In 1985, the people of Fairlington did something remarkable: they built a playground together.
By building a playground, they also hoped to build a community. Two years prior Claremont Elementary had closed and all students there were sent to Abingdon, where they didn’t feel like they belonged. The Abingdon PTA reasoned that if these former Claremont students and their families had a hand in building a new playground, they would feel a greater sense of ownership and belonging at their new school.
Robert Leathers, a well-known playground architect, was contracted to design a new wooden playground. Abingdon students assisted with the design efforts, offering their ideal playground features, which included “an alligator, a dragon, a maze, and a water slide and a roller coaster.” Mr. Leathers’s final playground design was shaped like the United States: “New York” had a theater, the “Great Lakes” had a boat, the “Rockies” had climbing structures, and Florida was in the shape of an alligator, reflecting students’ requests.
But it was up to the community to build the playground. They raised $30,000 from individuals, businesses and other organizations to buy the necessary supplies. They signed up volunteers not only to build the playground, but to operate a “day camp” for other volunteers’ children which featured “crafts, movies, sports, games, and meals.” Planners also solicited donations from several local restaurants to feed the hungry volunteers.
The community came together to build the playground between April 18 and 21, 1985. Construction proceeded from 7:30 AM until dark. Hundreds of skilled and unskilled volunteers from Fairlington, Shirlington and Claremont came together to build the playground. Students helped wash tires and sand boards. Once completed, the playground was dedicated at an All Fairlington Day event cosponsored by the FCA. The project united the community and created something that brought joy to the community for many years.
The Fairlington Historical Society recently scanned the contents of a scrapbook containing hundreds of photos from the playground construction effort. Those photos can be found below.
- A newspaper article describing the playground design process.
- Pamphlets seeking assistance in the construction effort.
- Neighborhood bulletin trumpeting the efforts of the construction volunteers.
- A booklet published for the playground dedication ceremony.