|School a History Lesson in Itself:
As Final Year Winds Down, Bell Tolls for Central-Hower,
Which Knew Akron As a Kid
Posted on: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 18:00 CDT
By Paula Schleis, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
May 24--Akron isn't losing just any high school when Central-Hower closes next month.
The city will bid farewell to its first high school -- an institution with a history and
tradition reaching back to 1886.
Akron was a sleepy town then, past the heyday of the canal, still awaiting its destiny as
Rubber Capital of the World.
There was a single grammar school at Mill, Prospect and Summit streets, in a house that
had been renovated and expanded to its limits, when the town decided it was time to
build a separate high school.
The brick and stone Romanesque-style structure (erected on Forge Street where the
current Central-Hower stands) was the largest building in the city when it opened on
Sept. 6, 1886.
It cost $100,000 and featured a 160-foot clock tower with illuminated dials and a
one-ton bell that signaled the hour.
The opening of Akron High School was trumpeted by the Akron Daily Beacon with an
article that began, "Long live Akron's new High School!"
Teenagers from throughout the city arrived for class by train, bicycle and horse.
A picture of Akron High School's first graduating class the following spring shows 23
carefully coiffed students -- young women in dark, ankle-length dresses with tight
bodices buttoned up to their necks, young men in dark vests and double-breasted suits.
In 1891, Thomas Edison (whose father-in-law, Lewis Miller, was the school board
president) gave students a demonstration of his phonograph.
The school's long sports tradition began in 1892, when a handful of boys organized the
first football team. Before long,
they were winning state championships. Later they added baseball, and in 1915 they sent
graduate George Sisler off to a career that landed him in the National Baseball Hall of
In 1911, Akron's industrial era was in full swing, and South High School was opened to
handle the new population growth.
Akron High School was renamed Central High School.
The school was a microcosm of America as the next three decades sailed by. Skirts got
shorter, hairstyles slicker, jazz louder.
In the 1920s, extracurricular activities flourished. The band placed in state competition.
The school newspaper The Forge was founded.
Then in 1927, on the other side of downtown, a different kind of school was being
launched. Blanche Hower, widow of industrialist M. Otis Hower, helped establish a
place where young men could learn a trade. The first two classes were auto
mechanics and woodworking.
When the Great Depression ended many students' plans for college, the trade
school boomed, offering hope for a job after graduation. Sheet metal, printing,
plumbing and drafting were added, followed by auto collision repair, commercial
art, and aviation carpentry and welding.
The program, which was sharing an elementary school building at West Exchange
and South Bowery streets, eventually pushed the younger set out. Perkins
Elementary School was renamed Hower Vocational High School (in honor of Mrs.
Hower's late husband).
In 1941, the vo-ed became coed, adding classes in costume design, sewing, retail
selling and cosmetology.
By this time, the aging Central building had undergone many structural changes. The
angled roofs and peaked gables were flattened. A three-story wing and auditorium were
added. The clock tower was taken down after fleas from resident pigeons invaded
Central was also making headlines for its outspoken student body.
In the '30s, they revolted when students were expelled after a class-cutting basketball
victory celebration. In '46, they went on a one-week strike to protest cafeteria price
increases. In '67, they marched because no black students were on the homecoming
Then, in the spring of 1970, Central and Hower high schools hosted their last
independent graduations. That fall, the student bodies merged, and the name
Central-Hower High School was adopted.
The district decided a new building should go with the new school. While students took
classes at the old Hower building, demolition crews brought the old Central building
down, saving only the auditorium that was added in 1924.
When the bell rang in the fall of 1975, students returned to 123 Forge St. in a modern,
utilitarian structure. Remember the $100,000 price tag of the original school? It cost $7
million to replace it.
Two years later, Central-Hower's basketball program produced Nate Thurmond, later
named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players.
As students settled into their new home, the old Hower school became an albatross. An
auction for the building was unsuccessful, so on July 10, 1978, the wrecking ball moved
Over the past three decades, the city's most urban school also became the district's most
culturally diverse, a melting pot of foreign-born students, Akron natives and out-of-town
In 1993, the school was named a math and applied science magnet school. But hopes
that Central-Hower's location next to the University of Akron campus would lead to
unique partnerships were never fulfilled.
Central-Hower's location did, however, tempt school officials into considering selling the
property to the ever-expanding university in the mid-'90s. Arguably, opposition by
students and alumni contributed to those talks' going nowhere.
But the last fight Central-Hower loyalists faced, they lost.
Despite rallies, protests and loud community meetings last year, the school board has
stuck by its plans to close the school in response to declining districtwide enrollment.
The building will continue to serve Akron students for a few more years, becoming swing
space for seven other high schools that are being renovated as part of an $800 million
capital improvement program.
But as of June 8, Central-Hower's mascot eagle will cease to fly.
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright (c) 2006, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
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