The Beginning of Madison High School


The Beginning of Madison High School


The Madison High School building, that imposing structure high on the hill overlooking the business district of Richmond, has for nearly half a century been a place of academic joy and pleasure, of pain and frustration for thousands of local persons. It was built in 1923 after a fire destroyed the old high school building, causing the Richmond board of education to be without adequate housing for its pupils.

On March 9, 1921, the old Caldwell High School building, located on North Second Street at the site of the present Richmond Armory, was destroyed by a raging fire. For the next two years pupils in all 12 grades were forced to attend classes with very little classroom equipment in such diverse places as the courthouse, lodge rooms, churches, and even the city police courtroom.

Fortunately, in 1919, through the efforts of the chairman, John Noland, the Richmond board of education had obtained a 99-year lease on the 80-acre property of the Madison Female Institute which had ceased to operate. This lease provided an opportunity for a new, more spacious building to be erected which would house all 12 grades and allow room for outdoor sports. Other board members at that time were D.B. McKinney, J.C. Chenault, Mrs. Ada Dunn, Dr. H.G. Sandlin and C.C. Wallace.

A bond issue was passed by the citizens of the Richmond independent school district in June, 1921, and work on the two-story brick structure started the following November. C.C. and E.A. Webber of Cincinnati were the architects, and J.C. Miller of Campbellsville was the general contractor.

It was with considerable pride that the new building was occupied in March, 1923. Classrooms in the basement made it in reality a three-story building, and the auditorium which seats 844 was the largest in the city. In addition to 21 regular classrooms which vary in size from 22 X 19 to 22 X 31 feet, there were special rooms for science, home economics, and industrial arts (called "manual training" back then). There were also a lunch room, two playrooms, two locker rooms, a large study hall, an office, and in the basement an "engine room." A point of pride was the fact that there were running water restrooms on all three floors, not just in the basement as in many schools. A gymnasium 78 X 47 feet was described as being able "to accommodate the customary crowds" which came to watch basketball games.

A merger along about this time of the Model High School with Madison made a total enrollment of 180 students, which at that time was thought to be a splendid size for a high school.

Educational goals for the 1920's included the collection of a library, obtaining equipment for the science room, and the construction of an athletic field on the campus. Interscholastic football, baseball, and basketball had been started in 1921.

Teachers at the time the new building was occupied were A.L. Lassiter, principal and science; B.G. Gabby, English; Miss Curranleen Smith, math; Miss Lucy Cracraft, foreign language; Miss Orena McMahan, history; Miss Merlyn Walker, music; and J.A. Kunkle, manual training. Teachers of grades one through eight included Miss Sue Scrivener, Miss Willie Traynor, Miss Curtis McKinney, Miss Josephine Telford, Miss Nettie Oldham, Miss Christian Sandlin, Miss Lelia Price, Miss Bessie Dudley, Miss Leigh White, Miss Kathryn Parke, Miss Mabel Kunkle, Mrs. Erma Brewer, Miss Hortnese Willoughby, and Mrs. Mary Congleton .

The board reported that when the new building was occupied, all the high school teachers and all but two of the elementary level teachers had at least a twelfth-grade education, and several had taken courses at Eastern Kentucky State Normal School.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “The Beginning of Madison High School,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed July 22, 2018,