Centennial

Published by caressadilthey on Wed, 06/27/2012 - 09:57

15th & Wolfe streets

 

School no longer in operation
Building no longer exists

Thomas Harding, a Little Rock architect, designed Centennial Elementary School in 1894; it was demolished in 1971. The block where the school once stood now is known as Centennial Park; all that remains of the school today is the staircase and archway/front entrance that now stands at the entrance to the park.

 


Centennial Park. Photo: Central High
Neighborhood, Inc., website.

The following "History of Centennial School" was written by James Reed Eison and was found in a file of historical documents in the LRSD Administration Building. It evidently was written to commemorate the close of the school. It is reproduced here exactly as written.

For years children drank water from the cool spring that ran there, and for years local children met and played there. But, in this year of 1893 this was not long to be for at the regular meeting of the school board of the City of Little Rock in the spring of 1893 it was decided that there would be the "erection of a school building on Block 22 Centennial Addition to the City of Little Rock with a view to completion in September 1893." Today the site is bounded by Wolfe, Fifteenth, Battery, and Sixteenth Streets.

Thomas Harding, architect, was chosen and paid $450.00 for his services. Many of Harding's houses still stand in Little Rock and many have the towers of which he was so fond. The contract for the erection of an eight-room building was given to Noah Hamlet for the sum of $12,940,00. The school was not completed in 1893 and it was not ready for occupancy until September 17, 1894. At that time 250 pupils in five rooms with six grades were enrolled. The total enrollment of the city schools at that time was 4,015 both white and colored. The school was so named because of the Centennial Exposition held in St. Louis in 1892.

Many well-known and prominent men were involved with the school's erection. J.R. Rightsell was the school superintendent in 1893. Also in that year Frederick Kramer presided as chairman of the Little Rock School Board. Mr. Kramer served on the board from 1866 to 1894, and from 1870 to 1894 was its chairman meaning he served his community in this capacity longer than any man or woman before or since. Others on the school board at the time were Albert Cohn, R.A. Edgerton, James E. Rector, Daniel G. Fones, James Mitchell, W.T. Wilson, George H. Sanders, Louis Cohen, and Henry L. Fletcher. Professor W.J. Galbraith was Centennial's first principal.

In a 1958 newspaper article a pupil who had attended there in 1895 was interviewed. It was remembered that on May Day of 1895 the girls of the school gave him a bouquet of flowers in a tin container. After the flowers had died, he kept the container to collect gum from the many gum chewers which infested the school. He was to threaten many times to send the tin of discarded gum to the factory to have it made over for his gum chewers. Another well remembered principal was Dr. William Taylor Somervell. He served from 1896 to 1905 and struck fear in many a boy when he threatened, or did "larrup" them. Because he would roll up his sleeves before a larruping and because he wore red flannel underwear the boys would whisper that "the red flag is out" and that someone was in bad trouble. Dr. Somervell would often bring his small son Brehon Burke to school with him and place him on the desk to recite the 23rd Psalm. Brehon in later life became General Brehon Somervell, commanding general of the Army Service Forces in World War II.

And so the years went by and the boys and girls grew to adulthood and moved on. On Thursday, July 22, 1971 a local newspaper reported that with the desegregation plan approved by federal District Judge J. Smith Henley, the school would be subjected to be closed. On Wednesday, September 1, 1971 Judge Henley issued an order allowing the Little Rock School District to close Centennial. The school board then contracted with Henry Hay, Sr. of North Little Rock to tear down the building for the value of the material that could be gotten from it. This work was done at no cost to the District.

Also about this time the city Board of Directors approved a plan to buy the land for a park and suggested that the old school's bell tower be saved as a "focal point and historical marker for the entire park." According to Julius Breckling, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Little Rock, this park will be Little Rock's 22nd in the past 10 years. The cost of restoring the tower, landscaping and buying the land was $80,000. It will be called Centennial Park.

Mrs. Euleta Bowden, the last principal of the school had this to say during an interview, "It was a priviledge to be the last principal of Centennial because over the years it left such a rich heritage not only to the people of Little Rock, but to the State of Arkansas as well."

 

 

Vintage postcard depicting "Centennial Public School."
Photo: LRSD Archives.

 

 

Staff members at Centennial Elementary, 1939. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Dewey.

 


Class photo on the steps of Centennial Elementary, early 1940s. Some of the students are identified on the back of the photo: 1. Delma Manuel; 2. Joe Blaylock; 4. Margaret Chote; 5. Ben Piazza; 13. Bobby Chapman; 21. Harry Gladden; 22. William Schmidt; 24. Jimmy Black; 26. John Bennett. Student Ben Piazza became an actor on Broadway and in movies; he appeared in The Bad News Bears, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Mask, The Blues Brothers, Apocalypse Now and Rocky V. Photo courtesy of Cliff Manuel.

 


 

 

Centennial Elementary Safety Patrol, 1967. Principal Euleta Bowden is shown at the far right, and Safety Patrol sponsor and 6th grade teacher Francis Hembey is at the left. Front--Joey Ward; 2nd row--Sam Holloman, Bobby Campbell, David DeArmand, Robert Hall; 3rd row--Mrs. Hembey, Mike Thompson, Larry Green, Mrs. Bowden; 4th row--Randy McClellan, Mike Farley, Taylor Pinkerton. Photo courtesy of Bobby Campbell.

Sources:
LRSD archives.
Central High Neighborhood, Inc., website; Centennial Elementary page: http://www.lrcentralhigh.org/CHNI.htm
"Old School Days," Arkansas Gazette article written by Jennie M. Garrett, 12 Jan 1958, page 3F.

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Updated October 2010