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La Crosse County Historical Society discovers, collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Archive Record

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Object Name Print
Catalog Number 2015.fic.364g
Description Old Central High School
Collection La Crosse County Historical Society Collection
Title Old Central High School
People Nudd, Chris
Search Terms Old Central High School
Central High School
Notes Part of a series of 15 prints by Chris Nudd "La Crosse Scenes".

Text with print:

"In the first village election in La Crosse in April, 1851, Lorenzo Lewis was elected "town superintendent of schools." His fist act was to form school district 1 and issue a call to the 20 qualified voters to meet at the home of Simeon Kellogg to organize the district. A tax of $75 was voted to be raised for teacher's wages, and $5 for purchasing books. Abner Goddard was engaged to teach the first public school class in 1851 in the old courthouse, and 109 students were in attendance.

At the first annual meeting of the district in 1852 it was voted to rent John Levy's residence for a school house at $75 per year which included a stove that Levy agreed to furnish.

In 1853 a committee of three men was appointed to select a site for a public school building. A year later a tax of $2,000 was voted for a two-story brick school house to be built on the south side of Division Street between 8th and 9th on land donated by F.M. Rubles and a Mr. Stevens. H.J. Nichols was the architect, and general contractors were Powell and Chambers, carpenters. Donghugh and Markham were the masons.

At this time the village population was 754. There were 104 homes, eight fancy and dry good stores, two hardware stores, one milliner shop, one jewelry store, two bakeries, two tin shops, two tailor shops, four carpenter and joiner shops, one wagon shop, one barber shop, one cabinet shop, one gun shop, two milling houses, one steam sawmill, a courthouse, jail, justice's office, a Government land office, and Odd Fellows Hall, four law offices, two doctors, one printing office, five taverns and one church.

The fourth annual school meeting of 1855 was held in the new brick schoolhouse to vote $570 for support of the school. The new building was no sooner occupied than the question of enlarging it came up. Agitation for added space continued, and the following year a tax of $5,000 was voted for a three-story brick building to adjoin the original school. This time Edgar and Polleys were awarded the contract, and Nichols was again the architect. Until the addition was complete, overflow classes were held in several places in town including a Mons Anderson building on 3rd Street.

The first board of education elected in 1867 consisted of James Lyndes, W.W. Jones, John Ulrich, George Scharpf and Mons Anderson. J.E. Atwater was elected city superintendent of schools at $250 per year.

Recollections found in village history books relate the hardships for both teacher and students. Benches and desks were of pine planks, and a long box stove in the middle of the room, burning oak wood as fuel. Water at the school came from an open well, and a pail was passed during school hours. All drank from the same dipper.

The three-story addition to the Third Ward School developed a crack from top to bottom and as early as 1865 was so unsafe that the school was dismissed whenever there was a heavy wind.
As the town grew, so did the need for more schools. The first high school was built in 1878 at 8th and Main Streets, consisting of five rooms. The third story was finished in 1888 and a six room addition in 1895. Total cost of the building was $33,142 on four lots costing $8,000. The course at this time was only three years and the high school competed with private academies.

The board of education of the day required students applying for admission to answer 75 per cent of the questions correctly. Of 40 pupils applying for admission to high school in 1874, only five passed in all studies.

Ninety-six years ago, in 1876, there were just three graduates of the first high school who received their diplomas: Augustus L. Abbott, John Richards and Stephen Martindale. The graduation was a notable event. It took place on the stage of the Old Pomeroy Opera house at 4th and Main, and the theater was packed to the galleries. Dr. Wendell Anderson, president of the board of education, presented the diplomas to the three graduates, each of whom gave a speech.

A class play, "The Courtship of Niles Standish," was presented. The leading role of Standish was taken by A.S. McArthur of the class of '77. Martindale was hero John Alden, while Richards played the part of the preacher who married the happy pair. Abbott, the third graduate, was one of the Puritans. No mention is made in old newspaper files of who took the part of the bride.

This early class of three set a high standard of achievement for those who were to follow. Uniquely, all three studied law and went into practice. Abbott went to the University of Chicago and to Brown University. Martindale and Richards went to Beloit College.

A not-so-fond memory of "Old High" was the students familiarity with Wisconsin's Blue Book and the U.S. Constitution; for skipping school or for such tricks as rubbing limburger cheese over the grills of hot air registers, students were kept after 4 p.m. to memorize pages of the documents.

Spurred by public pressures, action for a new high school was taken by the Common Council in 1902, although choice of a site did not come about without one of the bitterest fights over waged on the Council floor. Two locations were proposed; one, the block bounded by State, Vine and West Avenue and 13th Street, at $25,000; the other, the present site, bounded by Cass, Madison, 15th and 16th Streets, available for $23,000.

After the first vote resulted in a tie with two aldermen abstaining because they favored a third location (Powell Park), a resolution was introduced recommending the present location, and then the fireworks started, first by property owners in the immediate area who contended that the school would ruin the best residential area in the town. Next, residents of te North Side protested that any high school farther south than Main Street would not suit their needs, and they further asked for a high school on the North Side.

When the resolution finally came to a vote, the six North Side aldermen voted against it. Several aldermen from the South Side expressed themselves as being against a new high school anywhere. One alderman put up a bitter fight against "buying a school, site way out on the prairie." The result of the vote favoring the present site was made amidst cheers and boos in a dramatic climax to an eventful evening.

It was not until two years later in 1904 that the Council accepted plans and sketches by J.C. Llewellyn of Chicago for the building, and construction began in 1905. It was completed in 1907 at a cost of $191, 717. The gymnasium addition to Central was built in 1912, the gift of Frank P. Hixon.

Records revealed a steady increase in enrollment at Old Central until demands exceeded the facilities, and a new building was built and occupied in 1967."