City hall

Pictured is the former Abilene City Hall.

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

An editorial, written by a Mrs. J. A. Van Duyne (possibly Elsie E. Van Duyne), was printed in the Abilene Weekly Reflector on Jan. 25, 1917 that clearly demonstrated that the writer did not like the proposal to put the new high school between Garfield and the current high school one bit.

Mrs. J. A. Van Duyne argued that “it would make the high school look like an overstuffed sandwich; and the two grade buildings like the waterworks attached to a factory. Abilene would be the laughing stock of the state.”

If the $90,000 was not for the purchase of land and the construction of the new school, she wondered just where all of the money would go to. Mrs. Van Duyne believed that Abilene “would have to build pretty close to the moon to stick $90,000 in there if we did our worst.”

She just could not imagine needing to spend even $90,000 on a school building alone. Instead, she felt that the high school needed to be placed on East Eighth Street, facing south on the hill, or on the land currently occupied by the city park. As for the city park location, Mrs. Van Duyne felt that Abilene taxpayers might as well get some good out of the taxpayer money spent by the city to purchase the land by placing the school there.

According to the Abilene Weekly Reflector on Feb. 1, 1917, the school board met and agreed that their preliminary decision to place the new high school between Garfield and the current high school was not feasible. Instead, the board decided to go with the proposition to tear down the Garfield School and build the new high school there.

Grades 7 through 8 would go in the old high school while grades 1 through 6 would meet in one wing of the high school until a new grade school could be built. This proposition met with even more opposition than the previous one.

Another article in the Feb. 1 Abilene Weekly Reflector stated that a local Abilene attorney (left unnamed by the newspaper) was planning on filing an injunction suit to prevent the school board from tearing down Garfield School based on two reasons. According to this attorney, “…it is detrimental to public interest to wreck so expensive and useful a building without direct orders from the taxpayers of the district…” and that “…the school board has no legal right to erect a building to accommodate both high school and grades when the bonds were voted only for a high school.”

While the Reflector still felt that the Garfield site remained the best location in Abilene for the high school, many Abilene citizens were justified to feel that the destruction of Garfield School, valued around $40,000, was uncalled for.

One month later, on March 1, 1917, the Abilene Weekly Reflector reported on the latest school board meeting, which received a petition signed by 750 Abilene citizens who opposed the destruction of Garfield School. The petition was presented by Mrs. H. M. Howard and Jeanette Seelye (wife of local patent medicine manufacturer, A. B. Seelye), who claimed that they could get another 1,000 signatures if given a few more days.

Both women were heard out, the Reflector stated, but received no encouragement or support from the board. While two members of the board of education opposed the destruction of Garfield and supported the idea of a public referendum on the issue, the majority of the board still supported the destruction of Garfield and rejected the idea of a public referendum.

For the Reflector, though, the issue was far from settled since the spring election would see the potential for some new members to join the board of education, which could change the current decision.

In an editorial written in the March 1 edition, the Abilene Weekly Reflector stated that there was a lot of tension in Abilene over the issue of where to put the new high school, “but there is no need of any town row.” The editor argued that Abilene voters are the ones in control and will have the final say in where the school goes.

While the school board refused to put the issue to a public referendum, three of the six board members were up for reelection and this allowed the voters to vote for those people who would support whichever view they supported.

“If those favoring wrecking the building win accept the people’s verdict and stop talking about it; if the other candidates win, that too should settle it. Let the people of the district who pay the bills decide.”

In the end, the citizens of Abilene could still have their say through the ballot and needed to live with the results of that election.

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

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