What is it about old buildings, especially old historic buildings, that pull at our heartstrings when they have to be demolished? Even more, it seems when it’s an old historic school building — it’s like a piece of our own personal history is being removed.
Thinking of an old school building brings to mind the time spent in those buildings, the romances, the heartbreaks, the building up and education of a young person, or possibly the breaking down. It brings to mind all the awards given and the heartbreak of awards not received, or having not been chosen for a sports team; the happy days; the sad days; and the educators who spent their careers dedicating their lives to education in that building.
With the recent demolition of the Yucca Center, aka Yucca Junior High, aka South Junior High, aka Roswell High School, I thought it would be fun to take a brief glimpse back … to the beginnings, when it was built to be the bright and beautiful Roswell High School with a bright future in a rapidly growing town. School terms in those days were five months.
Following is a portion of an article taken from the Roswell Daily Record, dated Sept. 14, 1909, about the beginning of the new school year, at that time, just before the new Roswell High was built.
“The first week of the Roswell Public Schools has been very satisfactory in every way. Notwithstanding the warm weather, the pupils have gone to work as if there had been no vacation. On the first morning, Monday, Sept. 6, the children lined up and marched into the buildings just as orderly as if they had been in school all summer.
“The children have started into school with enthusiasm in the very best of interest. In fact, we state without fear of contradiction that there is not a school system in all New Mexico with a more splendid school spirit in its student body than will be found among the students of the Roswell Public Schools. This is one of the best criterions of the real worth of any system of schools.
“The teachers have entered upon their school duties with the best of enthusiasm and interest. With all of these existing conditions, this coming session, of the schools will be, by far, the most successful in history. The teachers realize that the schools are run in the interest of the children of Roswell; they as true teachers, feel this responsibility and they do not intend to be untrue to this most sacred charge.
“The large increase in the attendance of the school for the first week has far exceeded the expectations of the Board of Education and the superintendent. The Board of Education acted most wisely in building the two temporary school buildings. If this had not been done, the schools would have been completely handicapped for room.
“Every department and room has a much larger attendance than was contemplated. The high school has an enrollment for the first week of 142 pupils, 41 pupils more than that of last year — an increase of over 40 percent in the attendance. This speaks more eloquently than anything else of the high standard and the reputation of the Roswell High School. In fact, more than 75 families have moved to Roswell for the benefit of our schools. There is no other enterprise in the city that is of such great importance. The new high school building is an absolute necessity this coming spring. When this magnificent building has been completed not less than 150 families will move here within 12 months because of the excellent school advantages. We will then have the very best schools in all the West — this is a very broad statement to make, but any interested person can find out by investigating the present school conditions, the facts have not been misstated in any way.
“The high grade of the Roswell High School and its most excellent school spirit and its most inspiring environments are indicated by the fact that at least 95 percent of the graduates attended the state university or some first-class college after finishing at the high school. This record is not found in any high school in all the West and achieved by very few of the high schools in the East.
“The Central School Mothers Club has just secured 18 beautiful pictures for the Central School. This club has already, during the spring, made two beautiful flowerbeds for the Central School. For the short time this club has been in existence, it has accomplished splendid results. This proves that Roswell has the parents behind the schools and the education of their children.
“The hope and salvation of our great nation depend upon our public schools, and we must rally around them all the assistance possible — and what is greater than that of the parents?”
Excerpt from the foreword of the “Coyote” annual from the year 1911:
“We have tried to give a true picture of student life in the high school, and to make it a book unexcelled by the product of similar institutions — one in which the whole school can take pride. While it may be of some interest to the general public, its chief excuse for being is to keep alive in our memories the good times and the hard times, the successes and failures, the light and the shade of our school days, when they shall have changed from the now into the long ago.”
The foreword continues:
“In 1906, the schools became so crowded that it was necessary to use the Pauly for the high school. This arrangement was kept up for four years. As the number of high school pupils increased, it was shown that a new high school building was necessary. Through the constant efforts of Mr. Brasher, this was brought clearly before the minds of the people, and, as a result of this, an election was called in March 1910, after which bonds were issued for the new building. It is a two-story modern building, situated on South Richardson Avenue. It will be ready for the school session of 1911-12, and it is the pride of every high school student’s heart.
“The high school was organized about 1900. The first class to graduate was the class of 1902 and had three members. The largest class ever graduated from Roswell High School was the class of 1910, which had 20 members. The class of 1911 will have 20, if not more, members. Two courses of study were followed in the high school, the classical course and the scientific course.
“Through the efficient management of the faculties for each year the standard of the school has been raised higher and higher until now we rank as the largest and best High School in New Mexico. We are now striving for, and hope in the near future, to become the best High School in the Southwest.”
During the recent tearing down of the old Roswell High School, a mural was discovered between the walls of the building and photographed by Donna Cadena (see picture). The photograph is a mystery. Could it have been an advertisement for a play at the school? Maybe it was an advertisement for a local business? Does anyone know? It is a picture of intrigue, to say the least. Thanks to Donna Cadena for making this discovery and for sharing her photos and to Jim Parkhill for calling our attention to it.
Though the building no longer stands, history was made on those grounds. Perhaps on a quiet day, someone might walk along where it once stood, and hear the faint ringing of the school bell, cheering of a crowd, or the footsteps walking up a hall …
Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at email@example.com.