A topic now pertinent once again: the history of LaPorte High School buildings

The first LaPorte High School building.

The second LaPorte High School building.

A photo of the third LPHS building (current Boston Middle School) in 1955, all lit up at night. (El Pe photo)

Photos provided (click to enlarge)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Never think history loses its relevance. As school and city officials consider building a new Boston Middle School on Kesling grounds, the question has arisen whether the current Boston — formerly LaPorte High School — should be designated as an historic structure. Tentative plans are to locate school corporation administrative offices there. Below, Fern fills us in on the history of this building and its predecessors.

By Fern Eddy Schultz, LaPorte County Historian

School history in LaPorte County has been the topic of historical interest of late, and there is so much of it to disseminate. As students, we rarely delve into the history of our very own schools and we take for granted their existence. Each structure, and its part in our education, has its own story to tell. One currently of interest is the LaPorte High School building on Harrison Street, presently Boston Middle School.  

Herald-Argus story about the 1925 opening of the third LaPorte High School (current Boston building) on Harrison Street. The architectural firm was Miller, Fullenwider & Dowling of Chicago.

Having attended and graduated from this LaPorte High School, this building is part of my past, as well as it is and was for thousands of others. It had two predecessor structures that served LaPorte well, but were not adequate for the various times in history and were replaced with another. With the growth of population in LaPorte and the need for different types of facilities, each played its part in the educational system.     

By April 1922, a “bitter fight” was reported to have taken place in which selection of a site for a new high school was waged against consideration of a South Michigan site and three other locations. Those proposed sites were:

(1) the block immediately south of the current high school at that time (later Lincoln School;

(2) the Saint Rose Academy site, which later became the site of the Civic Auditorium; and

(3) the Harrison Street location, which was finally selected.  

After the selection was made, negotiations with property owners who would be affected by the purchase of the property were authorized. The architect selected for the building plan was Miller, Fullenwider and Dowling of Chicago.  It was reported that this particular firm was selected because it had specialized in school construction and because “their superintendent of construction, A.L. Young, was a LaPorte citizen.” It is believed this individual was in fact Charles H. Young, who, along with his wife, Myrtle, resided on Rose Street.

Etched into stone above the current building’s main entrance is “Lux et Veritas” (“Light and Truth”), a facsimile of the plaque shown here.

By May 1922, satisfactory agreements had not been met with property owners and it was decided to go through the medium of condemnation proceedings. Satisfactory agreements were later reached and this action was dropped. One house was to be moved to the corner of First and B streets, another to a lot on A Street, and yet another to a vacant lot in the 4th Ward, while disposition of two other properties was yet to be determined. It was expected the site would be ready for construction within 30 days.

As of September 1922, it was determined some changes needed to be made in the plans due to increases in costs for labor and construction materials. These were ironed out and on Sept. 26, it was announced the new school contract might be let Oct. 27. This actually came to fruition at the board meeting of Nov. 8, 1922, the contractor for the general work to be Larson-Danielson Company of LaPorte, the price being $272,344. The awarding became official the following day and the building was to be completed Dec. 1, 1923, but the building would not be ready for occupancy until the opening of the school year in September 1924.

Following came the announcement of successful bidders of other work to be done. Frank J. King was sublet the excavation work. He was also the person who did the excavation work for the current LaPorte County Courthouse. Many yards of dirt and numerous shade trees needed to be removed and were offered to the general public. The school’s cornerstone was laid June 23, 1923, by Excelsior Lodge 41. Jennie Jessup, librarian, was given the task of furnishing items to be placed in the receptacle in the stone. The items selected make an interesting list: copies of The Argus and The Herald, copy of the 1923 high school annual, pictures of the principal public buildings, photos of the city schools at the time, a pamphlet — “School Officers and Teachers of LaPorte County in 1922,” names of county and city officers and the names of members of the LaPorte County Historical Society, a historical sketch of the LaPorte Public Library and Natural History Association (1897) by William Niles at the time when the library was supported by private individuals, an enlarged picture of the library, and a photo of Jennie Jessup, who had been librarian for 30 years.

The new high school was dedicated with “fitting ceremonies” on Nov. 18, 1925. It was capable of handling the 550 students from the old building. The old school had been completed in 1896 (some say 1894) with a capacity of 250. By the end of the school year 1923-24, more than 500 were “jammed” in the building and basement rooms were being remodeled to accommodate them.

There is much more history of this building available for anyone interested in pursuing it. Many updates and additions occurred (such as the addition of an annex in 1931). Another major addition was in 1955 when the gym was enlarged and modernized. In 1957, the court surrounding the auditorium was converted into classrooms, new counselors’ offices and a lounge for teachers, and the library was enlarged.  

In the fall of 1962, a brand new LaPorte High School (current school) replaced the Harrison Street facility and that structure began housing Boston Junior High School, later Boston Middle School.

FERN EDDY SCHULTZ is LaPorte County’s official Historian. To learn more about our county’s fascinating and rich history, visit the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum and its website, www.laportecountyhistory.org.

6 Responses to “A topic now pertinent once again: the history of LaPorte High School buildings”

  1. Deb Hunter

    May 12. 2017

    Great article, Fern! Thank you for sharing the history of our high school buildings.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Julie Kessler

    May 12. 2017

    Knowing more about where we live increases our appreciation for it, and for those who helped create it. Thanks so much, Fern, for enriching our mindfulness of La Porte’s history.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Linda Baugh

    May 13. 2017

    If I’m not mistaken, Boston Junior High was originally “Central Junior High” before it was Boston.

    Reply to this comment

    May 13. 2017

    I’ve always thought that the Boston Junior High building looks a lot like the school in the background when Flick gets his tongue stuck on the pole in A Christmas Story.

    Reply to this comment
  5. billie thresh womack

    May 14. 2017

    Central Jr High was Lincoln school on Harrison I was one of the classmates that closed LaPorte High in 62 this year is out 55th reunion

    Reply to this comment
    • Linda Baugh

      May 15. 2017

      According to the school’s website, when the high school was built in its present location, the old high school became Central Junior High. In 1962, it was renamed Paul F. Boston Junior High School in honor of Paul F. Boston, an educator. Then in 1984 the two junior high schools became middle schools, and the name was changed to Paul F. Boston Middle School.

      Reply to this comment

Leave a Reply