Sam Houston High School 1920-2022

If I took the time to stand on a busy street corner in Wharton and asked everyone who strolled by where Sam Houston High School was located there would be blank stares back wondering if I was in the right town or of the right mind.

A recent announcement has been made wherein the Wharton ISD campus on North Rusk Street will no longer contain the 1920 three-story plus basement structure. This former high school structure was named Sam Houston High School and is now no longer in use. WISD plans not to upgrade it but demolish it to make space for new junior high classrooms.

Education needs only two things: students and a teacher, but over the years the place wherein students and teachers conduct the learning process is also vital to the process. This takes money acquired via school tax. My current tax bill for WISD is one-half of my total tax bill for property in WISD school district; double of what my property in EBISD is taxed. We, who pay this school tax, want to see this money spent to give our youth an education and means to become successful adults and take their turn at supporting the education of future students.

To quote Ruskin: “Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know. It is a painful, continual and challenging work done by kindness, by watching, by warning, by precept, and by praise, but above all by example.”

Demolition of the 1920 structure can be considered as progress or wasteful. The 1939 WPA gym and the 1956 two-story addition are to remain, as will the building north of the gym. The 1920 structure plus addition that once held the home economics department and hall leading to the 1939 gym are what constitutes known demolition.

Looking at microfilm of Wharton Spectator newspapers I found the WISD board struggled to acquire money to build adequate schools. May 1919, citizens asked to vote for $100,000 school bond to build new school at new site [a loaf of bread was seven cents; quart of milk nine cents]. Only WISD taxpayers could vote. Vote must be handwritten by voter in print or script “For the Bonds and the Tax” or “Against the Bonds and the Tax.” Proof of residency must be presented. Bonds/Tax passed 176-129.

May 1919, graduation ceremony held in Norton Opera House with five graduates – four females, one male. Low number due to Texas did not have mandatory/compulsory school enrollment until 1915; some farm families, either due to distance or need for hands in the fields, did not send their children to school. You could quit at age 14, when most male students did. First grade started age 7 with only 11 grades [12th grade not added until 1944]. With compulsory attendance, future registration could double high school age students making need for more high school classrooms.

Wharton’s population in 1920 was 2,261. The county population in 1910 was 21,133, having 12,234 Anglo – 8,899 Negro [Hispanic in Anglo count]. WISD scholastic census 1918-19 was 270, and in 1919-20 it grew to 347.

Spectator editorial: “Spectator hopes WISD board finds a good site for new school suited for long term with room for expansion and one not in the bed of Old Caney Creek.”

October 1919: WISD awards new school construction contract to J.C. Jopling of Wharton; $5,000 to furnish all labor/materials, supervise construction, and build “elevator” for multi-story construction access. A.H. Shaffer, San Antonio, contract for plumbing/heating $9,000. C.N. Paige and Bros., Austin, architects.

October 17, 1919: County tax rate highest in history with road bond doubling county and state rates. New school rate 50 cents per $100, city 65 cents, and 95 cents roads equalled $3.35 per $100.

WISD was not state accredited in 1920 as not having sufficient curriculum to attain no less than 21.5 credits offered. Plans to add courses and teachers means having money to pay teachers, more desks, sanitary water supply and restrooms. Today’s parents just show up expecting school to provide books, free lunches if qualified, AC/heated classrooms, parking spaces for students’ “rides,” and other amenities not in place in 1920.

For each child who registers to attend WISD the parents must pay $1.50 per month to help cover the $20 per year it costs WISD to teach a child. WISD did not provide all textbooks; parents had to buy high school textbooks for English, history, biology, Spanish plus pay two cents for book covers unless you made your own with brown paper grocery bags. Those books school did provide stayed in the classroom. The school term was only seven months in 1920. If student misses a specific number of classroom days, that student was not allowed to return until the next term.

I shall continue to research and compile data from these early years of WISD’s struggle to become a Class 1A district under the newly organized [1917] UIL that oversaw sports and debate events.

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