Not many remember the old Central School

Tom Camfield
Blogger
Posted 8/2/19

The upper photo here, undated, appears to be from the 1890s—looking up

Clay Street. It is signed “E. M. M.,” an early photographer whom I haven’t been able to identify. …

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Not many remember the old Central School

Posted

The upper photo here, undated, appears to be from the 1890s—looking up
Clay Street. It is signed “E. M. M.,” an early photographer whom I haven’t been able to identify. The school is seen in the background, well up the street about half a block south of Lawrence Street, a site now occupied by Port Townsend’s Community Center. On the near side of the school can be seen the steeple of the Methodist church. At center-right foreground is the Starrett House. Tyler Street runs left to right beyond the school.

HAVING TURNED A BIT ANCIENT MYSELF, I have a personal connection with some of the town’s surviving historic landmarks about which I periodically write. Yes, I even attended school for a time in this structure during my second-grade year of 1936-’37. My regular Lincoln School, which had been damaged in the great hurricane of 1934 was under repair. During that interlude, I continued to walk to school from out on San Juan Avenue at the end of Tremont Street.

We spent our recesses on Taylor Street east of the schoolhouse below the gymnasium/auditorium on its backside. I remember little of the schoolhouse itself. My sharpest memory of the time there was my girl classmate Pearl who occasionally fell into some sort of convulsion during recess.

I have a better memory of the school’s gymnasium/auditorium attached to the Taylor-Street side. I played basketball there with the Presbyterians in a church league when I was around 10 or 11 years old.

I have a 1924 “WaWa” yearbook, an excellent product for its day, in which graduating senior Ruth Peach wrote a history of the school’s gymnasium/auditorium. It was added through a combined community/student effort, a project begun in 1921 and completed in June 1922 in time to host that year’s graduation ceremony. The first event held there was an operetta, as a project benefit.

The following school year the $200 annual student pledge was met by such as a play, several moving pictures, a concert and the senior ball. Other events held there included the junior prom, parties, a football dance, scouting events, the Elks Flag Day program, etc. And, of course, PTHS basketball. Popularity and use grew as time passed. It filled the void left by the drafty old Learned Opera House downtown, destroyed by an arson fire in 1923.

The Central School did not become a true high school until 1890, when elementary classes moved to the new Lincoln School. I had an uncle and a number of later acquaintances who graduated from high school there in 1934. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the present high school was under construction about that time and the roof had been blown off the auditorium in the hurricane that year.

The building had ceased its use as a school by the time the building burned down in September of 1943, when I was just beginning my freshman year of high school. I was being worked on downtown by dentist George Bangerter, from whose office the smoke was visible.

At the time of the fire, the building housed the offices of the federal Office of Price Administration. It handled, among other things, the ration tokens and stamps for gasoline, tires, sugar, beef and other things. Doctors, truckers and cab drivers (and locally John Lafferty who ran a bus for paper mill workers), for instance, would be issued more tokens for gasoline than an average citizen who could buy only 4 gallons a week.

Considering the value of ration tokens and stamps, I looked back suspiciously on that fire in later years. Rationing continued for a couple more years after the fire, which killed one citizen assisting in fighting the blaze. A later friend of mine (Ted Baker) was struck in the head by debris and was without a sense of taste for the rest of his years. The gymnasium portion of the school survived the fire.

The building was replaced after the fire and used for a time as a school district recreation center. School dances were held there during my senior year of 1946-’47. It later evolved into a community center. The gymnasium continued in use for basketball after the fire until Bruce Blevins Gymnasium was built in 1948.

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Tom Camfield

Hopefully, the photos will appear in place soon.

Sunday, August 4