Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Old Earle High School
Old Earle High School
1919 photograph of Old Earle High School
1919 photograph of Old Earle High School

OLD EARLE HIGH SCHOOL, EARLE, CRITTENDEN COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Old Earle High School is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its association with education in Earle and Crittenden County. The Old Earle High School served as Earle’s high school from its completion in 1919 until 1978. Even today, the renovated auditorium continues to serve the needs of students in the Earle School District, and a new use is being sought for the classroom portion of the building.

ELABORATION

Crittenden County was formed by an act of the Territorial General Assembly on October 22, 1825, and was approved by Governor George Izard. It was named after Robert Crittenden, who was the first Secretary of the Territory of Arkansas. Originally, Crittenden County included all of the land between the Mississippi River west to the St. Francis River and the Missouri/Arkansas border south to approximately the location of Marianna, Arkansas, in neighboring Lee County. The size of Crittenden County shrank over the years as land was taken to form St. Francis County in 1827, Mississippi County in 1833, Cross County in 1862, and, finally, Lee County in 1873.

The City of Earle and neighboring Norvell (also called Brown and New Earle in the 1880s) developed almost simultaneously in the late nineteenth-century, and were separated for many years only by a boundary line along Ruth Street, which was formerly known as Watt Street. Earle was named for Josiah Francis Earle who owned extensive amounts of land in the area, and who built the first weatherboard house in Crittenden County after the Civil War. When Josiah Earle died in 1884, he left his landholdings to his wife, Louisa, and when the railroad was constructed through the area in 1888, she constructed a one-room building along the line in order to get the railroad to stop at the community.

The fact that the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern railroad chose to construct their line through Earle meant that the eventual demise of Norvell was inevitable. Even so, both towns incorporated, with Norvell’s incorporation being approved on June 27, 1904, and Earle’s incorporation being approved on February 20, 1905. Because of the proximity of the two communities to one another, a merger was first considered in 1913. However, the merger of the communities would not take place until August 24, 1978, and even then most of Norvell’s residents opposed it.

The first school building was built in Earle in 1895, and was a one-room log structure. Like many of the early buildings in Earle, it faced the railroad line, and the teachers would let the children go to the door to watch the passing trains. It was only used approximately five years before the second school building, a two-room frame building, was built in Earle c.1900. It was later expanded to four rooms once music classes were offered to the students.

The present campus where the Old Earle High School is located was first built on in 1909 when Earle’s third school building was built for $20,000. It served all of the grades in Earle until the Old Earle High School was built in 1919. Once a Primary Building was built in 1928, Earle’s third building housed third through sixth grade until 1952. It was demolished in 1962.

Due to the increase in students and the need for a modern facility, a new junior and senior high building (Old Earle High School) was planned in 1919. Professor O.E. Van Cleave, who was Superintendent of the Earle Public Schools at the time, wrote:

…In the spring if this year four additional acres were added to the campus and the contract let for the erection of a $100,000 junior and senior high school building. When the new building is completed and the old one is released from the repairs now being made, the Earle public schools will be modern in every respect and one of the best equipped institutions in the state.

The new building will be a three-story structure embodying all the modern ideas of convenience, light, heat and utility. It will contain ten class rooms, a gymnasium fifty feet by eighty, an auditorium that will seat eight hundred and fifty-four people without crowding or discomfort, a library, a teacher’s rest room and the office of the superintendent. The furniture and fixtures of this building have been carefully selected and it is believed that a better selection could not have been made.

The 1930 Sanborn map for Earle, which is the first map that the building appears on, indicates that the building had steam heat and electric lights. It also indicated that the rear of the building had a gym on the first floor and an auditorium on the second floor. The rear wing also had pilastered walls and a wood truss roof.

At the time that the building opened, students in the graduating classes began the tradition of inscribing their names and year of graduation in the sidewalks around the building. This tradition, which has occurred at many schools around Arkansas, continued up until the building closed as a high school in 1978. These sidewalks still remain on the grounds, and contribute to the significance of the school.

In 1939, a tornado struck Earle and caused damage to the Old Earle High School and the third school building, which stood just to its east on the campus. On the third school building, the tornado damaged the distinctive twin towers, and it damaged the auditorium and gymnasium wing of the high school. As a result, the top floor auditorium and its balconies were removed. Construction of a new auditorium/gymnasium began at once, with construction being handled by the WPA, and the new wing was dedicated on May 3, 1940. When the current Marvin Bird Gymnasium was built in 1962-1963, the auditorium/gymnasium of the Old High School was renovated to serve only as an auditorium.

Other modifications to upgrade the building have taken place in the last thirty years. Circa 1970, a bulldog sculpture on a brick base was constructed in front of the building, and dedicated to the memory of Jimmy Choate by the Junior Class of 1970. In the mid-1970s, a small computer room was added to the west side of the auditorium. Also, prior to 1972, the original windows were replaced with the metal-frame windows that are currently in the building. In 1986, in order to provide more classrooms, a classroom addition was added to the north side of the building. Currently, the rooms are being used for 7th and 8th grade classrooms.

The Old Earle High School continued to serve the students of Earle until 1998 when Dunbar High was opened on the southeast side of town. Although the auditorium portion of the building is still used today for students in other buildings on the campus, the classroom portion is currently vacant. However, the Earle School District is currently seeking to find a use for the classroom portion of the building.

For almost 90 years the Old Earle High School has served the educational needs of the students of Earle. Although the building has had some modifications over the years, it is still easy to recognize the 1919 building that Professor Van Cleave boasted was "modern in every respect and one of the best equipped institutions in the state." In addition, the fact that the Earle School District is currently seeking a new use for the classroom portion of the building speaks to the love of and commitment to the building on behalf of the Earle School District.

 

The Old Earle High School continued to serve the students of Earle until 1998 when Dunbar High was opened on the southeast side of town. Although the auditorium portion of the building is still used today for students in other buildings on the campus, the classroom portion is currently vacant. However, the Earle School District is currently seeking to find a use for the classroom portion of the building.

For almost 90 years the Old Earle High School has served the educational needs of the students of Earle. Although the building has had some modifications over the years, it is still easy to recognize the 1919 building that Professor Van Cleave boasted was "modern in every respect and one of the best equipped institutions in the state." In addition, the fact that the Earle School District is currently seeking a new use for the classroom portion of the building speaks to the love of and commitment to the building on behalf of the Earle School District.

 

The Old Earle High School continued to serve the students of Earle until 1998 when Dunbar High was opened on the southeast side of town. Although the auditorium portion of the building is still used today for students in other buildings on the campus, the classroom portion is currently vacant. However, the Earle School District is currently seeking to find a use for the classroom portion of the building.

For almost 90 years the Old Earle High School has served the educational needs of the students of Earle. Although the building has had some modifications over the years, it is still easy to recognize the 1919 building that Professor Van Cleave boasted was "modern in every respect and one of the best equipped institutions in the state." In addition, the fact that the Earle School District is currently seeking a new use for the classroom portion of the building speaks to the love of and commitment to the building on behalf of the Earle School District.

SIGNIFICANCE

The Old Earle High School is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion A for its association with education in Earle and Crittenden County. The Old Earle High School served as Earle’s high school from its completion in 1919 until 1978. Even today, the renovated auditorium continues to serve the needs of students in the Earle School District, and a new use is being sought for the classroom portion of the building.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Crumbly, Jack, Earle School District Superintendent. Interview with the author. 15 January 2003.

Information provided by Jimmie Barham, Earle, Arkansas.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Earle, Arkansas, 1930.

Weeks, Rev. A. A. A History of Crittenden County, Arkansas . Unknown publisher, 1919. (Provided by Jimmie Barham.)

Woolfolk, Margaret Elizabeth. A History of Crittenden County, Arkansas . Greenville, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1993.