Pictured is the former Abilene High School in 1906.

Part Three of a five-part series on Abilene’s high school

 Throughout March 1917, the two local newspapers printed several letters to the editor that highlighted the major issues over the placement of the new high school. 

On March 1, J. H. Engle, a member of the board of education, wrote a letter to the editor in the Abilene Weekly Reflector that argued that the idea of tearing down Garfield led to “an aroused public.” Engle argued that the idea of tearing down Abilene’s city hall (located on the corner of Fifth and Broadway where the current city building is today) had not received enough consideration but that city hall was “…a public eyesore, a standing affront to one’s senses of civic beauty” and that Abilene had waited too long for a legitimate reason to tear it down.

Abilene, according to Engle, now had that legitimate reason and it would place the school at the center of town and give students easy access to the public library. As for the Reflector, it responded sarcastically that the city hall “…cannot be spared.  It is the one reminder of the days when Abilene expected to be the metropolis of the Mississippi valley; it is the substance of the things hoped for and the emblem of our faith.  Without the city hall this would not be the same Abilene. We must preserve it for our children’s children as the only visible evidence that once Abilene aspired to a greatness far beyond the understanding of this generation.” 

A letter to the editor written by W. S. Anderson and printed in the Abilene Weekly Chronicle on March 28 argued that there were two acceptable locations for the high school. The first location was on Buckeye between Sixth and Seventh streets (where Frontier Estates is located today) and was centrally located. Anderson, though, argued that the second location deserved more attention.

He stated that the second location was on 1st Street between Cedar Street and Mulberry Street.  While Anderson acknowledged that “many people will hold up their hands in holy horror when a site south of the railroad is suggested…,” “it is nearer the center of the city than any site mentioned.”  According to W. S. Anderson, there were more students in the Abilene district south of the railroad tracks than north of Seventh Street, and asked the newspaper readers whether it was “any harder for the children north of the railroad to cross one track than it is for the children south to cross one to three tracks to get to school.” 

Even in 1917, the stigma of living on the southside of the tracks still remained a factor in the location of the high school. 

W. H. Broughton, in a letter to the editor printed in the March 29 edition of the Abilene Weekly Reflector, wrote that there were many benefits to tearing down Garfield and putting the high school there. 

He argued that putting the high school there would save the board of education $12,000 to $14,000 and that it would allow the board of education to put all $90,000 into building a bigger and better school building rather than having to use some of the money to purchase the land too.  The Garfield location was also centrally located and would allow easy access to those families without access to carriages or cars. 

On the other hand, another proposed location for the school near Mud Creek next to the fairgrounds (just west of the spot where Sixth Street runs into Elm Street) would also be a good location.  For Broughton, the Mud Creek location was ideal, in that much of the land was already owned by the city and that it would give the students easy access to the fair grounds.  Another benefit to the Mud Creek site, according to Broughton, was that there was plenty of open ground there to educate students on agricultural practices, which was important for a farming community like Abilene. 

Another letter to the editor in the March 29th Abilene Weekly Reflector took issue with W. H. Broughton’s arguments. C. C. Wyandt argued that the Mud Creek site placed the school in direct danger of flooding and that Garfield should not be sacrificed just to build the new high school.  Instead, the only logical location for the high school would be on Buckeye between 6th and 7th streets.

That location was surrounded by churches and was centrally located enough to be fair to every citizen of Abilene.  

“The erection of the new high school is the biggest thing in the town’s history and it ought to be settled right.” 

As these four different opinions show, there were different issues that needed to be addressed in the location of the new high school. Two issues that were common between the four opinions above were in placing the school in a central location that provided easy access to everyone and in being economical with the funds devoted to the construction of the school.

While everyone might agree on the central issues that needed to be resolved, there was little consensus on how to solve those issues.  In the coming months, the newspapers continued to follow this ever-increasing controversy.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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