History of Parkersburg High School
Speech given by Mr. Ralph Board, Principal
PHS Class of 1960 Tour on 8/7/10
I would like to begin the tour with a brief history of our school. I was unaware of many of the facts of PHS until I became the principal and began researching our history.
Parkersburg High School began as a four room frame building said to have cost $6,000.00 in 1867 located on Seventh Street where the old Uptowner Inn now sits.
In 1874 Parkersburg High School was given the legal right to graduate students. The first class consisted of three young ladies.
By 1915 registration was so large that the high school day was divided into 10 periods allowing students to attend classes much as college students do today.
The present Parkersburg High School was completed in 1917, but it took a special law passed through the West Virginia Legislature and the determination of one man to accomplish the feat.
Built at a cost of $675,000 which included the grounds, building and equipment, Parkersburg High School was the dream of Charles Elliott Van Devender, President of the Board of Education. Van Devender Middle School is named in his honor.
The businessmen of Parkersburg elected Van Devender because they wanted a new high school and they felt he was the man for the job. After assuming office, Van Devender sought out various properties and decided on a piece of land between 19th and 24th Streets on the west side of Dudley Avenue as the location of the new high school building.
There was bitter opposition to this site with some opponents going so far as to burn and hang Van Devender in effigy on Seventh Street in front of the old high school building. The citizens felt it was foolish to build an enormous high school in a swamp, in a cow pasture that was located outside of the city. "A building to house 1,200 students that would never be filled" was a common statement heard.
The site was actually a swamp filled with cattails and water snakes and over-lying quicksand.
When the building was completed in 1917, the front campus and the front door could only be reached by an elevated boardwalk as they had not had time to drain the swamp. Van Devender had a vision of what could be done with the site and he refused to permit anything or anyone to deter him from his purpose. Every tactic known to demonstrators was used to stop the work but all attempts were unsuccessful. His adversaries criticized and opposed every action, including placing an "unheard of" price on the property that Van Devender wished to acquire.
As well, at that time there was a West Virginia law which existed saying no school ground could contain more than four acres. Since Van Devender wanted 27 acres rather than four which the law made possible, he met with Charles Kreps, Attorney for the Board of Education and had a bill properly drawn up. Van Devender took the bill by train to Charleston where the legislature was in session. There he met with Senator Robert Gregory and convinced him to present the bill making it legal to acquire 30 acres of land for school use. The bill was passed.
An architect named F. L. Packard from Columbus, Ohio designed the three story structure. This is the same architect that designed the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville.
Van Devender spent much of his time at the building site overseeing its construction and expenses.
The school opened with room for 1,200 students. There were 38 classrooms including shops, laboratories, an auditorium with a seating capacity of 1,350 and a gymnasium with a seating capacity of 1,000. There were 3 offices, a lunch room with a capacity of 500 and additional rooms for storage, janitorial supplies, etc.
The main building of the original structure is resting on a concrete slab which rests in turn on quicksand. Underneath that slab are many pilings. Because the structure is "floating" in the quicksand, all the settling has been uniform and even today very few cracks have formed inside the building.
In 1926 money was made available for the building of the two wings. The title "Central Junior-Senior High School" was used for many years when the school was operating under a six year plan, grades 7 through 12.
The name changed to Parkersburg High School when this system changed. However, as long as the 7th and 8th grades remained in the south wing, that wing was referred to as "Central Junior High School".
At the beginning of the 1956/57 school year, with the completion of two junior high schools and the construction almost finished for a third one, the 7th and 8th graders were taken from the high school building. It was a four year institution until 1960 when it became its current three-year institution. As you well know, the freshmen have now returned to PHS.
In 1915 there were 128 graduates and by 1928 the number had increased to 209. In 1965 the number reached 1,150. This year's graduation class totaled 347.
The school seal was designed by Robin Bell, a 1924 graduate, and it carries the founding date of 1867.
In 1915 Ralph Jones, a well known Parkersburg native, came to Parkersburg High School to coach and promptly named the athletic teams the "Big Reds".
The first gymnasium had seating for 1,000 but that soon proved to be inadequate. For many years before the construction of the Field House, beginning in 1951, the small gymnasium with its overhanging indoor track, which was typical of the day, was dubbed "The Match Box".
In 1924 the stadium was constructed at a cost of $500,000. In 1995 it was condemned. PHS was not allowed to have spectators in the stands. Portable bleachers were brought in and placed on the cinder track for spectators to watch football games. This did not sit well with some local business people. At a bank in Vienna one evening, the PHS Stadium Committee was formed to fix the stadium. In 1996 it was renovated along with the addition of artificial turf and an all weather track at a cost of around $1M. My first year as principal in 2003, we were able to pay off the remaining $80,000 thanks to two generous donations of $40,000. Three summers ago Omniturf replaced the Astroturf and our 20 year old scoreboard was replaced thanks to Wesbanco, United Bank, Matheny Motors and Astorg Motors. The Stadium Committee still functions to this day and last summer completed a new concession and restroom building. This summer the all weather track received a new coating.
The present day library was completed in 1972 and the former library became classrooms. The library was renovated as part of the bond issue.
The band and choir moved into a new music building in 1974 from their former homes - the band from under the stadium and the choir from above the west cafeteria. I have many fond memories of the band room under the stadium from my days as a member of the Big Red Band. The music building was renovated as part of the bond project.
In 1979 the heating system was converted from steam heat to hot water and we now have a two pipe system. In the warm months we pipe cold water in the building thus having air conditioning and in the cold months we pipe warm water to heat the building.
All classrooms have been renovated through the bond issue and the construction project finished last year.
The buildings each received a new roof in 1990 and 1991 at a cost of $1M.
The auditorium was restored with the help of the Alumni Association in 1991 as well.
In 1999, all the restrooms were upgraded. The parking lots were paved and a new phone system was installed. Each classroom now has a phone.
A few summers ago the annex underwent some restoration. The project was funded privately and the annex is now dedicated "9-11-01 Mary Lou Hague Memorial Sports and Arts Complex". Mary Lou, a 1992 PHS graduate was a victim in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Thanks to the voters of Wood County, all three high schools have completed a renovation and construction package. Parkersburg High School's share was around $20M in upgrades.
When school opens in August, 2010 the roughly 1,800 students will be scheduled into a nine period day with a curriculum designed to meet the Wood County graduation requirement of 26 credits.
Parkersburg High School was recognized by Sports Illustrated as having the 13th best athletic program in the country! (There are 38,000 high schools in America.) As well, we won the GEISA Award five times in seven years. (The GEISA Award is presented by The Charleston Gazette to the high school that had the most successful athletic program for that school year.)
Our band and choir received superior ratings at competitions in this past school year.
We had two seniors named as National Merit Finalists and the senior class had close to $2M in scholarships awarded.
This past school year, Parkersburg High School was named a West Virginia School of Excellence for the 21st Century Learning. We were named a high school that was a National Pacesetter School by the Southern Regional Education Board. We were one of thirty schools recognized and the only one in West Virginia. The award was based on the scores by a randomly selected group of seniors on the National Assessment of National Progress Test. Our Quiz Bowl team finished second in the nation this past June, losing by only two questions.
PHS has had 29 principals since 1867 although Mr. John Steele served twice. The first time was 1874 to 1876 and then again from 1879 to 1881. The longest tenured principal was Mr. Dwight Conner. He was principal for 19 years. Mr. Ronald Kincaid was next with 16 years. However, I am the first principal to be a graduate of PHS.
Our emphasis at Parkersburg High school is on our Creed. Written in the early 1900's the Creed states:
We believe in the Parkersburg High School; in her traditions and achievements; in her continued growth and service.
In this belief we will endeavor:
All this to the end that we may promote the good life under divine guidance.
As you well know, Parkersburg High School has a long and rich history. To carry on this tradition the Parkersburg High School Foundation endowment Fund was formed in 1988. This Foundation supports a wide variety of projects at PHS. Last year they funded close to $10,000 in classroom projects and academic support for our school.