MacFarland Junior High School

This middle school accommodated the rapid growth of Petworth.

The rapid development of Petworth in the three decades after 1900 meant that it needed new schools. Until the early 1920s, there was only a single elementary school in the neighborhood. Addressing what has been characterized as a crisis in school overcrowding would become the principal mission of a new superintendent of schools, Dr. Frank Ballou, and the Office of the Municipal Architect. DC introduced an experimental junior high school to the former Central High building in early 1919 and soon adopted the practice generally. The original McKinley Manual Training School was converted to Shaw Junior High in 1922, and Petworth and Eckington received their own junior highs in 1923.

With the Five-Year School Building Program Act in 1925, DC emulated dozens of other cities that established several hundred junior highs in the first half of the 1910s. The impetus was as much overcrowding as pedagogical. The junior high school relieved congestion in neighborhood schools by skimming off the higher grades from several, and putting the pupils into a centralized, thoroughly modern facility without having to disrupt and expand each of the elementary schools.  Doing so also constituted a Progressive-era reform of the system, recognizing the particular challenges of teaching children that had reached puberty and holding back the ninth-graders from immersion among older students. The junior highs also incorporated shops for vocational training, giving them the ability to set students on academic or vocational tracks early—often useful, but also a fraught proposition.  

Funded, designed and constructed simultaneously, DC's first purpose-built junior high schools—Eckington's Langley Junior High and Petworth's MacFarland Junior High—are nearly identical, especially in their facades. Relatively flat with the exception of the towers, a cornice and pilasters, their design suggests both cost-consciousness and a deference to the high schools as the most elaborate edifices in the system. Architect Albert Harris (1869-1934) designed the new schools, which resembled each other in plan, even if the same sections might have different uses.

MacFarland's permanent gymnasium was to be in a separate wing, mirrored by a classroom wing, but the latter was not erected until 1925, and the gym finished only in 1932. These wings completed Harris’s initial vision, observing the same strict symmetry as the main block. This design anticipated Harris' "extensible school" model of the 1930s, programmed for expansion into side wings as the need arose or funds became available. The same lack of funds that delayed construction of the wings slowed efforts generally to keep up with the growth of the school-age population in Petworth and surrounding neighborhoods; after MacFarland opened, elementary students were still in portable classrooms in Petworth, Park View, and Brightwood Park.

DC Inventory: September 27, 2018
National Register: December 3, 2018



4400 Iowa Avenue NW