With school just getting underway in the area, I was thumbing through my very thick file on the old Denison High School, looking for some information about the tree that grows on the west side of the campus. I didn’t find the tree story, but I did find some copy typed by the Denison Herald Editor Emeritus Claud Easterly, possibly when the school closed in 1986. The copy is not dated.
Claud always typed his copy on a Royal typewriter on newsprint that yellowed pretty fast. For many, many years the pressmen would cut the paper the proper width for a typewriter and leave it in varying lengths. We kept it stacked on the edge of our desks on which to write our stories.
Claud passed away in 1999 and took with him more history of Denison than anyone alive today could ever put together. After he retired, he occasionally would get the urge to write something and it was always a treat to staff and readers when he did.
The following is the story about the old school building that he attended in the mid-1920s and now has been demolished. Here is Claud Easterly’s story written several years after he retired in 1972.
“Few things, next to motherhood and apple pie, stir as much sentiment as an old school building, especially one that is being abandoned. And McDaniel Junior High, still remembered by older generations as Denison High School, will continue for some time to inspire the type of emotional reminiscing that frequently tints reality with fantasy.
“With deference to romantic license, this graduate of the mid-1920s feels that many of the more mundane aspects of our alma mater are worthy of recall and historical recognition. Indeed, many of the practices accepted as routine three score years ago would astonish recent students who probably would dismiss them as ‘gross.’
“The original building, completed in 1914 as a source of community pride, was enlarged twice. The first addition, (1927) on the southwest, included classrooms and the school’s first gymnasium. Several years later (1939) the second expansion, on the northwest, included, among other facilities, a much-long-needed auditorium.
“Today pupils — and young members of the community as well — may be almost shocked to learn what earlier had passed as an auditorium both for the school and the public. Later relegated to study hall and miscellaneous use, the large area on the second floor once housed the homeroom for all four grades, a study hall and student assemble chamber, and the auditorium for all major community programs.
“Freshmen — always due a bit of humbling ignominy — were assigned to ‘homeroom’ quarters in the balcony, and stored their books and supplies under their seats. Sophomores, juniors and seniors were ensconced in the desks on the lower floor. Perhaps it should be noted here that in those days Texas had an 11-year school system providing for seven years in elementary school and four in high school.
“Among the more formal events held in the auditorium were the YMCA-sponsored Lyceum programs similar to the Community Concerts of today. The improvised setting detracted little from the stature of some of the talent performing in that auditorium, including the world famous singer Madam Schumann-Heink, Houdini the magician, and John Phillip Sousa’s Band.
“Students had the uneasy feeling that spectators at some of these programs, perhaps becoming a bit bored, peeked through the books and things in their desks and under the balcony seats.
“As difficult as it may be for today’s youngsters to envision a school without a cafeteria, it would have been just as difficult for the early youngsters to imagine meals cooked and served in restaurant style at school.
“The only food preparation in those days was in the domestic science (cooking) class. This old grad still remembers that his fourth period (just before lunch) history class was directly above the domestic science laboratory — which explains why he still associates Civil War dates with the salivating aroma of sautéed onions.
“With no closed campus and a full hour at noon, as many students as distance would allow, went home for lunch. Others who could afford the luxury paraded to downtown eateries. (Charley Watson didn’t have a hamburger stand across the avenue.)
“The rest brown-bagged it. During fair weather they could take their sack lunches out on the campus. At other times the boys — this writer doesn’t know about the girls — ate their lunches in a basement cloak room that backed up against the football dressing room with its store of odoriferous sweaty socks and other gear. Needless to say, the olfactory experience was some different from that in the history class!
“Outside the building, on the west side, was an open-air amphitheater-type stage for which little practical use really could be imagined. However, it did have at least one great hour on Nov. 11, 1918, when hundreds of Denisonians thronged the area for an impromptu first Armistice Day celebration.
“Then as now, students moved to different rooms for various classes; but — and today’s teenagers probably will see this as more than ‘gross’ — no talking was allowed in the hallways. This prohibition was enforced by monitoring teachers. Their permission also was needed for a quick drink from the fountains along the walls.
“Pupil behavior was recorded on report cards simply as ‘deportment,’ and its enforcement sometimes relied on the equally simple paddles kept in most teachers’ desks. Extreme corrective action involved a trip to Principal B. McDaniel’s office and a session with his awe-inspiring rubber hose. It should be noted that in those primitive days disciplinary authority could be exercised without the lurking threat of legal action.
“Administration of the entire city school system was ambodied in two rooms on the second floor. One was occupied by the superintendent, the indominable Dr. F.B. Hughes, and his secretary, and the other by Principal B. McDaniel and his secretary, Miss Marie Boren, now Mrs. Lon Trout.
“More dramatic among the many changes is the revolution in student transportation, which is dramatized by acres of cars parked around the school. The few autos in front of old DHS, probably not more than a half dozen, belonged to teachers. The kid with his or her own ‘wheels’ was indeed a rarity, excluding bicycles.
“Some parents drove their children to and from school, especially during inclement weather. But the majority hoofed it, many at the considerable distance that their grandchildren today are tired of hearing about. Could that explain why a school gymnasium and physical training program were not deemed needed until years later?
“It is important — most important of all — to remember that the brick and timber composing a building become a school enshrined with enduring memories primarily through the contribution of dedicated teachers. The experience of succeeding years enriches and perpetuates for the old grad the memory of Mary Moore, Inez Cartwright, Carrie Johnson, M.M. Marshall, C.P. Brous and others, including Joe Dixon.”
Claud and the majority of his classmates, Dr. Hughes, B. McDaniel, Mrs. Trout and Joe Dixon no longer are with us, but we could add the names of the late Mildred Walker, Elizabeth Bledsoe, Maggie Sommerville, Marjorie Pitts, Edith Austin, Johny Beck, Stella Byers, O.W. Cline, Luther Eastham, Harold Gentry, Alma Gaddy, Lois Jenkins, J.S. Kimble, Marie Miller and others to that list of those who enriched the lives of students as teachers at Denison High School.
Donna Hunt is former editor of “The Denison Herald.” She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.