Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Building and School Histories

Roosevelt High School (now Davey Elementary School) in 1928
Lately I've been doing sporadic research on the history of the Kent City Schools, the Davey building in particular.  I've also done quite a bit of research on Roosevelt High School as well (which was housed in the Davey building for 37 years), touching on the elementary buildings along the way.  I've found that there are many people interested in what I'm finding out about the history of our school buildings, but I've also found it's somewhat difficult to explain the histories, especially some of the older schools.  That's because there are two histories: the history of the school building and the history of the school organization.  The Davey building is a prime example of this.  The building history goes from 1921 (when construction started) to now.  During the 89 years since it opened in 1922, it has housed three different schools: Theodore Roosevelt High School, Davey Junior High School (later called Davey Middle School), and Davey Elementary School.  Each school organization, however, has its own history independent of the building itself.  For instance, Roosevelt High School dates back to 1868, Davey Junior High is now Stanton Middle School, and Davey Elementary is the continuation of Central Elementary School.  It's really confusing when you have a mixture of schools that have moved and kept their name (like Roosevelt) and schools that have moved but changed names (Davey Middle School to Stanton Middle School).  

The Union School, later known as "old" Central
Another building that has a somewhat complicated history is the old Union School, which was Kent's first consolidated school.  It opened in 1869 and was a K-12 school.  By the 1880s it was known as Central School because of the opening of South School in 1880 and DePeyster School in 1888.  A "union school" was a generic name given to any school that was a consolidation of local schoolhouses and was part of a national movement in school consolidation.  Ravenna also had its own "Union School", which opened 10 years before Kent's.  The building itself existed from 1867 (construction started) until it was torn down in 1953.  The majority of its existence it was known as "Central", but the school that replaced it was also named "Central", so it's often referred to as "Old Central".  I tend to refer to it by its original name of "Union School" to avoid ambiguity with the current Central building.  Because the building housed Kent High School, it was often referred to as such even though KHS only occupied a portion of the building.  Even better is that many contemporary sources from the early 20th century refer to Kent High School as "Kent Central High School" or even "Central High" even though officially, the school was never anything but "Kent High School" until it was renamed for Theodore Roosevelt in 1922. 

Most buildings in the district have only had one tenant, so it's somewhat easier.  But even then, we have successions of buildings that sometimes are very clear and sometimes aren't.  Holden Elementary, for instance, is a continuation of the old South School, which was located across the street from where Holden is now.  I haven't really dived into the history of Holden, but my guess is that it was likely originally planned to be the new South School and during construction or just before it opened the board decided to name it for Belle Holden, a former teacher and principal at South School.  Roosevelt High School was named after the building (now Davey Elementary) was finished.  All the construction information simply refers to it as the "new" Kent High School.  The decision to name it after Theodore Roosevelt didn't come until just a month or so before the building was dedicated.  Stanton Middle School was named in the early stages of construction.  At the time I was hoping they would carry the Davey name to the new building, but the Board opted to keep the Davey name at the current building because of that building and property's historical ties to the Davey family (John Davey, founder of Davey Tree, owned part of the land it was built on and the old Davey estate is adjacent to the school).

DePeyster School, now home of the administrative offices for the district
DePeyster School is one I would really like to get a lot more information about.  It's history is very random and unclear at this point.  Even though Walls School covers basically the same area DePeyster covered, I don't consider Walls a continuation of DePeyster because it wasn't a case of Walls opening (1966) and replacing DePeyster (like the students and staff were all moved to Walls from DePeyster) like Holden replaced South or Stanton replaced Davey.  Walls took in all of DePeyster's old territory, but also included a large chunk of Franklin Elementary's territory.  It was not only a new school building but also a new school organization.  DePeyster had ceased being used as an elementary school years before Walls opened and was instead being used for overflow from a variety of schools.  I know my aunt went to kindergarten at DePeyster even as my dad and uncle went to their elementary grades at Franklin in the years right before Walls opened.  Soon after Walls opened, DePeyster was used as the "Davey Extension" and housed several classes from Davey Junior High School until a new addition to Davey opened in 1967.  I'm not exactly when DePeyster stopped being used as its own elementary school and instead used for extra space for other schools.  I know the gym was added in the early 1950s (1953?), so it would make sense that the building be used a few years after that, at least to the early 1960s, even though the middle portion of the building dates to 1888 and the front was added around 1920.  Why it was used for extra space is not clear either, especially with Kent growing throughout the 50s and 60s.  In any case, by the late 60s and early 70s it's vacant until the Board renovates it in 1977 and it becomes what it's used for today: the district offices.

To help make sense of the two histories, I created two graphics to illustrate them.  One is a history of each school organization and the other is a history of each school building.  They are both works in progress as I find more information about each building through my research.  Each picture contains basic information about the years a particular building was known by a certain name and when any additions or major renovations happened.
School organization history
School building history

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