Levy passed in 1921, new WHS opened in 1925

Levy passed in 1921, new WHS opened in 1925

Image Credit: Submitted

Editor’s note: This is part three of local historian Mike Franks’ series on the history of Wooster High School.

The old 1870 high school, along with the north annex, which was dedicated in 1909, served Wooster for more than 50 years, but by the early 1920s, with enrollment growing with the city, it became clear the existing high school building would not carry the community into the future.

The Ohio Department of Education was making physical education mandatory, requiring gymnasiums in all public schools. This would require construction of gymnasiums/auditoriums at not only the high school, but also all of Wooster’s grade schools. The Wooster Board of Education decided to approach the voters for a second time in less than 15 years, this time for a $500,000 line of credit to build a new high school and to provide all elementary schools with gyms.

Wooster began its campaign to convince voters of the need. In late October 1921, Wooster Rotary sponsored a group of Wooster citizens to tour the new high school that had been built in Canton. They found this facility to be modern, sanitary, fire-proof and equipped to serve the needs of college-bound students and those who would enter the workforce upon graduation, an aspect with which Wooster High School was not doing well, according to a newspaper article.

On Nov. 7, 1921, George C. Maurer, superintendent of Wooster Schools, posted an editorial stating eight reasons to vote for the school levy. He compared Wooster’s existing school to those in other regional schools. He also reminded voters how attracting quality people to the city requires the best of schools.

Maurer wrote of the serious overcrowding in Wooster’s elementary schools, where classes were 50 or more students each. A new high school would include a junior high, pulling those students from the elementary schools, relieving that pressure. He also reminded readers of the third-floor situation at the old high school. The churches got involved, imploring parishioners to vote “yes” for the levy on election day.

Election day was Nov. 8, 1921. Early returns showed the school levy to be failing. Throughout the evening it was failing but in a close race. The last ward to be counted was the third, and it passed by a wide margin there. By the light of day, it had passed 1,461 for and 1,316 opposed.

In March 1922 the Wooster BOE announced Ralph Ridley had been chosen as architect for the new school and to oversee construction for the high school and all gymnasiums/auditoriums for the ward schools. Ridley had worked for Akron BOE for seven years, overseeing design and construction of 13 schools.

The plan was to extend the north annex westward, adding nine additional classrooms. This would be accomplished over the summer, and high school would be conducted in this facility while the old 1870 school was razed. The demolition would happen while classes were in session.

The following June, the Long and Bogner firm was hired to build the addition to the north annex. William Long, you may remember, was the builder of the annex in 1909. Their winning bid was $79,982. They agreed to have work completed by November.

In January 1923 it was announced J.I. Barnes of Logansport, Indiana would build the new high school. Barnes was best known for building all of the facilities at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana.

A newspaper article dated March 28, 1923, described how demolition rubble was being transported to Christmas Run Valley, west of Emerick Street, to serve as fill. This is interesting because it indicates the remnants of the old school were used to fill the valley where the future Maurer Field — named after the 20-year Wooster superintendent — would be located.

On Sept. 17, 1923, the cornerstone of the new school was laid. A newspaper article says a time capsule and brick from the old school were placed. The time capsule consists of a photograph of the old school, a Yale key and a casino chip. It is located in the north tower, about 8 feet from the ground.

Construction progressed slowly for nearly two years. As sections were completed, high school classes were held in them. At one time construction was halted by state inspectors, citing shoddy workmanship, mostly due to cold-weather effects on uncured concrete.

When warm weather returned, the problems were all corrected, and the school opened for scholastic purposes. The new high school was officially dedicated and opened for public tours the evening of Friday, Feb. 13, 1925.

Anyone with memories from their Wooster High days can send them to local historian Mike Franks at bh_looking_back@aol.com. He also welcomes comments or suggestions.