I came across this wonderful example of a prewar high school building several years ago; it wasn’t until recently that I managed to locate the owners and gain access inside. Several times I had tried to learn the identity of the owners through online searches and a visit to city hall, but had no luck. Finally I decided to stop and talk to the locals in town, and eventually one person lead me to another who lead me to another until I found someone who knew the answer to my quest. I was given all the information I needed and kindly informed that similar requests had been made before but not granted.
After leaving my business card with a member of the owner’s family and playing short game of phone tag with the owner, I found myself on the in. The owner liked the work he saw on my website and agreed to let me inside under the condition that I do not reveal the location of the building and kindly share with the owner some copies of the photos; as he is planning to renovate the building soon and would love to have a documentation of what it was like prior to renovation.
Conditions were fair enough for me. I would have given him copies anyway, as it is only a fair exchange for his generosity.
Plans were made to meet outside a week later and the owners gave me a lovely tour of the building prior to my photo shoot.
The high school was a large building constructed in 1922 and originally served only the local town population until eventually it served as the main high school for the entire county until it closed its doors in the mid 1970’s. At that time the high school students were relocated to the newer high school building, built to accommodate the growing population, and the original high school building was converted into a middle school for the next 15 years. The building has been empty since maybe 1989 and the gymnasium, built in the back in 1952, was used until the mid 1990’s.
In the school’s early years a small open room in the school’s basement served as the only space sanctioned in the surrounding Baptist County for social dances. It was hard to believe that this room was meant for social parties when it was so dingy and dark. There were no windows to this room, only a large door leading to the back. This same door was also one of my only two ways out of the building should I need to leave or escape.
When we first entered the building the owner wanted me to wait by the back door so he could check ahead for squatters. Apparently he and his girlfriend noticed a broken window the previous day and were not sure how long ago it had been broken. When they bought the school a year ago there was an issue of squatters and they wanted to check the area thoroughly before leaving me alone inside. I could appreciate that!
The first floor was where the science rooms existed. There were lecture rooms that reminded me of modern college stadium style classrooms, but much smaller in scale; pipes and electrical outlets that would have been connected to chemistry tables. There was also a dark room with attached art room. The art room still had an easel and one of the doors had old set of earphones hanging on the knob.
In the front and center area of the building existed the main stairway from the front entrance leading up to the second level. Walking up these stairs I could see the grind of thousands of previous footsteps on the edge of stone steps. The students were no longer around, but they left their mark.
It was on the second level I found the principal’s office, library and study hall room and, most excitingly, the lower access into the school theatre. The theatre was my favorite room. I found myself walking back to it several times. There were a few rows of seats that dated back to the original 1922 seating and the rest were from the 1960’s. Some of the seats were missing, a couple of doors rested in the aisles and the light fixtures were damaged from previous destructive trespassers. A set of eerie gray curtains still hung as the stage backdrop and plenty of lovely light came in from the large windows. The theatre took up two floors, most of the back center of the building and was complete with loft seating from the third floor.
The third floor was filled with simple classrooms with some old school chairs and the access into the theatre loft seating. I found plenty of graffiti left on the chalkboards from previous students. I think the owners were going to find a way to preserve those. The chalkboards were in great shape and it was amusing to read some of the written comments from former students.
Surprisingly the damage found inside the school was minimal. There was some roof leakage in the front. The leak made the walls and floor weak, visible on both the third and second floor. In the back corner of the theatre room was another leak. Both the leaks were fixed by the current owner to prevent the damage from getting worse and areas affected will eventually be repaired. Beside the two small sections to be avoided for safety reasons I had no problems or limited access with the rest of the building.
I spent about 4-5 hours inside; taking my time and returning to several interesting spots as the natural lighting outside changed. There was one point during my day when I stopped everything and sat in the doorway of one brightly painted room just to gaze down the empty hall; taking some time to reflect in my sketchbook on where I was and what I was finding. With the exception of the pigeons and muffled sounds from the outside world, it was rather quiet inside. I felt alone in my own little world and wanted to enjoy that moment before it was time to leave. I like to think that buildings like these have their own souls and will connect with a person, such as myself, in the same way that I often feel connected with them.