Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 

Georgetown High School Building -
Historical Marker

Georgetown, Texas in Williamson County

circa 1923


click on images for an enlarged view
507 E. University 


  

this marker is the one mounted on the building

(the marker in the foreground is for the

original site of Southwestern University)

 

GPS Coordinates
Latitude: 30.63721 - Longitude: -97.672462
UTM 14 R - Easting: 0627213 - Northing: 3389758

 

Marker Text
Built in 1923-24 on the original site of Southwestern University, this structure served as Georgetown High School for over fifty years. Designed by Austin architect Charles H. Page and exhibiting influences of the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture, the building features a Baroque entryway with cast stone detailing that includes motifs of shells, flowers, urns, and garlands. A gymnasium was added to the back of the building in the 1940s. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1988

 


 

 

A special thanks to the Community Impact news paper and Andrea Leptinsky for this slice of history of Georgetown. Old Georgetown High School

 

 

 

GEORGETOWN HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING

1923-1975

Narrative by

Dan K. Utley and David Moore Austin, Texas

Written by Dan K. Utley

 

 

The property now occupied by the Williams Middle School has served as a center of educational development for the community of Georgetown since shortly after the Civil War. In 1869 at the height of Reconstruction in Texas, a group of civic leaders began discussing the possibility of establishing a college in Georgetown. On January 29, 1870, they conducted an initial organizational meeting where they elected officers for the project. Later, they planned a subscription campaign and selected a contractor to construct a college building on a site southeast of town. The land for the proposed Georgetown College was donated by John J. Dimmitt and George W. Glasscock, Jr., the latter acting on behalf of his father, the town's founder. [1]

 

Simultaneous with, but independent of, the organization of Georgetown College was a series of meetings among the state's Methodist leaders to determine the future of their primary college in Texas Soule University at Chappell Hill in Washington County. Closed during the Civil War and later devastated by the yellow fever epidemic of 1867, the school and its facilities were in need of additional financial assistance and new direction. However, church officials were more concerned with the need for a centrally-located college to serve the growing state and with predictions of a possible second outbreak of yellow fever. Consideration was given to such towns as Waxahachie, Waco, and Fort Worth, but the church leaders chose Georgetown as the site of their new college, to be named Texas University. [2] Dr. Francis Asbury Mood, who had directed Soule University, was selected as administrator of the new school. As he recalled, "Upon the reception of the news at Georgetown of the decision of the Commissioners there was great rejoicing, the firing of a hundred anvils expressing their great satisfaction at the result. [3]

 

Officials of Georgetown College quickly offered their school building and campus for use by the Methodist school, provided "the contemplated State University be permanently located in Georgetown and it be made a first class institution of learning. [4] The institution's proposed name was short-lived, however, since the legislature already had plans to establish a University of Texas. So, in 1875, Texas University was formally chartered by the state as Southwestern University, incorporating the earlier charters of such state Methodist schools as Soule University and the colleges of Rutersville McKenzie, and Wesleyan. Since Rutersville was the oldest, having been organized in 1840, that date is used to substantiate Southwestern's claim as the oldest institution of higher education in Texas. [5]

 

The early success of Southwestern University resulted in alterations to the original campus by the 1890s. In 1881 the two-story limestone college building was capped by a third floor that provided necessary classroom space. The evolution of the campus is chronicled by Clara Scarbrough in her book Land of Goad Water:

 

To the northwest of the main building) was the small 'prep' Fitting School building which had been added to take care of pre-college classes, and on the southwest corner, the old chapel, never finished as originally planned. North of the college building was the men's dormitory and dining hail, called Helping Hall or Giddings Hall. Between the Main Building and the chapel was a fenced plot, shaded by trees, where Dr. F. A. Mood was buried. At the north entrance to the Main Building near the east side was a weeping willow tree and a hydrant where students slaked their thirst. The men's rest room was enclosed by a high wooden fence northeast of the 'ad' building; the inside wall of this small shed was decorated with an alligator hide from an animal caught on Berry's Creek. The entire campus was fenced, with stiles as entryways at intervals on all sides except the north, where the dining hall stood. [6]

 

Complementing the college complex was a series of cottages on adjacent streets that provided housing for faculty and staff and the ornate sanctuary of the First Methodist Church, constructed southwest of the campus in 1891-93.

 

In the 1890s, during the administration of regent Dr. John H. McLean, plans were formulated to build new facilities on a campus eight blocks east of the original site. The university, which did not become coeducational until 1895, had maintained a Ladies Annex on the new campus since 1889. The formal relocation of Southwestern University was accomplished in 1900 with completion of a new main building.

 

The original main building was then utilized as a preparatory school until 1916 when it was sold to the City of Georgetown. With the sale the historic educational site became a part of the public school system administered by the city council. The following year, the Texas legislature established the Georgetown Independent School District and control passed to the newly-organized board of trustees. [7] Among the issues facing the new board was the problem of overcrowded facilities. Initial plans called for utilization of the old college building, although some of the other structures on the site were razed.

 

The school board considered options for a new high school building as early as 1919, when approval was given for Greenville architect George Linsey to draw plans. [8] Subsequent action on the proposal is not recorded in the minutes of the board, but a bond election, held that year for the purpose of constructing a new building, passed. The scope of the bond program was amended in 1922 to include remodeling of the grammar school and construction of two high schools, one for whites and one for blacks. The election on the amended proposal was held on June 20, 1922, with 428 voters in favor and 205 opposed. Fourteen construction bids were received, with the contract awarded to Wattinger Brothers of Austin for the sum of $126,950. [9]

 

Prominent Austin architect Charles H4 Page designed the new high school building to be constructed on East University. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, where he was born in 1876, Page moved to Texas with his family at the age of six. In Austin, his father worked as a contractor on projects that included the new State Capitol. Young Page became interested in construction work, especially in the area of design. Although he lacked formal training from an architectural school, he acquired his professional expertise as an architect by studying with several prominent firms. Later, he served as a member of the first state board of architectural examiners. [11]

 

C. H. Page, in partnership with his brother Louis and later with his son C. H. Page, Jr., established a reputation as one of the state's premier designers of public buildings. Among his firms' projects were the Texas Building at the St. Louis World's Fair the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, the Confederate Home in Austin, the Sweetwater auditorium and city hall Austin's Zilker Park, and courthouses at Amarillo (Potter County) Austin !Travis County), Greenville (Hunt County), Memphis (Hall County) San Marcos (Hays County) and Sweetwater (Nolan County). The Page firm also designed the Williamson County Courthouse in Georgetown. In addition to the Georgetown High School he helped design educational buildings in Temple, Del Rio, Beaumont, Orange, and Texas City." Page's stature as an architect was noted in Frank Johnson's book, A History of Texas and Texans:

 

Not yet forty years of age his accomplishments have included the designing of plans and direction of the construction of numerous state, railroad and school buildings, colleges, court houses, lodges, bank buildings, warehouses, office buildings, churches, and residences, and his work easily places him foremost among the men of his calling who aim to build beautifully useful structures--that is, to satisfy by one and the same design the demands alike of use and beauty. . . .his career must be recognized as a notable one in the ranks of a vocation fertile with distinctive accomplishments. [12]

 

It is interesting to note that Johnson's remarks were printed in 1914, years before some of Page's most notable and more interesting projects.

 

The Georgetown High School, which C. H. Page designed in the early 1920s, features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Prominent features include the mission parapets red tile pent roof, and elaborate cast stone detailing that includes motifs of shells, flowers urns, and garlands. Additional ornamentation includes barley twist ironwork on balustrades and balconies, a pronounced cast stone fan above the main entry, pilasters, and decorative brickwork around windows. The building is symmetrical in composition and detailing, with one-story wings that project out from the central two-story section. Cast stone coping along the parapets soften the effect of the brick construction. Included in the elaborate panels on either side of the main entry are the dates 1922 (west side) and 1923 (east side). Alterations to the structure include a gymnasium addition, built in the 1940s, and an aluminum entry door. An article in the Williamson County Sun of February 13, 1948 notes the addition was built by the Taylor Construction Company under the supervision of C. H. Page. [13]

 

Page's use of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture is unusual in the context of Georgetown, but it represents the area's early historical ties to Spain. Although the Spanish designs dominate, there are minor detailing elements that show influences of the Art Deco style.

 

Possibly because of the building's elaborate style, or perhaps because of uncooperative weather, construction of the Georgetown High School took longer than planned. Originally scheduled to be completed in time for the 1923 graduation exercises, the project continued on late into that year. In the 1923 yearbook, The Eagle, student D. Elizabeth Hodges recorded:

 

After the holidays the entire High School was 'demoted' and we moved back to the Grammar School. We endured the humiliation, however, and were willing to graduate the second time from Grammar School as it meant the future Seniors would have a new High School Building from which they could graduate. [14]

 

In the same yearbook, Inez Sharpe noted, "We the Juniors of 23, are proud to say that we'll be the first to graduate in the new High School, which was to be completed. [15]

 

A review of the newspaper files for the period 1922-1924 shows the students were not the only ones eager for the project to be completed. A headline on page one of the Williamson County Sun, August 24, 1923, announced: "School to Open After Middle of September. [16] But, in September, a headline read: "School Opens October 1. [17] The following month, an article on the school noted that, "On account of the high school building being incomplete all work for the immediate future will be conducted in the grammar school building. [18] In December, under the headline, "Trustees Accept New High School Building", was the following observation:

 

This is one of the most well proportioned, best constructed and complete school buildings in Texas. The building contains fifteen class rooms, seven upstairs and eight down, four laboratories, superintendent's office, teachers' rest room, study hall up stairs and down, cloak rooms, and all equipment for pursuing studies of every kind; individual lockers have been provided for each student and instructor in which to place their wraps or other property during school hours. . . The auditorium, which is located on the north side, under which are showers and needed athletic accommodations, is a magnificent affair, will seat 830 people in individual opera chairs; has fully equipped stage with dressing rooms and especially constructed lighting effect. [19]

 

But, despite the praise for the new building, the article added that construction was not yet complete. Road contractor Herman Brown, a partner in the business that became the prominent construction firm of Brown and Root, was still completing the yard fill work and other details of the exterior work were not yet finished.

 

The Georgetown High School, which the local paper declared "second to none in the South [20], was formally dedicated at a student-faculty meeting on January 2, 1924. Among the speakers at the ceremony were Superintendent Thomas Lee, and board members Professor R. W. Tinsley and John Busch (listed as Jno. Bush on the cornerstone). [21]

 

From 1923 to 1975, the building at 507 East University served as the Georgetown High School. In 197, a new high school opened and the building began housing junior high school grade levels. Renamed Central Middle School the structure was again renamed in 1987 to honor Everette "Pop" Williams, who served as principal of Georgetown High School for nineteen years. Today the Williams Middle School serves as an important historical reminder of the role of education in the development of Georgetown. Because of its location on the original site of Southwestern University, it continues a tradition of the community's commitment to excellence in education that began in the 1870s. The building's historical significance and unique architectural style make it an important landmark in Georgetown. The trustees of the Georgetown Independent School District have demonstrated their commitment to the preservation of the historic structure through a major restoration program, completed in 1983, and through their application for an Official Texas Historical Marker and the Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation.

 

Researched by:

Dan K. Utley and David Moore Austin, Texas

Written by Dan K. Utley

 

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