No, that's not the name of a DooWop group, that's how many high schools there have been in Belleville. Our own high school was not the first, not even the second. Our high school building was the third. To find the first, we must reach all the way back to 1896.
Prior to 1896, high school was a noble concept that existed in only a few places. In those days, you went to grammar school through sixth grade. That was considered a complete elementary education. After sixth grade it was .. Hey boy, what's a matter you, go get a job ! And the young ladies ? .. perhaps Big Joe Turner's song says it best, "Get in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots and pans".
For those with higher educational expectations, after grammar school, there was prep school to bridge the gap between elementary school and college. Trouble was, prep schools were private schools, expensive and available only to well-to-do families. The addition of 7th and 8th grades helped to bridge the gap in the public school system and cut down on the time needed in prep school. Still, public schools did not make you ready for college until the addition of the public high school program. At first, in Belleville, high school was a two-year program, but it was not long before the full four-year curriculum was in place and you could be "prepped" for college, trade school or the military in our public school system.
The "Academy", built in 1853, was Belleville's first public school. Later, it was enlarged and re-named School 1. The old, original Academy, now behind and dwarfed by School 1, became our first high school.
Lacking anything remotely resembling modern amenities, it was a challenge to study there, but Belleville's scholars were a hardy lot and they made do.
The situation improved, but only a little, when the high school program was relocated in 1903 to the newer School 3 built in 1897. Many old photos and period postcards designate School 3 as "Belleville High School". Well, .. that was partly true. School 3 was a multi-purpose school. It housed a complete elementary school system, including grades 7 and 8. The high school program occupied the third floor, so to that extent, School 3 was the high school and remained so until 1915.
1915 was a banner year for the high school program. It was then that the Washington Avenue building, our high school, was completed. It was the first building used exclusively by the rapidly growing high school program. In that sense, our school was the first high school; that is, the first building dedicated to only the high school program.
The original building was designed by famed Belleville architect Charles Granville Jones. It was a royal beauty. Several photos of the original building still exist. There were three additions to the school. No photos of the intermediate stages have surfaced so far. The final addition completed in 1937, including the gymnasium, is the way we see the building today. The Washington Avenue school, School 6 according to the town numbering system, served the community for 50 years as a high school and serves the community still as a middle school. It is well cared for, looks really spiffy with all new windows and is now surrounded with Cherry Blossom trees.
The new high school, situated on campus-like grounds adjacent to the stadium, is pleasant enough. Although we call it the "new" school, if the truth is to be told, it is 45 years old now. Your author-here-present, having taken various adult school courses, once trying desperately to learn Italian before a trip to Rome, has thus been a student in the new school. It is reasonably comfortable, somewhat institutional-looking inside, but lacks the classic character of the Washington Avenue school. Perhaps I am prejudiced, after all, I graduated from the Washington Avenue school.
The main entrance to the "new" school.