A BRIEF HISTORY OF Oak Hill Schools
According to the an article in the Special Edition of the Fayette Journal, November 2, 1911, general opinion was that the first school building in Oak Hill was located near the residence of Mr. T.H. Hooper as early as 1850. It was a subscription school.
Later there was a log cabin for a church, but used afterwards for a school building. Some early teachers in this building were Mr. Will Beckley, Mr. Kenney Cassidy, Miss Mary Miles, Mr. John Hendrickson and Mr. John Shreves.
Another school building of early date was built by area citizens working at times when they were not otherwise employed. The first class taught in 1865 with John Hendrickson as the teacher. This was before free schools so the county paid one-third the expense and the parents paid the other two-thirds. Subjects taught were: Old elementary spelling book; first and second readers and arithmetic, usually taught as far as long division. According to the Journal, when long division was reached the teacher would explain that the problems were getting beyond the student’s comprehension so it was necessary to “turn back.” Grammar was studied from the backs of the pages of the old spelling book. After geography was introduced, the classes would sing the capitals, mountains, rivers and other geographical features to some old church tunes.
In 1879 the first frame school building was constructed by C.B. Mahood of white pine lumber hauled from Raleigh Court House. This building was afterwards moved and a two-room frame structure was built on the lot where the first high school building was burned. A Mr. Brown and Mr. Groves opened school in 1889. In 1890 there was a grammar Normal school taught by Ms. White and S.E. Duncan. Mr. A.G. Sevy was in charge of the school and it became a graded school in 1901. The high school opened in February 1904 with O.O. Crawford as principal. Mr. Crawford was principal for three years, followed by R.R. Stuart in 1907-08 and then S.M. Archer beginning in 1908.
On Wednesday night, October 18, 1905, between ten and eleven o’clock, the high school building burned. It had cost $7,000 to build but was only insured for $3,500. School continued to meet in various places until a new building was completed in mid winter of 1907-08. The graded school and high school would occupy this new structure.
In the early 1900’s Oak Hill was moving from an agrarian community to a more industrial area thanks in part to the explosion (no pun intended) of coal mining.
When families lived primarily on the farm education was not utmost in their minds. Survival was. The family unit was large – sometimes six, eight, ten or twelve children. Care of this group was all consuming. The older children helped with the younger ones. The girls were taught to cook, clean, sew, grow a garden and preserve food. Boys worked along side their father to take care of the farm animals that were used both for labor and food, to clear land for farming and plant it and to maintain the buildings on the property. Readin and writin were not particularly useful skills. Some of these children would attend school in the winter if not needed at home but their attendance was spotty at best during spring planting and fall harvesting. It they could sign their name and read a little from the Bible that was considered enough.
Along comes coal mining and suddenly the family doesn’t have to depend on their own land to feed and clothe themselves. Jobs are plentiful (although not too well paying for a while) and if every able bodied person pitched in there was money to buy the necessities of life that they heretofore had to grow and sew. With the coal mines came the need for other support business. Clothing and food stores, pharmacies, banks, insurance agencies, doctors and lawyers. Storeowners needed to be educated in mathematics as well as being able to read and write. Professional jobs like doctors, lawyers and even teachers required a more learned person. An influx of immigrants from the “old country” saw the need to educate their children in order for them to have a better life.
With the need presented the high school came into existence in 1904 by a vote of the people of Fayetteville magisterial district taken November 4, 1902, the vote standing 1,012 for and 337 against. By 1911 three teachers, all graduates of standard universitites, were employed to teach in the high school exclusively. The principal devoted half time to teaching at the high school and the other half with the general management of both the graded and high schools.
The high school was classified by the State Department of High Schools as a first class high school so that the graduates could be admitted without examination to the freshman class in any standard university in the country.
A new building to house the high school only was to be ready for occupancy in the middle of November 1911. When completed, there would be four recitation rooms, a study room seating one hundred pupils, a chemistry room, a physician room and an office.
The following article is reprinted from the 1927 edition of the Acorn yearbook and details the next high school building (currently known as Oak Hill Elementary School).
The new high school building, when completed, would be one of the best and most attractive to be found in this section of the state. The plan was strictly modern in every feature. The architects, Frampton and Bowers of Huntington were specialists in school architecture. Many of the best high school and junior high school buildings in this state had been designed by this firm. The fact that it was constructed by the Mankin Lumber Company, of our city, is positive assurance that was first class construction.
It was to be strictly fire proof. The frame is steel the exterior walls were brick, the interior walls tile, plastered, the roof was a concrete base with built-up asphalt covering. Floors were concrete with wood surface, except in the corridors, which would have a composition surface. The corridors were wainscoted with salt-glazed brick. All joists were steel as were the window sashes.
There were twenty-eight rooms of major importance, including class room, laboratories, library, auditorium, gymnasium, offices and ladies rest room. In addition to these there were showers, lockers, toilets, storage and furnace rooms.
The heating system was the latest warm air type. Six heaters in the basement would supply an abundance of warm fresh air, which was driven by fans, through ample ducts and flues, to every part of the building. There would be a complete change of air every fifteen minutes without the windows being open.
The following items give some idea of the materials required for its construction: seventy-five car loads of brick and tile (more than a million brick), one and one-half acres of concrete floors, fifteen cars of steel, ten cars of cement, twenty cars of limestone gravel and twenty cars of sand for a total of more than 140 carloads of material.
The outside dimensions were one hundred fifty-five feet in length by ninety-one feet in depth. The exterior finish was of light red brick of mingled shades, with Indiana limestone trim. The building was constructed so that wings could be added when needed.
The building on School Street would house Oak Hill High School until 1950 when a new building on Jones Avenue opened. In a deed dated November 15, 1948 by and between, George R. Collins, Helen C. Beury, Phyllis C. Waters, Amy C. Venable and Richard Venable her husband, and George R. Collins, surviving Trustee under the last will and testament of Justus Collins, parties of the first part, the New River Company (lessee), party of the second part, and the Board of Education of the County of Fayette, WV, party of the third part, property was transferred for the purpose of building a high school.
According to the deed the land was given subject to the conditions set forth:
First: that said party of the third part and its successor shall use the said tract of land solely for educational purposes, and shall erect a high school thereon, and other building in which high school activities are conducted, and shall not construct or use thereon any grade or elementary schools or buildings, as grade and elementary schools are now defined.
Second: that the said party of the third part shall name the said high school “Collins High School” and so long as the high school is maintained on the tract of land, the name shall not be changed.
Third: the party of the third part agrees that is will place on the cornerstone of the high school building, or in a suitable location in the high school building, a suitable bronze plaque stating thereon as follows: “This High School named in honor of Justus Collins (1857-1934), a pioneer coal operator of Fayette County, whose estate has donated the site on which this High School is located.” Collins High School resided on Jones Avenue until the mid 1970’s when a new school was built on property at the Oyler Avenue exit of Rt 19 and was once again renamed Oak Hill High School.
SCHOOL CELEBRATED 100TH BIRTHDAY as “Collins” in 2004
Oak Hill/Collins High School celebrated 100 years in ’04…1904-2004. Below are a poem and an article that were written to commerate the anniversary.
100 Years of Progess??
The last 100 years, is plain to see
have changed the course of our history.
Not only in Oak Hill, but throughout the planet,
great things have come to pass, that we take granted.
Here in Oak Hill, 100 years ago
A high school was founded, a school we all know.
Though it has moved a few times, and once changed its name
It’s still Oak Hill High School, all the same.
Who would have imagined in 1904,
considering the Wright Brothers’ flight was the year before,
that Oak Hill graduates would be blessed to see
some of the greatest changes in history.
Not only to see them, but to be a part
of the world’s greatest technology from its start.
From the first airplane, to exploration of space
oh, the changes for the human race.
The wonders of medicine, a new beginning
starting with penicillin by Dr. Fleming.
The Salk vaccine and Sabin oral vaccine, too,
to the CAT scan and MRI to name just a few.
And look at the world of communication
and how it has changed the face of the nation.
From the telegraph and the rare telephone
to computers on-line in nearly every home.
Yes, most graduates have entered this modern age
where high-tech equipment is really all the rage.
Not only can they make phone calls from home
but from almost anywhere with the modern cell phone.
While we’ve already touched upon transportation,
we’ve scarcely thought about how it’s changed the nation.
From mud roads and cobblestone and even brick streets
now even the four lanes are becoming obsolete!
Six lanes and eight lanes are not too rare
in cities around us everywhere!
The “Rumble-Seat” and touring car have given way
to the mini-vans and SUVs so prevalent today!
Who would have thought a few generations ago
when watching “silent movies” at the local show,
that very, very soon the day would come
when they would watch the movies in their very own home.
When the local drugstore was the place to meet,
and “Boob” Rhodes restaurant was the place to eat,
no one would have thought that by today
both of these would have faded away.
They gave way to McDonalds , Shoneys and all the rest
where food was much faster, but no always the best.
The “blue plate special” which was really a steal
has given way to the “combo” and “Happy Meal.”
The changes in fashion since 1908
have been many, and sometimes so great.
Beginning with the gentlemen who could look so dapper
and for his female counterpart, what about that “flapper?”
Celluloid collars, vests with watch pockets, even bowler hats
not to mention those garters, Zoot suits or spats.
The mini, the maxi along with other fads
have come and gone, to the horror of moms and dads!
And we all know the dances that would send the young folks to hell,
Oh, there were so many, and we remember them well.
What about the Charleston, Big Apple and Black Bottom
and some were so bad, we’re glad we forgot ‘em!
Let’s see, there’s the Fox Trot, the Jitterbug and others
which were frowned upon by many fathers and mothers.
Then came the Mashed Potato, the Swim and the Alligator!
Thank God that “slam dancing” didn’t come ‘til much later.
And those of the sixties found it hard to resist
the fantastic allure of the Furg and the Twist,
the Pony, the Monkey and many, many more
I’ll bet they couldn’t do those anymore!
Yes, Oak Hill High has endured and prospered I’d say,
as the twentieth century slowly slipped away,
and the twenty-first century, with the feared “Y2K”,
which turned out to be just another old day.
Its graduates have been a part of the times.
Some went to the service, some to the mines.
Others became teachers, doctors, lawyers and such,
but all of them contributed so very much,
to the state and the nation, over the years
through times of great laughter, joy and tears,
some graduates gave the “last full measure”
to guarantee the liberties all American’s treasure.
In two Wold Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq
some went away, and never came back.
But many returned to make a mark on the world
and proudly stand up when our flag is unfurled.
Many of its graduates went on to college
and came back as teachers to pass on their knowledge.
Or engineers of various kinds
solving great problems with Oak Hill trained minds.
When all is said and done, though it never will be
I believe that the world will most assuredly see
that graduates of the high school here in Oak Hill
always have been a part, and, hopefully, always will.
Mountaineers are free, and need not be forgiven
for thinking that West Virginia is “Almost Heaven”
and here on the Plateau, and in our High School,
It’s quite well known that Red Devils rule!
So when you have a chance, just think back and see
how we fit into 100 years of history.
We’ve all seen many changes, few things stayed the same,
and consolidation may eventually give our high school a new name.
But even then, we’ll be proud to be
a part of the future, and of the history
of the things which made this 100 years great
since the first class graduated in 1908!
James W. Alexander, II
Class of 1964
March 29, 2004
Info above courtesy Tyree Funeral Home Website