All that’s left is a mountain of brick, stone and steel. Soon that will be gone, too.
Pulverized debris from the former Jennings school is being hauled away this week after the demolition of the North Akron landmark at East Tallmadge Avenue and Dayton Street.
The grand old structure missed its 100th anniversary by a mere four years. The original section of the building opened Sept. 4, 1916.
“The Jennings school on North Hill will have 16 classrooms besides restrooms, play rooms and hospital,” the Beacon Journal reported in early 1916. “An auditorium with a seating capacity of 500 is one of the features. Special rooms for domestic science and manual training are fitted up in the basement.”
The school was named for the Rev. Isaac Jennings (1822-1887), pastor of Akron’s First Congregational Church. Known as the founder of Akron’s school system, Jennings led an 1846 campaign to finance public education.
Dawson Construction Co. of Pittsburgh built the two-story school at 225 E. Tallmadge Ave. for $96,000 (about $2.1 million today). A twin section directly behind the first was completed in 1918 for $150,000.
When the building opened, it was touted as “practically a fourth high school” behind Central, South and West. Besides housing eight grades, Jennings taught the first two years of high school. Junior and seniors traveled to Central High for classes, but that practice ended within a few years.
By 1922, Jennings housed Akron’s original North High School, whose sports teams were first called Eskimos.
Hugh R. Smith (1880-1954) was Jennings’ first principal, eventually supervising 60 teachers, 1,000 high school students and 850 elementary pupils. The tall, red-haired educator, a strict disciplinarian who carried a wooden paddle, also coached the football and basketball teams.
When North High School left Jennings for a new building off Gorge Boulevard in 1931, Smith moved, too. He remained North’s principal until his retirement in 1951 and is famous in Vikings lore for establishing the clench-fisted “Fight!” cheer at pep assemblies.
“My generation has seen the greatest social change in all history,” he told one graduating class. “We live in a permanent revolution. Yet your load is no heavier than any other generation carried. It is just different. Change is a normal way of living.”
Despite the protests of some parents, the Akron Board of Education in 1948 turned Jennings into a junior high school for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. In 1958, the school completed a $340,000 addition including an auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium. By 1980, the building was renamed Jennings Middle School.
Tens of thousands of students walked through the halls — and now the halls are rubble.
Jennings was torn down and replaced as part of Akron Public Schools’ ongoing $800 million construction project. Construction began in 2006 on an $18.5 million community learning center — also named Jennings — behind the old school.
A few original architectural elements, including the engraved name, were rescued to incorporate into the new school’s brick design. Classes have been under way at the new Jennings since late 2007. Average enrollment is 554.
The old building temporarily served as swing space for Findley pupils while their new school was under construction. When the students left, old Jennings’ days were numbered.
Demolition begin in April. To see photos of the razing, visit the Facebook page of “North High School in the 80s” at http://www.facebook.com/pages/North-High-School-in-the-80s/201606596527883.
As Principal Smith once explained, “Change is a normal way of living.”
For some nostalgic people, though, change can be a difficult thing to watch.
Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.