDonald now lives in Smith Mountain Lake, Va., she comes back to Annandale frequently to visit her sister, Carolyn Freeman, who lives in the house they grew up in and is the president of the Annandale Acres Civic Association.

An evolving commercial center

McDonald has a vivid memory of Annandale’s commercial center and the businesses that have come and gone over the years.

The spot now occupied by Jiffy Lube used to be Tony’s Roadside Market, which she says was a “little dumpy place” where you could get fresh produce, eggs, milk, and for five cents, a one-scoop ice cream cone. It closed when a Safeway opened across the street on Columbia Pike in a building now occupied by Bank of America.

The Annandale firehouse in 1948.

The spot where a Walgreens is under construction used to be an Esso gas station along with a Firestone tire shop and Dodge dealership when McDonald was a child. A Three Chefs restaurant (specializing in burgers, chicken, and pancakes) opened on that site in 1962. It was superseded by Fuddruckers in 1985.

Topp’s Drive In on Columbia Pike was a popular place to hang out in the late 1950s. It later became a Roy Rogers, and then Burger King.

Nikki (left) and her sister Elaine with their family's 1949 Plymouth.

Further up on Columbia Pike, in the spot now occupied by New York Pizza Factory, was the Annandale Grill, where McDonald’s mother used to work. It must have been a fun place, as McDonald has lots of stories about how the staff used to pull pranks on one another, one of them  involving a rubber mouse on a cutting board.

The building on Little River Turnpike that housed Trophy Mart for many years (and is now a Loan Max) used to be the Bank of Annandale, she says.

In the 1940s, Annandale’s first fire truck was kept next door to the current-day Steinhorst Plumbing building, she says. That truck was extremely old, and after it broke down on the way to a fire, there was an effort to build Annandale’s first fire station, at its present location on Columbia Pike.

Other old businesses McDonald fondly remembers are the Star Supply hardware store, in the spot now occupied by  CafĂ© Le Matin de Paris on Little River Turnpike, and Shirkey Drugs, at the intersection of Little River and Ravensworth Road, where the Han Gang Korean restaurant is now. [In the early 1800s it was the site of the toll house, where travelers paid to use Little River Turnpike.] Next door to Shirkey’s was the Wakefield Fruit Stand, where men used to hang out in front and drink beer, she recalls.

The small shopping strip on Annandale Road where Vacuums Unlimited is now used to have Mooney’s pharmacy, the Iva Trice dress shop, a small library, and a post office, she says. The post office later moved to Little River Turnpike in a building now occupied by an animal hospital, then to its present location on John Marr Drive. The spot now occupied by the Annandale Giant was a baseball field.

At one point, McDonald recalls, people entering Annandale from four directions would see a sign stating, “Welcome to Annandale, the town with a future.”

School days

McDonald, known then as Nikki Hunter, walked along a narrow two-lane Backlick Road to the eight-classroom Annandale Elementary School on Columbia Pike. That building was later expanded, and it now houses Annandale Community for Christian Action and ACCA’s Child Development Center.

Just like now, the population was growing faster than the capacity of the school. By the time McDonald was in third grade, there were too many students, so the overflow was housed in makeshift classrooms in the basement of the Annandale United Methodist Church and United Baptist Church, both on Columbia Pike. 

The school was enlarged in 1951. “They put in a cafeteria; that was so awesome,” she recalls. Weyanoke Elementary School was built that year, too, and McDonald was transferred there.

Discipline was more intense back then, she says, and teachers used a paddle to slap students on the butt if they misbehaved. She also remembers having a “lovely, single lady” as a fourth-grade teacher who had to leave suddenly and never came back. McDonald later found out the teacher was pregnant.

The scariest thing growing up was the ear-splitting air raid siren during the Cold War. It was on a tower near the elementary school, and students were instructed to crouch under the windows and cover the back of their neck to protect themselves from flying glass. “We never knew if it was a test or the real thing,” she recalls.

There were no middle schools then; the elementary schools had grades 1-7, and the high schools were 8-12. Before Annandale High School was built in 1954, Annandale kids were bused to Fairfax High School.
McDonald was in the AHS Class of 1959, the first group of students who had attended the school since the eighth grade. She didn’t graduate with her classmates, however, as she dropped out in the 11th grade to get married. She eventually had four children and drove a Fairfax County school bus for 33 years.

She’s stayed in touch with many of her classmates over years and has been actively involved in planning reunions since 1999. She met her third husband, Bill McDonald, at the 40th class reunion. They had known each other in high school, but never dated back then.

Annandale’s first principal, Ralph Buckley—he served from 1954 to 1967—came to nearly all of the reunions. When he learned that McDonald earned a GED in 2009, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, he arranged to have a graduation ceremony for her at Annandale High School, complete with a recording of Pomp and Circumstance.

McDonald, in turn, hosted a surprise 90th birthday party for Buckley—about 50 people came, including 12 original teachers—and when he died in 2010, she spoke at his memorial service.

Nikki McDonald finally gets her AHS diploma 50 years and one day after the rest of her class. On the right is former Principal Ralph Buckley.
Fun and games

McDonald says younger people always her what kids used to do for entertainment in the days before TV, computers, and videogames. “We watched the radio,” she tells them. “We used our minds to picture what was going on.”

Children were more active back then. “We used to have a lot of fun. There’s nothing better than going out to play,” she says. “We rode bikes, played double Dutch jump rope, marbles, hopscotch, and jacks and caught crayfish in the creek.”

They also played in the woods in an area now occupied by the Bradlick Shopping Center and in a log cabin built for Boy Scout Troop 150 at the corner of Calvert, Beverly, and Auburn streets when the scouts weren’t using it, she says. And the most fun thing to do on a summer night? catch lightening bugs.

There was an annual Annandale celebration along Little River Turnpike long before the Annandale Chamber of Commerce started hosting an annual parade, McDonald says. She has a photo of her brother’s scooter decorated for the parade with her sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hargett, in the background.

She remembers going to “donkey baseball” games—just like regular baseball only all the players are on donkeys—on a field behind the fire station. One time, the Lions Club organized a rodeo in a fenced-in field behind Annandale Elementary School to raise money for the volunteer fire department. “Several people had up-close experiences with the bulls, and one bull almost demolished the fence,” she recalls.

Teens came to dances with a jukebox at the Teen Spot on Friday and Saturday nights.
McDonald’s parents, Steve and Myra Hunter, had been professional, competitive roller skaters, so the family—there were three girls and one boy—went roller skating a lot at a rink in Alexandria. They also went on camping trips to the beach and day trips to the carousel at Great Falls. In the summer, they spent a lot of time at the Greater Annandale Recreation Center on Little River Turnpike, now known as Annandale Swim and Tennis, which also had a clubhouse for teenagers.

Teens also enjoyed sock hops in the gym at Annandale High School, went to the Lee Highway drive-in movie theater in Merrifield, and to auto races in Manassas.

For McDonald, growing up in Annandale was a wonderful experience. “It was awesome,” she says.


  1. Brought back many memories of stores, restaurants, forests, and farms long gone. Thanks, and say hi to Elaine!

  2. We moved from Falls Church into Annandale (Broyhill Crest) in early 1954. Masonville Elementary was under construction but not yet open and my neighbors and I were bussed to the "Masonville Annex" at Bailey's Crossroads.
    ~~ John Pennylegion, AHS '62

  3. We moved from the Culmore Apartments to Columbia Pines in 1955. I entered first grade at Masonville Elementary in September 1958 after a year of kindergarten at the Wallingford School on Annandale Road. All 6 of us attended Masonville, then Poe, then Annandale High where we graduated in 1970, 1973, 1975, 1979, 1981, and 1982. My daughters graduated from Annandale High in 2000 and 2001.

    1. I lived in Columbis Pines 1968 thru 1972 and went the Old Annandale Elementary. Is that the Masonville School??

    2. Was Wallingford Schoolin Annandale or Falls Church?