Year-long events mark Central High School 150th anniversary



150 years of CentralThe Central High School transformation project (see story on page 1) coincides with the school’s 150th-anniversary celebration.

The kick-off for the 150th year began with the Rondo parade in July. The grand marshal was Mary Mackbee, who has been the Central High School Principal since 1993. The event coincided with the birthday of alumni Philando Castile, who was killed by a Falcon Heights policeman just ten days before.

The final event will be the Grand Old Day parade on June 4, 2017.

A grand opening/ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 6 marked the start of the new school year and celebrated the new plaza and walkway.

Lieutenant Governor  Tina Smith and Mayor Christ Coleman attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and declared that day “Saint Paul Central High School Day.” Also present were notable guest speaker alums, Central’s pep band, and the senior class.

Other upcoming events:

• Sept. 30—1,000th football game (vs. North at North) and Alumni Reception at O’Gara’s from 6-9pm.

• Oct. 7—Homecoming game vs. Washburn at Griffin and Alumni Halftime show. Pre-game activities start at 7pm.

• Music series (winter/spring)—Central alumni performers (dates TBA)

• Central Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony—spring 2017 (date TBA)

• June 4, 2017—Grand Old Day Parade (Central contingent will be marching.)

“Together, we look forward to celebrating Central’s 150 anniversary, its legacy, and what’s to come,” said Maggie O’Reilly, who has two children at Central and serves on the Transforming Central Committee. “It’s a wonderful, uplifting tribute and a positive, exciting time for Central. Personally, I couldn’t be more proud to have my kids at Central. It’s truly a dynamic, diverse and community-oriented school that is loved by many.”

Banners and books

Five new light pole banners have been installed in front of the school along Marshall Ave. celebrating the school’s last 150 years with photos. Central parent Katie Parke-Reimer designed the banners.

Sharing the historic nature of the school is one of the ways the Transforming Central project hoped to build connections and pride in the community, but a complete historic narrative was needed.

A History Project subcommittee was formed and includes members include Deb Ahlquist, Beth Black, Amber Buckner, Lisa Heyman, Paul Hillmer, Ann Hobbie, Ann Malm, Dawn Lampros and Ayesha Shar.

With the help of a Legacy Grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, Bluestem Heritage Group was hired to write a 20-40 page narrative of the school.

Finding an abundance of historical documents and sources, the work has grown to much more—a full and rich document with surprises and insight. No other high school in the state of Minnesota has the comprehensive, documented and successful 150-year history of St. Paul Central High School.

The book will be sold throughout the year.

The committee is also making plans and seeking funds for a historical exhibit, installation, or other interpretive piece. Parents, staff, and alumni are invited to get involved in the history project by contacting Deb at

Notable alum who have graduated from Central including Amelia Earhart, Charles Schulz, Richard Schulze (founder of Best Buy), Stacy Robinson, Dave Winfield, Jawed Karim (co-founder of YouTube), and local politicians Chris Tolbert and Melvin Carter.

“I have too many fond memories to list, but the school was always fun and diverse,” remarked 2003 alumni Adrian Perryman. “I enjoyed my time in class and in the various extra-curricular activities that I was able to take part in. I was able to get a great education in class and outside of it.”

“Central is a microcosm of America—the world,” said St. Paul Council Member and Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Chris Tolbert, who graduated in 2001. “Without opening a book, Central is the best preparation for living and succeeding in a diverse world, because Central is that diverse world.”

A short history of Central

Central High School was founded in 1866 in response to student requests. Prior to 1866, there were no educational opportunities in St. Paul beyond elementary school. About a dozen students wished to continue their schooling, so two rooms were set aside for the “High School” on the 3rd floor of the Franklin School, located at Broadway and Tenth streets in downtown St. Paul, and the “St. Paul High School” was formed.

The school hosted a dozen students and one lone teacher.

The first graduating class was in 1870 and consisted of two students: one boy and one girl. The girl’s name was Fannie Haynes (the daughter of the teacher), and the boy’s name was A.P. Warren. The first two diplomas were hand printed on sheepskin.

Gradually, the classes enrolled in the Franklin building became too large for the school to accommodate them, so in 1872, the high school moved to the Lindeke Building at 7th and Jackson St. where it occupied the entire 2nd floor.

By 1879, the teaching staff had increased to 8 teachers and principal. The hours were from 9 to 12 in the morning and 1 to 4 in the afternoon. A 15-minute recess was offered in the morning or afternoon.

That year the Lindeke building at 7th and Jackson was finally determined to be ill-suited for a high school. The first floor of the building was occupied by a dry goods store and a fresh fish market. In the warm weather, the aroma from the fish market rising to the second floor was nearly unbearable. To make matters worse, the building was infested with rats. A sign over one door reminded the pupils this was their “last chance for an education.”

In the School Board’s annual report of 1879, it declared that although the school was a pleasing view on the outside, the atmosphere inside was “morally, socially and physically unhealthy.” The rooms were noisy, ill-ventilated and sunless. This report aroused the city council to take action, and a bond-raising proposition for a new high school was made. This proposition was rejected by the voters, but it was re-made in 1881 and was passed by 3,000 votes. Work on a new high school was begun immediately. The chosen site was at 10th and Minnesota St. In 1883, this 27-room building was completed. The first enrollment of the new school was 233 students.

Soon, this building was bursting at the seams.

The school district agreed to build a new school and selected the corner of Lexington Pkwy. and Marshall Ave. as the site. The city purchased the land in 1909 and secured renowned architect Clarence H. Johnston, a Minnesota native, and Central High alumni, to design the new building

Construction of the new high school commenced on May 31, 1910, and the cornerstone was laid on Sept. 16 of that year. St. Paul school board members initially proposed naming the new school “Lexington” in recognition of its new location, but one week before the cornerstone was laid, alumni prevailed on the board to retain the name “Central.” In recognition of the Lexington location, the school chose as its mascot the “Minutemen”—the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Lexington and Concord in the American Revolution.

From 1977-1981, Central underwent a dramatic $16 million remodeling project. To save money, Ellerbe Architects recommended gutting the Clarence Johnston building and adding on. It was originally planned to have the students leave the building for a year so that the construction could take place without disturbances.

However, the vocal members of the community would not permit “the St. Paul School” to be vacant for even one year, so other plans needed to be made. The schedule was changed so that school started at 7am and ended at noon when the workers arrived.

By Sept. 1, 1980, the new sections of the school were ready for occupancy, most of the remodeling project was complete, and the castle-like, “school on the hill” was no longer recognizable, looking more like a common parking ramp with no remaining character. The interior of the school was also greatly changed, except that the auditorium offers a glimmer of familiarity with the former school.

The current building at Marshall and Lexington celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012.

(Information compiled from the school’s web site and the new “History of Central High School” book.)


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