The Mysteries of the Capitol Heights School

By on 13 August, 2014 in Karren Pell with 4 Comments

Some years ago, Carole King and I were working on the text for the historical marker on the site of the Capitol Heights School on Winona Avenue. Two incidents occurred recently that reminded me of some research mysteries regarding the school that are unsolved (at least so far). The first incident that brought all of this back to mind was several of my friends who are teachers starting back to school (in August!), and the second was the purchase of the Turner House in Capitol Heights. 184

Now here are the mysteries. The first involves determining the first school in Capitol Heights. In November of 1955, the PTA of Capitol Heights School presented a program featuring several speakers titled, “The History of the Capitol Heights Elementary School.” I have a typed text of the Montgomery Advertiser article on that program, but I do not have a copy of the actual program. Dr. E. L. Massie, in his presentation, states that there was a “one room frame building located a few blocks from here” in 1908. The source credited for that information is the July 10, 1924 edition of The Capitol Heights Weekly. However, I have a copy of that newsletter, and all I find regarding a school is a statement concerning J.S. Pinckard:  “He was elected mayor of Capitol Heights in 1908, and served until 1912 … When it was proposed that Capitol Heights build their own school, he was one of the foremost contributors towards a site for that school.” So one mystery is, was there a Capitol Heights School in 1908, and where was its location?

I am confident that there was a frame school at the site where the brick school was eventually built. That school was operating in 1913, but when it opened its doors is mystery number two. It burned in 1914. The prevailing story is that the school was used for a Sunday school class, and someone left one of the wood stoves untended. While the school was being rebuilt, classes were held at the Turner House at the corner of California and James Avenue.

So now you see how the sale of the Turner House fits into these history mysteries. The County Board of Education issued a formal report dated 1917 that included photographs of the new brick school and school children in front of the Turner House. As part of the November program discussed above, Mr. James Heustess stated that he began as principal of that new brick school on January 2, 1918. Therefore, the brick school opened either in fall of 1917, or at least was open by January of 1918. But when? That is mystery number three.

As stated, we do know that until the school opened, students attended classes at the Turner House, the home of George and “Grandma” or “Aunt Katie” Turner. Oral histories by Marian Turner (Aunt Katie’s niece) and Mrs. Octavia Range (one of the Stanley children from the big white house on James Street) provide different information regarding the exact location of classes on the Turner property. Marian Turner stated classes were held in “a little house in their back yard,” while Mrs. Range said “Mrs. George Turner, called in an endearing way, ‘Grandma Turner,’ offered the use of her upstairs for a schoolhouse until another could be built.” So the fourth mystery is: Were classes held in the upstairs of the Turner House or in a separate building in the back yard?

My mentor and hero, Mary Ann Neeley, says that each new generation adds to the body of history. Perhaps a reader of this humble blog can help me add to the known history regarding Capitol Heights School and help me solve these “history mysteries.” In the meantime, I wish all returning students and teachers a productive and inspiring year and to the new owners of the Turner house, welcome to Capitol Heights!

Karren Pell is a writer, teacher, and performer who lives with her husband, Tim Henderson, and an assortment of cats and dogs in Capitol Heights. She is the author of three books. Her musical compositions range from commercial songs to theatrical works, with five musical adaptations to her credit.

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  1. John B . Pugh says:

    I have seen Montgomery Advertiser articles about the history of the Capitol Heights School. There is one from July 1908 that describes Capitol Heights citizens starting a drive to build a school house that they planned to have ready by the fall of 1908. Also on Sunday March 5, 1917 there is and article describing the fire that destroyed the “one story frame school house” after a meeting in it by the” Union Sunday School under the supervision of Superintendent R. S. Armistead”. It was thought to be started by boys smoking cigarettes in the adjacent woodshed. Three days later on March 8, 1917 another article stated that since the new brick school was still under construction and could not possibly be ready before May at the earliest , a vacant house on California had been rented to accommodate the 100 displaced students for the rest of the term. I remember the dedication plaque at the Florida Street entry of the brick school had a date of 1917 on it. Another article in May of 1918 mentions completion of the first year in the new brick school. I remember teachers (Ms Lamb and Ms Turner in particular) in the early 1960’s telling us students the history of the school including the original wooden school and a time when it met in a house . I remember Ms Lamb pointing out her window across the street where Capitol Heights Church is and assumed that was where the original school was. It is clear from the Advertiser articles that it was not on the site of the brick 1917 structure . I believe school started in the new brick school with the fall term of 1917. I strongly suspect the one story frame school that burned was where Capitol Heights Protestant Methodist built when in moved from downtown in the 1920’s to the SE corner of Florida and Winona (that sanctuary burned in the early 1950’s). The mystery to me is that the 1908 organizational meeting described in The Advertiser was held ” in the Town Hall”. I have never known where a town hall for Capitol Heights would have been located.

  2. John B . Pugh says:

    I am finding in the 1916 Montgomery City Directory that George W ( a farmer) and Kate Turner lived with Helen Turner ( a student) at 101 James on the corner of California). Daniel Turner was a farmer living with Sallie Turner at 400 St Charles. The 400 block later became the 1900 block. 400 would roughly be the SE corner of St. Charles and California. In 1916 Capitol Heights School is listed as being at Winona and Florida. A street number or specific corner is not specified. In 1920 the address 501 Winona is specified ( the NE corner which was the site of the brick school). There was no directory for 1917, 1918. In 1908, 1909, 1910 and 1911 a Capitol Heights is listed as being on the north side of Mt Meigs Rd , one (sic) east of Florida ( roughly the site of the house where the current Capitol Plumbing is located). By 1912 Capitol Heights School is listed at the corner of Winona and Florida . Which corner is not specified until 1920 at which time In December of 1916 work had started on the new brick school at the NE corner of Winona and Florida while school was still being held in the one story frame school which seems to me to have had to been on the SE corner of Winona and Florida. That wooden school burned Sunday March 5, 1917.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Do you know about the Times Gone By: History of Montgomery Facebook page? They’ve got some vintage photos of the school: https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xfa1/t1.0-9/38492_137165956314373_3451454_n.jpg

  4. John B . Pugh says:

    (This is a correction of an earlier one of my comments)
    I am finding in the 1916 Montgomery City Directory that George W. (a farmer) and Kate Turner lived with Helen Turner (a student) at 101 James on the corner of California. Daniel Turner was a farmer living with Sallie Turner at 400 St Charles. The 400 block later became the 1900 block. 400 would roughly be the SE corner of St. Charles and California. In 1916 Capitol Heights School is listed as being at Winona and Florida. A street number or specific corner is not specified. In 1920 the address 501 Winona is specified ( the NE corner which was the site of the brick school). There was no directory for 1917, 1918. In 1908, 1909, 1910 and 1911 a Capitol Heights school is listed as being on the north side of Mt Meigs Rd , one (sic) east of Florida (roughly the site of the house where the current Capitol Plumbing is located). By 1912 Capitol Heights School is listed at the corner of Winona and Florida . Which corner is not specified until 1920.. In December of 1916 work started on the new brick school at the NE corner of Winona and Florida while school was still being held in the one story frame school which seems to me to have had to be on the SE corner of Winona and Florida. That wooden school burned Sunday March 5, 1917.

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