Eternally Forgotten Atlanta Public Schools – Pt 1. Elementary Schools

Scenes at the Walker Street School 1915 article

In the 148 years of the Atlanta Public School system (established in 1869 by the Atlanta City Council), plenty of schools has come and gone. Many have been all but wiped from history books of Atlanta’s early years. With the population growth booming in the city of Atlanta, more and more communities realized that new schools must be erected in to accommodate the city’s ever-growing populace. As the city grew, so did the list of grammar and high schools; however, Atlanta Public Schools would also experience the shuttering of doors in the 21st century due to a decline in enrollment of Atlanta Public Schools. Most of the decline can be attributed to white flight, and the economic downfall stemming from white flight. For the purpose of this blog post, I have conducted extensive research on forgotten APS schools, however, since the list is rather sizable, I’ve only provided detailed information on the first 6 schools erected. For a complete list of  forgotten Atlanta Public Schools, please click here: Historical List of APS Schools

Prior to the establishment of public schools, Atlanta (then Marthasville) erected one private school in 1845, a private school located near the Dunnings foundry and the Georiga railroad. Mant Atlantan’s at the time did not hold public schools in high esteem. Feeling that they were too common and lacked the proper educational facilities, private schools were deemed better. That mindset would change and reappear over the years, as Atlantan’s came to love and hate the Atlanta Public School System. The first free school for Atlanta’s white children was called the Holland Free school, opened in 1853. The Holland school was located in the downtown area of Atlanta, between Garnett and Forsyth streets. Built strictly for poor students, parents had to sign an affidavit proving their need for free schooling and lack of resources to pay tuition. As the community grew more favorable of public schools, the Atlanta City Council, spearheaded by Dr. D.C. O”Keefe, voted to create the Atlanta Public School system.

The city of Atlanta scheduled the opening day of the Atlanta Public School System for Tuesday, January 30, 1872, with inaugural opening beginning with the first erected school, Ivy Street School. The Atlanta Public School system, in accordance with the Atlanta City Council,  would go to establish three grammar schools and two high schools in 1872. These schools were free and open to only the city’s white residents. The Freedman’s Bureau opened two schools for African-American student’s in 1866. Thereby bringing the total of educational facilities in Atlanta, to seven.  For the purpose of this research project, I will post a series of blog posts about the first APS schools, beginning with Elementary schools.

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Crew Street Grammar School – (Feb. 14, 1872 – Oct. 1957):

Crew Street grammar school opened in 1872, which also happened to be the end of Reconstruction in Georgia. The original structure was located at 97 Crew Street between Washington Street and Capital Avenue, it was the first of the three schools to be built.  Upon opening its doors, Crew Street elementary had 429 students enrolled on the first day. Out of the area’s 2000 students, having 429 students enrolled made Crew Street overcrowded from day one.  The first Crew Street school was built of wood, for around $2,500, which would amount to about $48,118.92 in 2017 costs.  Little did the students of Crew Street School know, the school itself would ultimately occupy several different buildings. In February of  1885, the original Crew Street school building burned to the ground. Unfortunately, the building could not be salvaged, however, thanks to the building being insured the old wooden structure was replaced by another wooden structure worth about  $131, 391 in today’s dollars.

In 1907, a series of articles published by The Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Georgian featured horror stories about the unsanitary and unsafe conditions of Atlanta’s first public schools. By 1910, more professionals stepped up to denounce the unsanitary conditions of the local schools; plumbers condemned almost every school erected. Though all of the schools for African-American students were condemned as unsanitary, poorly ventilated and lacking modern plumbing.  After much uproar,  the Board of Education agreed to allocate funding for a newer, more sanitary and state of the art building for the first Atlanta school buildings. Additionally, the board agreed to build more schools to resolve the overcrowding issues in the city.

Crew Street School- Original Architecture
Original 1872 wooden structure of Crew Street grammar school. As featured in 1907 The Atlanta Georgian news article.

By 1911, newly constructed Crew Street school was scheduled to reopen. The new school structure would be erected in the same area as the old Crew Street structure. According to a 1912 Atlanta Constitution article,  the original Crew Street School structure was the oldest in the city. The original school bell would be repurposed in the new structure as the student preferred the old school bell to the new “rapid fire” school gong. The old Crew Street building would serve as a temporary home to the new Commerical High School, until it’s new facilities were completed.

By 1957, the old Crew Street school would be demolished to make way for the new highway system. At this time, the 85-year-old school was still operating functionally but would be one of the nearly 500 buildings to be demolished in favor of the new I-20 expressway. Would Crew Street school be in operation today if it weren’t for the highway construction? It’s hard to tell, but it would have been nice to retain its original structure.

Below, you will see a current view of Crew Street. Capital Avenue is no longer in existence, it was renamed as Hank Aaron Drive (black arrow). Washington Street is to the far right (red arrow), while Crew Street is located right in between both streets.  The highway is located further to the left, off the site of the picture below.

Current View of Crew St.

Ivy Street School – (Jan. 31, 1872 – 1961?):

The second school to be erected in 1872 was the Ivy Street school which opened January 31, 1872, one month before the Crew Street School which opened February 14, 1872. Upon the officially opening of its door, Ivy Street grammar school boasted a robust 479 pupils. Located at 195 Ivy Street (in 1923), the Ivy Street grammar school inaugural exercises were held Janaruay 30, 1872. The picture below was taken from an 1886 Sanborn Fire Map. In 1886 the address for the Ivy Street school was possibly 173 Ivy Street; note the large gardens in the back of the school.

Ivy Street School - 1886 Sanborn Map

In 1905, the city of Atlanta began to reassign students to new school zones in hopes 0f evening out attendance and reduce the overcrowding issues. The new school district is described below:

Ivy Street School - Redistricting 1905
1905 Atlanta Constitution article.

Information regarding the future location of the Ivy Street school seemed to be nonexistent. Though it appears that Ivy Street grammar school changed its name and grade level toward the beginning of the twenty-first century, now listed as Marist College from 1901 – 1961. Due to the rapid expansion of the city of Atlanta, Marist was forced to relocate to the Ashford-Dunwoody area in 1961. Here it would be renamed as Marist School, functioning as a Catholic based military school for boys until 1976. Due to low enrollment in military courses, Marist School switched its curriculum and became what we know of today; a co-ed, Catholic, private college preparatory school.

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Walker Street School (Feb. 21, 1872 –  Jan. 1983):

Note: Walker Street is now Centennial Olympic Drive (from North Avenue south to around Mitchell Street)

Walker Street School was the third of the first wooden grammar schools to be included in the newly formed Atlanta Public School system. Walker street opened its doors one week following the opening of Crew Street School. Built to accommodate 400 students (similarly to Crew and Ivy Street schools), Walker Street was also deemed overcrowded upon opening its doors. Walker Street school comprised of students in the Fourth and Sixth wards of the city and was originally located at the intersection of Walker, Haynes and Nelson streets. Its first principal was Professor W.R.  Rockwell, and until 1896 Walker Street School was the largest public school in Atlanta (it would later lose its crown to Fraser Street school in 1896). At the time, the Walker School cost the city of Atlanta a little over $10,000 to build; which would total $192,476 in today’s figures. Quite possibly a steep price tag for a city still recovering from the effect of the Civil War.

Walker_Street_School 1885
Atlanta History Center Digitial Collection. 1882 2nd Grade Class Picture at Walker Street School

Walker Street School would go on to have a very interesting history. In a 1909 article written in the Atlanta Constitution, some 37 years after it’s grand opening, the Walker Street School was listed as one of Atlanta’s oldest schools. The article goes on to mention that the fate of the old wooden structure was unclear due to a new political and financial changes to the city of Atlanta. In 1895 new additions were added to the original wooden structure to accommodate the rising enrollment of nearby students. Contracts decided not to destroy the original building as it would ruin its historical integrity.  Local citizens rallied in support of repairing the school, while some argued that it should be moved a bigger lot. In 1911, it appears the local citizens finally got their wish as the grand announcement of the new Walker Street School was announce in March of 1911, during a grand Masonic celebration. Many former students were attendance and displeased to learn that the original Walker Street School would be destroyed. Flash forward to 1916, the Walker Street School remained as a grammar school, receiving high marks from visiting superintendents.

Scenes at the Walker Street School 1915 articleWalker Street School Picture 1909 article

However, by 1923 the school’s student body had drastically changed. In a 1923 Atlanta Constitution article, Walker Street School was not listed among the 29 Kindergarten schools operating in the city.  Perhaps it had been abandoned at this point, which is plausible considering a 1924 article mentions that Walker Street School would be converted into a school administrative building.  After Atlanta Public Schools became integrated, and more schools were needed to accommodate the growing number of African-American students enrolled in APS schools, the Walker Street School was converted into an elementary school for African-American students. At the ripe old age of 61 years of age, one can only imagine how poorly maintained the school had become.

Walker Street School’s glory days were long over by the 1960’s, as many of Atlanta Public Schools were described as falling apart, depressing, and in ill-repair. By 1972, the school board voted 5-3 to close Walker Street School, as well as two others (West Haven and Haygood).  After shutting its doors as an elementary school, the Walker Street School would operate as the Downtown Learning Center, an alternative school for high school students (165 Walker Street) from 1973 – 1980. Many alumni of Walker Street School hoped for a restoration and repurposing of the old building perhaps as art studios, apartments or lofts. Unfortunately, restoration of Walker Street School would never come to fruition, as a large fire gutted the building in 1983. Prior to the fire, the school had been abandoned by the school system. After the fire, many deemed it unworthy of saving, and the old building was demolished. An unfortunate ending to a school rich with Atlanta history.


 

Sources: 

  1. http://www.atlantapublicschools.us/Page/25263
  2. Atlanta Public School History.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Jan 29, 1922. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/498567654?accountid=11226.
  3. Frank, Daniel. “Pioneer Crew St. School to Yield to Expressway.” The Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution (1950-1968), Sep 01, 1957, Sunday ed. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/1635832889?accountid=11226.
  4. Mallon, B. “ATLANTA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS.” The Atlanta Constitution (1869-1875), Oct 14, 1873. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/494523467?accountid=11226.
  5. “CITY SCHOOL DISTRICTS CHANGED BY THE BOARD.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Jun 23, 1905. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/495996682?accountid=11226.
  6. “CREW STREET SCHOOL OPONED CENTRY AGO.” Atlanta Daily World (1932-2003), Feb 13, 1972. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/491375666?accountid=11226.
  7. “LARGE CROWD ATTENDS THE EXERCISES AT WALKER ST. SCHOOL CORNER LAYING.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Mar 26, 1911, http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/496486849?accountid=11226 (accessed May 8, 2017).
  8. “WILL BUILD AN ADDITION.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Feb 03, 1896. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/495332798?accountid=11226.
  9. “SITE SELECTED FOR NEWSCHOOL.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Nov 29, 1904. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/495886852?accountid=11226.
  10. Coleman, George M. “Closing of Cooper and Walker Street Schools Evoke Memory.” Atlanta Daily World (1932-2003), Jul 20, 1972. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/491381633?accountid=11226.
  11. “Picture of Original Century-Old Walker Street School Sought.” The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984), Feb 22, 1972. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/1557649129?accountid=11226.
  12. “WILL RECOMMEND SCHOOL CHANGES.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Sep 07, 1924. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/499221638?accountid=11226.
  13. Potter, Pat. “Old Schools: A ‘Rathole’ for Money?” The Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution (1950-1968), Jul 08, 1962, Sunday ed. http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/1635650687?

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