One of my favorite photos is the accompanying one showing the old Shinnston High School building during its construction. It’s a rare photograph in the sense that the photographer’s name is noted on the image. A lot of early Shinnston area photography was performed by Shinnston‘s jeweler Muta Swiger. This particular image was taken by Henry W. Null and signed near the left bottom of the photo. In the early 1910’s, Shinnston had three photographers, each with an office off of Walnut Street. Null’s office was located in the Board of Trade room of the Shinnston Opera House on lower Walnut Street.
Up until the early 1900’s, it was common to stop formal education at the 8th grade level. The Shinnston Public School located on Mahlon Street had been constructed with six original rooms in 1895, but through the persistence of the late Charles L. Watkins (1861-1963), the grade school building had three additional rooms built onto it during the summer of 1907 in order to accommodate those seeking further education past the eighth grade. This essentially was the formation of Clay District High School due to the Clay District Board of Education providing the resources; however the Mahlon Street building became known as the ‘Shinnston Public and High School’. Eighteen students enrolled in classes for use in the new high school level rooms during the 1907 year, followed by an enrollment of thirty in 1908.
I have a program from the first graduation ceremony in 1910 and it states that three graduates received high school diplomas in a ceremony held at the Shinnston Baptist Church on Rebecca Street. This would have been the old wooden structure which preceded the current yellow brick building. I also have a program from the second graduation ceremony and it shows that four graduates received diplomas in 1911 during commencement exercises held at the Shinnston Opera House, which was located on the southeast corner of Walnut Street and Davis Court. [That building, razed in the late 1990’s, later became Rex Theatre and later a skating rink]. Annual enrollment for the grade school as well as high school classes continued to increase, which quickly created crowded classrooms in an already expanded structure. The solution: a building dedicated solely for a new high school. A suitable site was to be on the hill at the north end of town, overlooking the city.
As you can see in the image, a road was not yet cut out for access to the school. The cornerstone for the building was laid on August 23, 1913 by the Masonic Lodge. Frank Packard was the architect and Charles Short was the awarded contractor. The new school building was supposed to be completed during the 1914-1915 school year, but the Class of 1915 graduated with disappointment in not being able to complete their courses there. The Clay District Board of Education lacked funds to complete the high school complex as originally planned. The initial plans for the building called for a separate structure to house the gym, which would be adjacent to the high school, but Mr. Packard placed the gym beneath the auditorium in an effort to stay within the funds allotted for the building. In doing this, the gym ceiling was very low and the floor space was both short and narrow. This proved to supply the brick walls with much skin, blood, and hair during basketball season. Backcourt shots were near impossible!
Once the district board of education accepted the high school as satisfactory from contractor Short, Clay District High School officially opened its doors to students on Monday, September 13th, 1916, then a formal opening on Tuesday, November 23rd. Although there were already other high school buildings in Harrison County, this building was the first District High School. It maintained the C.D.H.S name until 1933 when an Act of the Legislature of West Virginia abolished district and independent Boards of Education, officially changing the name to Shinnston High School. The building was used as a high school until the fall of 1978 when its students joined the Lumberport High School students in the newly consolidated Lincoln High School, which is still in use today. It was used as a middle school and later an intermediate school before being purchased by Glenn & JoAnn Rife who turned it into Rife’s Medical Arts Building. The ‘old school on the hill’ has now been vacant for many years.
And that is the story behind the photo!