When will this series end? When I say it ends.
Last time, I promised a school post. As a former wearer of the “Proud to be in 443!” merch, I have strong opinions about Dodge City schools. I attended the same elementary school as my mom and my grandmother…Go Bobcats! I even had the same fifth grade teacher as my mom and boy was she surprised by my interest in, well, school.
I’m not getting into all of the historic school buildings because nobody has time for that. Dodge has done a terrific job with some of them. If you contrast the updates/additions at Central Elementary with the tragedy of Lincoln Elementary, it kind of makes your head swim. I don’t want to speculate about motivations but certain areas of town get the good stuff, if you know what I mean.
My intention was to simply admire the architecture but as I started digging into the details, I found the process was very similar to how things work (or don’t) today. We tend to romanticize the past and assume our dysfunction is a modern invention. I don’t know if it will make you feel better or worse but everything was as big of a soup sandwich then as it is now. Get comfortable; this will take a minute.
Dodge City High School
1000 (North) Second Avenue
I understand why this building had to come down but I’m not happy about it. The original high school structure was built in 1914. The 1918 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows a pretty basic footprint with steam heat and electric lights. I mention this because in 1918, the East Side School (later renamed First Ward School) at Avenue G and East Vine Street still operated with stoves for heat and no lights according to Sanborn.
The 1911 Sanborn map shows dwellings in the 1000 block of Second Avenue.
The 1926 Sanborn map shows a 1916 addition at the back of the lot that didn’t appear on the map in 1918 as well as a large addition on the north end of the building in 1923. That 1923 addition is the reason for the drastically different appearances in the postcard photos above. It wasn’t just a matter of camera angles!
Prior to the 1886-87 school year, all grades were taught in the same school on Boot Hill. That all changed with the new school on the “east side” of town. The article below references Bridge Street as the dividing line, which was later renamed Second Avenue. So when you look at Dodge now, it’s pretty damned central but back then, not so much.
This change meant that all high school students were instructed at the Second Ward School, which was located at Railroad (Central) Avenue and Division Street as shown on the 1887 Sanborn map. The first commencement of Dodge City High School was held June 10, 1887 at McCarty’s Opera House for a graduating class of three students.
Dodge City schools have pretty much always been overcrowded. So two years after sending high school students to the new building, Superintendent Webb announced they would be instructed at the corner of Second Avenue and Cedar Street.
*record skips* Where? The 1887 Sanborn map shows dwellings and a vacant building at that corner, as does the 1892 Sanborn. The “school room” must have been that vacant building? There were 25 students enrolled in high school for the 1888-89 school year.
The 1889-90 school year was a trip. The original Third Ward School opened in 1880 at the top of Boot Hill was condemned, leaving a bunch of students displaced. So the high schoolers were pushed out of the vacant building and into rooms above Mrs. Beadle’s store.
According to Robert Marr Wright, the original school cost $6,300 to build and the roof was already leaking a year after completion. After five years, it was braced by rods. High school students were back at the new Third Ward School for the 1890-91 school year.
By the 1898-99 school year, the high school room was packed with 67 students. The idea of forming a county high school had been discussed periodically over the years and my great-great grandfather introduced a bill in the Kansas Legislature in 1903.
If any of you remember the ongoing debates in Dodge for decades about building what ended up being that godforsaken abomination they call a high school on Ross Boulevard, then you can imagine the drama leading up to this special election. Side note: I’m still amazed that the brain trust lowered the speed limit on North 14th Avenue to 35 because a new school on that street was a foregone conclusion.
The proposition was defeated and the entire county continued arguing about it until the school board accepted plans for a new building in 1912.
Voters approved the $44,000 bond issue in November of 1912 after finally being convinced the district was losing students to towns like Bucklin and Spearville, which both had dedicated high school buildings with adequate space. The vote tally was 730 for and 214 against. Residents immediately began arguing over the location, naturally. The architect couldn’t create final plans until they decided on a site and needed 60 days lead time to deliver. Meanwhile, the expectation was to have the new building ready for the next school year in September of 1913. Hilarious.
Remember my snark about the speed limit on 14th? The School Board got out over their skis in 1912 and paid $2,000 for a lot at Sixth Avenue and Division Street (Trinity Hospital site) before anything had been formalized. Initially, two sites were under consideration: A lot at Fifth Avenue and Oak Street and the Second Ward School site where Central Elementary is today. As the debate continued, some people wanted the school to be on Boot Hill. In December, the citizens’ committee (because there always is one) suggested a list of eight to ten properties and most of them were on “upper” Second Avenue. By this time, the lot owners had started raising the prices so the City started talking about condemning the properties. Then the board began arguing amongst themselves and people questioned the legality of the Sixth Avenue purchase. See? Nothing has changed!
At their January 22 meeting, the School Board voted to use the lot they purchased on Sixth Avenue and then there was an injunction a couple days later. By March, the Kansas Legislature was determining whether Dodge could vote (again) to build a $60,000 building rather than the $44,000 that initially passed because the architect told them they would have to scale back their plans for the lower amount. There were questions about the legality of the original bond election so all the records went to an auditor in Topeka. The election was declared illegal based on a technicality. By the end of May, the School Board was all about a site at Second Avenue and Vine Street. The special election was scheduled for July 1 and voters were asked to approve $58,000 ($8,000 for land and $50,000 for the school). The location was the W 1/2 of Block 55, in the original townsite of the City and Lot G in Shinn’s Addition. Sigh…FINALLY. Block 55 is the property at Second Avenue and Elm Street.
Clowns! If you think this is a tedious read, imagine being me right now. Voters, clearly having their shit more together than their local representation, approved the new school…again. Site condemnation was completed on October 21 and it was appraised at $9,600…$1,600 more than voters approved for the land purchase. John and Effie Cord owned one of the lots at the site that included a six-room dwelling and they hired an attorney to protest the $2,300 they were offered. They must have worked it out because I never found any evidence this went to court. Bids were requested for people to buy all buildings on the lots and have them removed. On December 11, 1913, bids were requested to finally build the damn thing.
And THEN everyone learned all this fiddlefucking around was making everything more expensive.
These absolute dolts couldn’t find their asses with both hands.
The Board’s expectations are pretty rich considering how long they played grab-ass with this project.
Because the plans had to be altered to avoid going over budget, the School Board immediately went back to the well asking for more money to build the gym and auditorium. They insisted “a two mill levy for three or four years would supply the necessary fund for completion of the splendid building.” – The Dodge City Daily Globe, March 17, 1914
The election was scheduled for April 7, 1914. The turnout was very light and the proposition passed. Voters must have been as tired of thinking about it as I am. The contractor insisted the building would be complete enough for use in January of 1915.
Students were given an extra week off for Christmas break so they could start the new year in their new school but they were forced to wait yet again. And again. Finally, the four high school grades plus seventh and eighth graders moved in to their new digs in March of 1915.
The Dodge City Daily Globe, March 26, 1915
It’s cool how that $44,000 building voters were promised turned into $85,000. They always get you in the drive-thru.
The new high school building served Dodge City well as a school and as the headquarters for our school district. Even as its configurations changed over time, it still felt very grand inside. Paneling and small framed-in windows could never completely diminish its impressive architecture.
Next time, I’ll dig into the next Dodge City (Senior) High School. Until then, you can check out Parts I through IV below:
Part I – First National Bank Building
Part II – First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Masonic Temple, First Avenue, and O’Neal Hotel
Part III – Merritt Beeson House
Part IV – Carnegie Library Building, Dodge City Milling and Elevator Company, First Presbyterian Church, Post Office
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