Davenport High School: Making room for the Freshmen

By 1900, education was changing in Davenport, Iowa. The idea of continuing education past the 8th grade was becoming more accessible as stable work opportunities for adults meant their children did not need to leave school as early to help support the family.

As attendance rose in Davenport High School a new problem soon emerged – overcrowding in the classrooms. Some classes so crowded, according to teachers, that any additional students would have to stand in the back to learn as no more space existed for additional desks.

The three-story high school building dedicated in 1875 had simply become too crowded. The Davenport Community School District needed to find a solution quickly.

Davenport High School in 1887. Located at 7th Street and Rock Island Street (now Pershing Street). First Album of the City of Davenport. SC Oversize 917.7769 Huebi.

The school board quickly set their eyes on a property that ran from 11th – 12th Streets and Main to Harrison Streets. It seemed a perfect solution. The property was a block long and was once Iowa College (now Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa) and then Griswold College (please click here to learn more about the history of the property).

The site housed three buildings. Griswold College building, also called Wolfe Hall, was built in 1856. The three story structure plus basement had housed a men’s dormitory on the top floor, classrooms, library, dining hall, and recitation halls on the first two floors during its college days.

A collage of Griswold College photos and other properties owned by the Protectant Episcopalian Diocese of Iowa in 1887. First Album of the City of Davenport. SC Oversize 917.7769 Huebi.

Kemper Hall on the property had been a boys preparatory school for many years. Not as large as Wolfe Hall, it was still an impressive building that could be used by the school board. A third smaller residence was located near the other two buildings.

A deal was struck to purchase the land and buildings for $53,000. A vote was put to the public in March 1900 and passed. A new high school was planned with construction estimated to start in 1904 after finances and building plans were gathered and approved.

What to do until then? A temporary solution was quickly found. The freshman class of Davenport High School would be moved into Wolfe Hall. Kemper Hall and the small residence would be rented out for income for the school district. Once the decision was made to move the freshmen, things began to move quickly.

A close up view of Wolfe Hall from the collage above. First Album of the City of Davenport. SC Oversize 917.7769 Huebi.

Bathrooms needed to be installed in the basement, electricity updated, and spaces adapted into classrooms with desks and blackboards. The school board was able to make changes and additions for a little over $1,000.

Finally, the building was ready. The first semester of the 1900-1901 school year ended on January 25, 1901. On January 28, 1901, the first day of the second semester, the freshmen classes of Davenport High School reported to their new building. Classes in Algebra, Latin, English, History, and Botany were part of the freshmen curriculum.

As for the sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the high school; we are sure they breathed a sigh of relief as there was no longer the fear of having to stand in the classrooms due to overcrowding.

This solution lasted until the spring of 1904 when the freshmen were moved to an empty school on Eight Street. It was time for the new high school construction to begin. One of the first things that needed to be done was to demolish Wolfe Hall as it stood directly where the new high school was to be built.

The structure had served its purpose. Educating Davenport and Scott County youth in various ways for 48 years. In its place still stands Davenport High School, now known as Central High School, that replaced it. The building still proudly serving the Davenport community for 114 years.

SOURCES

  • First Album of the City of Davenport. SC Oversize 917.7769 Huebi.
  • The Morning Democrat, July 23, 1886. Pg. 3.
  • The Davenport Sunday Democrat, May 30, 1886. Pg. 4.
  • The Davenport Weekly Republican, February 17, 1900. Pg. 5.
  • The Davenport Sunday Democrat, March 11, 1900. Pg. 5.
  • The Davenport Democrat, May 23, 1900. Pg. 5.
  • The Davenport Democrat, October 9, 1900. Pg. 5.
  • The Daily Times, January 7, 1901. Pg. 3.
  • The Davenport Democrat, January 11, 1901. Pg. 4.
  • The Davenport Morning Star, January 26, 1901. Pg. 8.
  • The Davenport Sunday Democrat, January 27, 1901. Pg. 5.
  • The Daily Times, August 26, 1901. Pg. 6.
  • The Daily Times, August 26, 1904. Pg. 6.

(posted by Amy D.)

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