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Washington Avenue Elementary is 100 years old; Writer recalls fond memories of Roswell’s oldest elementary school

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The first Washington Avenue Elementary School, which opened 100 years ago in 1917. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

There is one block in a neighborhood in Roswell that has been hearing the sounds of school bells and the squeals and voices of children on the playground for 100 years.

How many children have gotten their early start of reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic from Washington Avenue School here in Roswell? How many teary mothers have taken their babies to school for the first time, to be separated from them, to start their journey of independence?

I was one of those mothers three separate times. All three of my children went through school there and we loved it.

How many principals have served at Washington Avenue? How many new teachers? How many lessons have been taught and learned?

It has been this way for 100 years now and will hopefully be the same for countless more. When Washington Avenue was first built, there was only one house west of the school building. When the original school was being built, America had been struck with a flu epidemic that took many lives, both locally and across the country. We were also in the throes of World War I.

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One article I came across in the Roswell Daily Record, dated in February 1918, reads:

The new building is located in the 400 block on North Washington Avenue. The public is invited to attend a dedication service next Sunday afternoon. The program will begin at 3 o’clock and will be as follows: 1. Music America- directed by Miss Emma Pierson. 2. Invocation — Reverend Duncan 3. Presentation of the building to the city Mr. Claude Hobbs of the board of education. 4. Acceptance of the building for the Washington Avenue subdistrict — Mrs. WA Wilson, President of the Parent Teachers Association. 5. Acceptance of the building for the city — Mr. John H Mullis — Mayor of the City of Roswell. 6. Music — The Star Spangled Banner directed by Miss Emma Peirson 7. Benediction — Reverend Duncan.

Washington Avenue Elementary is the longest standing grade school in it’s exact location of all the elementary schools in Roswell.

As you can see in the photos, more than one building has been built in this location. The current building with subsequent renovations was built in about 1950.

I will share one story that I feel sure is among countless stories to come out of Washington Avenue Elementary. This is a story about our oldest son, Trevor, who is now deceased, but his stories still make us smile. He and a friend, Rusty Wyles, had gotten into some kind of trouble on the schoolyard at Washington Avenue and were both sent to the principal’s office. The principal at that time was Bill Rapp, a very beloved and long time principal of Washington Avenue. They had just come in to his office and been told to sit down and were starting to get a lecture when the secretary tapped on the door and told Rapp that he was needed immediately somewhere else in the building. He told the boys to stay there and he would be back and finish with them shortly. Well it seems Rapp was gone a little longer than he had expected. The boys were sitting and waiting and quietly talking about what their punishment might be. They spotted the paddle on the principal’s desk came up with a plan.

The ceiling in his office had been lowered, with the large fake ceiling tiles. Fearing the fate, that they might soon be facing, they came up with a plan. One of them quickly grabbed the paddle, and while the other stood guard watching, climbed on the corner of the principal’s desk and tucked the paddle safely away on top of the ceiling tile. They both quickly got back in their chairs as they were.

Rapp returned only to tell them that he better not see them in his office again for the same foolishness and dismissed them to go back to their classrooms. We wonder to this day, if Rapp’s paddle is still in the ceiling in the principal’s office.

We didn’t hear this story until about 15 years after the occurrence, of course.

How many more countless stories are out there about dear old Washington Avenue School, and the characters that were built there?

Happy 100-year anniversary, Washington Avenue Elementary!

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at jdunna@hotmail.com.