LOOKING BACK: Franklin High School opens 1923-24 session

Published 6:07 pm Monday, September 11, 2023

Franklin High School was preparing for its 1923-1924 session during the week beginning Sept. 10 1923,. Faculty and pupils had the pleasure of entering their splendid new building; construction was started in 1922 and completed just prior to the 1923 graduation ceremonies. 

The building occupied a commanding position on Clay Street — on the old Franklin Female Seminary lot. 

According to a Tidewater News reporter of the time, the new school was as thoroughly modern and complete in its appointments as any similar institution in the State of Virginia. The building was unusually pleasing in its architectural design – a handsome structure of Hytex rough texture brick, with four massive stone columns in front with stone copings and trimmings. It was 116 feet in length and 129 feet deep from the front of the building to the rear of the auditorium. 

There were ten 40-pupil classrooms, two each on the first and second floors and six on the third floor. The two on the first floor (basement level) were fitted-up especially for laboratory use with sinks, etc.; and, all classrooms were abundantly lighted and ventilated with Truscon steel sash, each room had 120 15” x 18” windowpanes. Each room had a teacher’s closet and at least 50 running feet of slate blackboard. 

There were two cloakrooms with lavatories, one for boys and one for girls, at opposite ends of the building, each were 18 X 22 ½ feet with double-acting doors. The toilets, located in the basement, were of the most modern type and were equipped with shower baths. The classrooms were of twelve-foot pitch and finished in native pine, hard oil finish. The principal’s office was on the second floor near the entrance to the building; a similar room, on the opposite side of the main hall, was used as a library which was fitted with handsome steel shelving, a gift of the Woman’s Club of Franklin. 

Nothing was overlooked as to safety from fire or panic. Each outside door opened outward and could not be locked to prevent it from being opened from the inside. In addition, all doors were equipped with panic bolts so that a child could open any door with one hand or even by the weight of his or her body thrown against the door. Red exit lights were placed above every door both in the school building proper and the auditorium; and, in case of fire, 75-foot water hoses were connected to a standpipe on each floor. 

The auditorium, on the first floor, was a beautiful room, seating 750 people; and had a stage 20 x 35 feet with a dressing room on each side, both were fitted with lavatories. The auditorium had a sloping floor giving an unobstructed view of the stage from any seat in the house; the acoustic properties were unusually fine. The heating plant, an American steam system, consisted of two units, one boiler being ample to heat all classrooms, with a larger boiler to take care of the entire building – including the auditorium. The ventilator system ran from the basement to the roof. 

A broad concrete walkway led to the front of the building with walks running to the side entrances to the classrooms, to the side entrances of the auditorium, and to the rear doors of the two dressing rooms flanking the stage. 

The new Franklin High School was built from the proceeds derived from a $50,000 bond issue authorized by the citizens of the Town of Franklin and the Southampton County School Board. 

Much of the construction was done by Franklin businesses. E. C. Smith was the general contractor; J. A. Fowler was the construction superintendent; W. T. Pace installed the plumbing and hardware; C. Ryland Rose did the electrical work; and G. M. Whitley was the painting contractor.

The Franklin High School, built in 1922, existed until 1967 at which time a new Franklin High School was opened on Crescent Drive. The old building was then converted and used as an elementary school until 1978. It stood dormant for many years. In 1988, although still structurally sound, it was demolished to make way for Clay Court Apartments.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net.