The old Gainesville High School building on West Washington Street is long gone, but not so long ago that many students who stalked its halls, dusted its erasers and frustrated its teachers are still around to remember it fondly.
It had three levels and oil-soaked wooden floors that produced a distinct aroma. Classrooms, library and offices were on the main floor, other classrooms up a squeaky stairway to the top level, with a cafeteria, shop and home ec department on the lower level.
The school building was built first, completed in 1921. It wasn’t until 1935 that a connecting gymnasium was built and still stands, filled with offices now and called the Gym of ’36 because it was being built when the 1936 tornado hit.
The original school building’s last full high school year was 1955-56, although the Class of ’57 spent half the year in the old building before moving to the new one in its present location. The old building then served as a junior high until 1964 and later was demolished.
Discussion of a new Gainesville High School building began in the early 1900s, but was delayed because of World War I. Within six months of the end of the war, Gainesville citizens had passed a $100,000 bond issue to build the school. Only 18 people voted against the idea.
Enrollment in the city school system was 225, with elementary and high school students crammed into two buildings, Main Street and Candler Street. High school students went to Main Street, where a single oil stove heated one portion of the building. A former office served as one classroom.
A seventh-grader, Glover Harvey, complained he had to use a fifth-grade desk because the high school had taken the sixth- and seventh-grade rooms. Edgar Merck agreed: “... we need some large desks so that boys with long pants can put their feet under them.”
Blackboards were lacking, as was equipment as basic as a magnifying glass. Student Milton Hardy, who later would become Gainesville’s mayor, appealed for a library and microscope.
The new high school almost was built at City Park as controversy developed over its location in the fall of 1919. The City Park site seemed favored because the property belonged to the city, and money to buy property could be used instead for the building. Others favored property H.H. Dean would donate between North Bradford and what is now Northside Drive.
Other proposed sites included the Bailey property on West Washington Street, the White property between East Broad and East Spring streets, Whelchel property on South Bradford and Longstreet property on South Main.
The school board, city council and a bond commission would decide the location with 11 votes required to approve one of the sites. The City Park property had eight votes on the first ballot, the West Washington site trailing by two votes. Before the second ballot another site, R.D. Mitchell’s on Green Street, was added, but the West Washington property prevailed with 11 votes, City Park nine.
So the $16,000, 3-acre site just a block off the downtown square would be the home of the new Gainesville High School, its central location the deciding factor.
By 1920, an architect named Baldwin from Anderson, S.C., had submitted tentative plans for the building. The bonds were supposed to provide a gymnasium and auditorium as part of the project, but came up short. The school board and bond commission promised to build a gym and auditorium later. It would be 1936, however, before that would come about.
Nevertheless, the new Gainesville High School on West Washington Street opened with great fanfare Sept. 26, 1921. The Rev. Kelley Dozier, a missionary who was in the first class of Gainesville schools, gave the invocation. The official name of the building was declared as Gainesville High School Building, and a pecan tree on the campus was dedicated to alumni.
R.E. Park, first principal, was recognized along with some of the first graduating class, Mrs. R.E. Park, W.E. Dozier, Byron Mitchell and W.E. Hosch. Alderman John. A. Pierce, who supervised construction, turned the building over to Judge A.C. Wheeler, chair of the bond commission, who turned it over to Mayor Hammond Johnson, who turned it over to T.H. Robertson, school board chair.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville GA, 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.