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History of Washington School, 1901

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▶ Washington School History

-from "Annual Report of the Public Schools of Wheeling, W. Va. for the School Year ending July 31st," 1901:


When one thinks of the magnificent public school buildings of which Wheeling is so proud, and of their almost perfect equipment, to say nothing of the many thousands of dollars expended annually in their maintenance, one can scarcely realize that but fifty years ago there was not a public school in all the South. Yet such is the fact and although Washington school cannot claim the distinction of being the first public school established in the South, still second place must be conceded to the old First Ward school, to which institution the minds of so many citizens of Wheeling often revert in pleasant retrospection.

Although valuable assistance was received from former teachers and pupils of the school, still most of the facts in this brief history have been culled from the records of the Board of Education, which records are in some respects curiously incomplete. The names of the early commissioners and of contemporary trustees are religiously recorded and much written concerning them, but the teachers, being though, no doubt, a secondary consideration, were almost entirely ignored and it is not until the reorganization of the Board in 1865, that even the names of teachers are mentioned. For this reason many particulars of interest concerning the earliest teachers cannot be obtained.

Under the Act of the Legislature of Virginia, passed in 1846, which act permitted the establishment of free schools in the state, the first school commissioner then elected was Thomas Johnson, Sr., and the first trustee appointed by the commissioners was William P. Wilson. Mr. Johnson was succeeded by Michael Sweeney, who sered at divers times.

The First Ward public school was opened for the reception of pupils in the spring of 1849, with Mr. David Wallace as principal. The building, which stood in the northeast corner of the present site, was a two-story brick with basement in the rear. Each floor consisted of a main room and a recitation room, and there were three rooms in the basement. In the primary department, in which boys and girls occupied separate rooms, seventy-five pupils to a teacher was the rule rather than the exception. Pupils randing in degree of advancement from the A. B. C. class to the third reader class, were accommodated in the same room and taught by the same teacher, the hours being from nine to twelve and from one-thirty to four-thirty for beginners as well as for more advanced pupils. There were at first but three rooms in use, which number was increased from time to time was the growth of the city and of the ward made necessary to procure more teachers for the accommodation of the children. The school was ungraded until the reorganization of the school system in 1865, and not fully graded until a year or two later.

Early in 1850, the trustees of the First Ward school were authorized to borrow $800, "to pay off pressing indebtedness," which they did, giving a deed of trust on the school for security.

Mr. Wallace was succeeded by the following principals, in the order named: Messrs. Bigger, Snowden, Frohock, Stevens, Laird and Snowden. Among the teachers under the old regime were Mrs. L. S. Jordan and Mrs. B. C. Ryan, of Elm Grove, and Miss Tillie McDonald, of this city, the last two of whom served the school until a few years ago.

In 1865, the Board of Education was reorganized, a superintendent was elected, and the present system of graded schools inaugurated. James M. Galloway became principal, serving for two years. His assistants were Misses Texa Arndt, Sallie Meholin, Hannah Philips, Tillie McDonald, Sara L. Cotts, Irene Philips and Lizzie Oxtoby.

In this year, the president of the Board was authorized "to purchase four lots in the square bounded by Main, Market, Washington and Franklin streets (Seventh and Sixth streets) for $4,800." The owners refused to sell at that price and condemnation proceedings were instituted. The appraisers appointed by the circuit court, fixed the price at $6,400, which amount being evidently more than was thought just, the attempt to procure that site was abandoned and the commissioners were directed to secure another location. Nothing further, however, seems to have been done in this direction until 1868, when Supt. Williams, in his monthly report for March asked "that immediate action be taken toward providing Washington township with a suitable building." in accordance with which request the committee on buildings and real estate was directed "to report upon the expediency of erecting a new school house, as instructed by resolution, passed August, 1867." The committee reported such action expedient, but considered it hazardous to erect a building on the site then owned and asked proceedings to be instituted to condemn as much of the property belonging to Mr. Kline or to the Garden estate as might be necessary. Later this portion of the report was changed by substituting "the property owned by Clark Hanes and Robert Johnson, or the lot owned by Andrew Kline." Finally the property of Mr. Hanes was purchased, It is described as located on the west side of Main street, between North and Franklin streets, (Fifth and Sixth streets). This property increased the size of the lot upon which the old school stood and is the same upon which the present building is situated. The first building stood in the corner of the lot, but as it was thought better tp place the second building farther back, it became necessary to purchase the additional ground as mentioned above. Preparations for building were made at once. The plans offered by Mr. Fairfax were adopted June 10, 1868, and bids for a suitable building ordered advertised for. Later the architect was directed to change the plans by reducing the size of the building and taking off the tower. The plans as amended were approved and the contract for the building given to Mr. J. M. Brodie, at his bid of $19,698, it being the lowest bid. The building, which on account of extra work, cost considerably more than the contract price was to have been completed January 1, 1869, and Eckhart Hall, the engine house and other rooms scattered throughout the ward were used as school rooms pending the completion of the new building which was not ready for occupancy as expected and was not used until late in the year 1869. It was a three-story brick building with a basement on the river side and stood father back on the lot than either the first building or the present one. There were ten school rooms besides the large grammar room, the basement being used as a residence for the janitor.

Upon the resignation of Mr. Galloway, Mr. C. W. Davenport became principal, to be succeeded in 1869 by Mr. Z. G. Bundy, who served for ten years. It was during his term and under his direction that the then famous First Ward Lyceum flourished. This organization banded together many of the young men of North Wheeling, who found it necessary to leave the school at an early age, but who nevertheless desired to continue their literary studies and so earnestly did they work, and so wisely did Mr. Bundy direct their efforts that some of Wheeling's best public speakers acknowledge their indebtedness to this society for first incentives along the oratorical line. There were at this time ten teachers besides the principal and the enrollment had grown to almost five hundred.

In 1875, the Johnston property as purchased, thus increasing the size of the lot. This purchase was made necessary because of the location of a stable directly in front of the main entrance and in close proximity to it. The Board of Education wisely obviated this nuisance by buying the property and tearing away the stable.

In 1879, Mr. T. B. McClain, a man of scholarly attainments, and an excellent teacher, became principal and upon his resignation in March, 1882, Miss Martha P. Harper assumed the principalship. Her service has been sorecent and her ability as a teacher and principal is so well recognized that nothing from the pen of the writer could in any way enhance her reputation.

In 1883, a committee, appointed to investigate the safety of the school building, reported that owning to the apparent sinking of a portion of the building, the school was deemed unsafe and an appropriation was accordingly made for repair.

On account of the crowded condition of the school, there was built in 1885 a frame annex on the west side of the lot. It is now used as a resident for the janitrix.

In 1887, the building was again declared unsafe, a new building ordered erected and plans advertised for, but the cost being too great, new plans to involve an expenditure of not more than $25,000, were ordered made. The original plans were finally adopted and the present building, costing about $35,000 and erected under the supervision of Architect E. W. Wells, is the result. It is the third school building to stand upon the same site and is a commodious comfortable and well appointed building of nineteen rooms, including basement and office. While the school was building, the primary pupils were taught in the annex building, and the higher grades in the old court house, which had just before been abandoned and which was lately razed to permit the building of the new Court theater. The new building was formally accepted by the Board of Education in August, 1888, and was dedicated with appropriate exercises on September 3.

Miss Harper, on account of ill health, resigned the principalship in December, 1897, and Charles S. Brilles, the present incumbent, was elected her successor, taking charge of the school January, 1898.

There are sixteen assistants, viz.: Misses Laura A. Frew, Carrie Kindelberger, Edna Baird, Eva A. Egerter, Louise B. Scharf, Sara P. Otto, Ada B. Greer, Mary E. Hart, Mollie B. Kuhn, Mollie H. Francis, Mary G. Turner, Minnie White, Belle M. Fox, Elizabeth Drake, Kate B. Roberts and Minne K. Neuhard, the last named having charge of the German department. A history of the school would hardly be complete without mention of the name of Miss Rebecca Drake, who as janitrix, has had charge of the building for the past seventeen years and to whose excellent care is largely due its present condition.

The gentlement who have served as commissioners have been ever awake to their duty in encouraging the teachers and in providing every possible comfort and convenience for teacher and pupil. Among those who have served since 1865, are the following: A. J. Sweeney, Geo. W. Robinson, John Muth, H. W. Philips, William Setwart, John Scott, Oscar Gemmer, Wm. Goering, Wm. Hastings, Ralph Arkle, W. A. Wilson, Alfred Caldwell, Wm. A. Isett, J. W. White, A. C. Harrell, F. J. Parke, C. F. Ulrich, M. D. Alfred Paull, Frank Stanton, I. P. Birney, M. D., C. E. Noble, John B. Garden, W. L. Williams, W. W. Spargo, M. D. Messrs. Garden, Williams and Spargo are the present representatives of Washington district in the Board of Education.

It is believed that the alumni of Washington school will hold their own with those of any similar school in the city or elsewhere. The following is a complete list arranged alphabetically:

Sister Adams Annie McCahon-Gardner
Rev. Samuel Arbuthnot. Geo. G. McClaskey
Jessie Bennett-McFeely. Kate McCune-Joyce
Minne D. Brand-Ball, *F. Key McDonald,
John J. Brockhardt, J. Howard McDonald,
Harry Browning, Carl McGranahan,
Sara Browning, Ella M. Nichols-Emblem,
Martha B. Caldwell, John Otto,
Mary E. Chamberlin-Hugus, Sara P. Otto,
Birdie S. Chapman-Sisson, Amanda H. Philips-Scatterday,
Elmer Chapman, Bessie Philips,
Walter H. Chapman, Mamie K. Prentiss,
Benjamin Chew, Lila J. Rabel,
Ross T. Chew, Florence Rice,
Lena Christman, Grace Riheldaffer-Clark,
Minnie Cox, Kate B. Roberts,
Rev. John A. Crawford, Mollie B. Russel-Morrison,
Wilma J. Cunningham Kline, Arndt Ryan,
Elizabeth Drake, John N. Ryan,
Eva. A. Egerter, Louise B. Scharf,
Katherine Elig, Sophia Scharf,
Mollie Ellifritz, Annie Shanley,
Belle M. Fox, Wm. Shanley,
Laura Fox-Noble, Maggie Silvey-Leadley,
Gertrude Frew-Jones, Carrie Spargo,
Laura A. Frew, W. W. Spargo, M. D.,
Jessie Green-Daeringer, Mary E. Stifel-Burdatts,
*Milton Gutman, John Storer, DDD.,
Makel Hanes-Snyder, Gertrude Swires-Porter,
Mary E. Hart, *Jennie Sylvia-Feinler,
Lou A. Hellwig, Mary G. Turner,
Bertha A. Henneman, Ella C. Veith,
Mary I. Johnston, Lillie D. White,
Thos. H. Jones, Minnie White,
Carrie F. Kalbitzer, Della Wilson-Bingell,
Carrie Kindelberger, W. P. Wilson,
August Koch, Amelia Wincher-Chapman,
Mollie B. Kuhn, Annie Wincher-Sisson,
Laura Long-Rose, Della Wincher-Defibaugh,
Jesse Miller, *Jennie F. Wincher,
Annie L. Morrison-Chew, Annie M. Woodruff-Blew,
Benj. Morrison, *Deceased.

Washington school is represented in the high school alumni by the following: 1898, Mary G. Caldwell, Doretta Morgan-Vester, Mary L. Yeager; 1899, Mary A. Graham, Grace Fendt; 1900, Harold Brennan; 1901, James Hanes, Mary Kindelberger, Thomas Henderson, Stella Scharf, Mary Stanton and Ethel Tisher.

As regards honors, the record of the school is as follows:

1882 -- Elmer Chapman, 1888 -- Sophia Scharf
1883 -- Jennie F. Wincher, 1890 -- Mary I. Johnston
1887 -- W. W. Spargo, 1890 -- Mabel Hanes-Snyder
  1892 -- Carrie Kindelberger

The past is secure and Washington school looks with confidence to the future. With almost every facility required for the application of modern educational methods; with a corps of teachers both faithful and competent, and with the anticipation of even greater interest on the part of parents and pupils, the opportunities for good of unlimited. As we enter upon the second half of the first century of public school work in Wheeling, we review the past without a blush and predict for our school a more glorious history in time to come.


The writer acknowledges his indebtedness to Miss Tillie McDonald and other former teachers and pupils for valuable assistance rendered him in securing much of the unwritten history of Washington school.

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