Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District
The Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District is significant for three reasons. First, it is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. These are in public education and in the petroleum industry. Second, the significance of the Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District rests in the cumulative importance of prominent residents associated with the broad pattern of community development, through which the neighborhood evolved into the primary residential area for these citizens. Third, it represents a significant and distinguishable entity consisting of a number of substantive individual components that embody characteristics of several types of architecture to be found in America between 1900 and 1940.
The Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District is located in Parkersburg, West Virginia and is in the shape of the capital letter "T". The campus of Parkersburg High School forms the top of the "T" and Washington Avenue (the only street in Parkersburg running east and west north of the Little Kanawha River to possess a name other than that denoted by a number) and the alleys to the immediate north and south of the street per se compose the "T'''s spine. This district would then adjoin two other established National Register districts in Parkersburg, the Julia-Ann Square Historic District and the Avery Street Historic District.
The twenty-seven acre Parkersburg High School campus, the historic electric street lamps (first installed in 1921) which run the entire length of Washington Avenue, the concentration of early 20th Century architectural styles represented in the district, and the historical significance to the community, the state, the region and the nation of people associated with the Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District are the threads which tie the district into a distinct unit.
The City of Parkersburg as we know it today had its beginnings on a tract of land acquired by Philip Dils of Pennsylvania by 1798 north of the Little Kanawha River. As early as the 1860's one of the major oil fields in the United States was opened 20 miles up this river. Development of other fields in the area caused Parkersburg to become one of major oil and refining equipment manufacturing centers in the nation. By the 1890's interest in the utilization of the immense quantities of natural gas in the area increased and by 1906 was the leading natural gas producing state in the nation. It held this position for more than 10 years. Because of the ready availability of this natural gas, West Virginia became for a time in the first half of the 20th century one of the centers of glass production in the U.S.
On September 28, 1898, four Parkersburg citizens who had played key roles in laying the foundation for these developments, had, with their wives purchased for investment purposes a portion of the original Dils tract. They were Johnson Newlon Camden (a major West Virginia oil, coal, timber, railroad and banking capitalist between 1860 and 1908), William N. Chancellor (a major Camden business associate whose businesses included oil refining and the ownership beginning in 1889 of a Parkersburg hotel now on the National Register, the Blennerhassett Hotel), Charles H. Shattuck (another Camden business associate whose focus tended to be upon oil, banking and transportation and whose home in Parkersburg, like that of Chancellor's still stands in the Julia-Ann Square Historic District and James M. Jackson (a circuit judge and member of a family which historian John Alexander Williams has demonstrated was a part of the oligarchy which dominated West Virginia's history in the 19th century).
The land purchased was an undeveloped, somewhat swampy region situated on the northeast edge of the city once traversed in part by the Parkersburg and St. Mary's Turnpike, a highway which connected the county seats of petroleum rich Wood and Pleasants counties. The land purchased was 21 blocks north of the Little Kanawha River and less than a mile east of the Ohio River. The land purchased by the Camden, Chancellor, Shattuck and Jackson couples was ripe for development due to the city's growth, the area's proximity to the City Park and the fact that the area was located on both sides of the Parkersburg and Marietta Inter-Urban Railway, a trolley system whose turntable was located just south of the tract purchased and whose rails had been laid northward to an area in which Shattuck and the other owners of the railway had developed and opened in 1898 — a major convention and recreational facility known as Terrapin Park.
Development within the area of the Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District was relatively slow, however, until the completion of the High School in 1917, a project which had begun 3 years earlier. In the area of the district there was only one house whose construction had been completed by 1901, and only one other whose construction was underway by that date. Between 1901 and 1914 twenty-two houses were built along what by 1901 was known as Washington Avenue. Twenty-one of them were located in the first four blocks of the eight block street which connected Dudley Avenue with Park Avenue. Four of these were Queen Anne in style. By the next year, these four blocks were paved with brick as evidenced in a Parkersburg newspaper dated August 5, 1915. Park Avenue which lies at the eastern edge of the Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District was also paved at this time.
The decision to build Parkersburg High School along Dudley Avenue on 27 acres of mostly swampy land was primarily that of Charles E. VanDevender, president of the Parkersburg Independent School District. He was a successful lumberman who as a youth had worked in the Burning Springs, Virginia (now West Virginia) oil field. Between 1901-1917 he was a resident near the area of the district. He secured the passage in the WV Legislature of special enabling legislature permitting the school district to purchase a tract of land of necessary size. Prior to the completion of the new high school, the school had been located on Seventh Street in Parkersburg's present downtown area. Frank L. Packard of Columbus, Ohio was chosen over a field of ten submitted designs to be the architect on this project.
In the 1918-1940 period Parkersburg High School was the largest high school in West Virginia; this was due to several factors. First, there were only two high schools in the county, PHS and one that served a small, rather underpopulated region in the northern part of Wood County, Williamstown High School. Second, all the other counties in West Virginia of Wood County's size in population had several high schools. The historically celebrated size of the school was somewhat magnified by the fact that the city for most of its history had no college. In spite of periodic newspaper editorials urging the establishment of a liberal arts college in the community, none was established on a permanent basis until the late 1950's. For a period of time in the early 1940's, Ohio University, at the urging of the Wood County Board of Education began offering courses at the high school after a similar request to West Virginia University was turned down. However, with the decline in college enrollments triggered by the deepening World War II, OU withdrew from Parkersburg. The high school therefore became quite naturally an institution offering a diverse curriculum with a high quality faculty. The school consequently was able to attract in the 1918-1940 era some outstanding faculty who made significant contributions in education in the state. One was Marie Boette. A music educator, she organized musical groups for her students which gained statewide recognition: Marcato, the Vivance Glee Club and the A Capella Choir. Hired away by West Virginia Wesleyan College, she continued to contribute to music education in the state and was recognized for her efforts by being granted an honorary doctorate degree by two colleges within the state. Another was Sara Smith. A historian and a political scientist, she, too, was hired away from PHS. After earning a Ph.D from Columbia, she became a faculty member at West Virginia University. Her book dealing with China's invasion by Japan in 1931, is considered as a definitive work.
After the opening of the new school in 1918, Washington Avenue was further developed. By 1921, fifty-two houses were on the street with expansion now east of Plum Street to Park Avenue.
Among the new residents of Washington Avenue was a male physician named Dr. Shirley M. Prunty, who lived at 1416 Washington Avenue from 1914 to 1921. He had a desire to make an improvement on the street and acted on it thus changing the street's appearance in a dramatic way. He had decided that it would be an excellent idea if electrically powered boulevard lights were erected along the street. He purchased a light to be placed along the street in front of his house, convinced other residents to do the same and then secured electricity from the West Penn Power Company. The residents celebrated on July 4, 1921 when the lights were turned on. For sometime following this, this street was known as Washington Boulevard but because of the existence of a Washington Boulevard in nearby Belpre, Ohio, the street gradually became known as Washington Avenue. For several decades now, Washington Avenue has been the only street or avenue in the city to have retained its 1921 era type street lamps along its entire length.
Over the next nineteen years from 1921 to 1940 the city, the high school and Washington Avenue grew. By 1920 the city's population was 29,623 and by 1930 it was 30,103.
In order to accommodate more students at the end of the 1920's, a decade in American educational history known as the decade of the high school, north and south wings were added to the school in 1929. However, five years before, another modification had been made to the campus when a 10,000 seat stadium had been completed so that the high school's football team which had won state championships in 1919, 1921 and 1923 would have a modern facility in which to play and its rabid followers would be assured of a seat at home games. Following the stadium's construction, state championships were also won in 1927, 1938 and 1940. At times it seemed that interest in football during this period overshadowed more intellectual pursuits. This was demonstrated between 1922 and 1940 in the organizing of excursion trains to PHS games in Wheeling, Huntington and Clarksburg. This reached a high in 1940. The largest special train to ever run in the United States to transport persons to a high school football game was put together. It consisted of 4 separate units of 11 railroad coaches each and carried 4,000 people. Its destination was Wheeling, West Virginia. The purpose was to show the community's support for the Big Reds in the state championship game.
Before the decade of the 1930's has run its course Stadium Field became the site of an outstanding human achievement of a different type. Under the leadership of George Dietz, the high school band, known as the Big Red Band gained acclaim for its spectacular formations on the gridiron and won three international band contests. By this time two persons who had graduated from the school would attain fame in American business and diplomacy respectively. William M. Batten (Class of 1927) eventually became president and chairman of the Board of the J.C. Penney Co. and president of the New York Exchange. William Kahn Leonhart (Class of 1936) served as the U.S. Ambassador to Tanganyika in the early 1960's at a time when the nation became Tanzania.
Although the gym in the main building seemed of ample size when the school opened in 1918, it later became apparent that a larger facility was necessary. Consequently in 1951 a field house separate from the present building was completed.
The design elements of the Jacobethan Revival style of the school are replicated in the Memorial Field House as evidenced by its stone quoins and faux parapet. The Field House due to its placement beside the main building of the school rather than behind it, is very visible. This Jacobethan Revival styling adds to the picturesque quality of the campus and in turn to the preservation of the architectural integrity of the campus.
As for Washington Avenue, by 1940, the street was fully developed and paved and became the site of several of the city's finest homes built during the Great Depression. The first of these homes was completed in the Jacobethan Revival style at 1619 Washington Avenue in 1930 for Louis Storck, president of the Storck Baking Company of Parkersburg. Six years later the construction of four additional houses of the Jacobethan Revival Style was completed. Two of these (one at 1620 and one at 1911 Washington Avenue) were constructed by the Universal Glass Products Company, a major milk bottle manufacturer, for two of its executives. The remaining two were built for executives of the Parkersburg Rig and Reel Company, a major oil field equipment manufacturer which since 1897 had been in existence and throughout the 1897-1940 period had grown to the point that it had a presence in 1940 wherever there was an oil field. These two houses had mates in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. By the end of 1939 an additional Jacobethan Revival style house at 1701 Washington Avenue had been built for another Parkersburg Rig and Reel executive and the street had acquired eminence in the city as one of its most fashionable streets.
The Parkersburg Rig and Reel executives were, however, not the only persons who were, had been, or would be employed in the petroleum industry who lived on Washington Avenue between 1921 and 1940. The house at 1226 Washington Avenue was the home for many years of Patrick J. McDonough, an officer in the Continental Oil Company. The house at 1228 Washington Avenue was the boyhood home of Standard Oil of New Jersey executive Smith D. Turner, Jr. The house at 1232 Washington Avenue was the residence of Frank G. Davis, who was an owner of both the Parkersburg Machine Company and the Davis-Miller Engineering Company. The house at 1430 Washington Avenue was the residence for a period of time of Bernard P. McDonough, who as a youth was employed as a roustabout in the Calhoun County, West Virginia oil fields by his uncle, the previously mentioned Patrick J. McDonough and who after 1940 would acquire ownership of the Parkersburg Rig and Reel Company on his way to becoming a multi-millionaire, a major philanthropist and the owner of Dromoland Castle in Ireland. In 1940, he constructed a new home for his family at 2000 Washington Avenue. The house at 2018 Washington Avenue was the residence of William Schwenlein, the Parkersburg Rig and Reel's chief engineer. The house at 1903 Washington Avenue was in 1926 the home of an oil driller named Annie V. Barker. The house at 1707 Washington Avenue was the home in the 1920's of William H. Baldwin, president of the Baldwin Tool Works. The house at 1601 Washington Avenue was the home in the 1930's of R. Allen Startzmann, manager of the Clifton Oil and Gas Company. The Queen Anne house at 1221 Washington Avenue was the residence at one time of an oil operator named George P. Murrin, who later lived at 1211 Washington Avenue. By 1940, however, the 1211 Washington Avenue house was the home of James T. Callanan, president of PARMACO (the Parkersburg Machine Co). In the field of science, the father of entomology in America, Dr. A.D. Hopkins, lived at 1708 Washington Avenue for at least 16 years of the 1900-1940 period: 1924-1940.
In summary, the Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. These events are the development of opportunities for public education, the 1900-1940 period of the oil and gas industry and architectural creations made possible by the income generated by this industry. Proof of this can be found in one of the United States' chief oil and gas field towns between 1900-1940, Parkersburg, West Virginia. Significantly, it can still be seen in the city's Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District.
Allen, Bernard L. Parkersburg: A Bicentennial History. Parkersburg Bicentennial Commission, 1985
Allen, Bernard L. People, Places, Rivers and Experiences: A Guide for Reconstructing Wood County's History. Wood County Historic Landmarks Commission, 1988.
Black, Donald F. History of Wood County, West Virginia, 1975. City Directories for the City of Parkersburg, W. Va., 1905-1942, 1991.
Donovan, John J., School Architecture: Principles of Practices, 1921.
"Fifth Ward and Vicinity — Paving Fifth Ward Streets Will Enhance Property — Events of the Week In This Part of Parkersburg", Clipping from an unidentified Parkersburg newspaper, August 5, 1915.
Gilbert, Kenneth, Parkersburg High School History, Mountain Trace Books, 1985.
Heritage and Horizons, Parkersburg, W. Va.: The Parkersburg Art Center, 1972.
Interviews by Bernard L. Allen (1991), Mary Bickel, community resident; Charles Casto, former resident; Mary Jo Davis, resident for 74 years; Mrs. John Yankiss, resident for 61 years; Richard Owens, Monongahela Power Co.; Joseph C. Woofter, M.D., resident; Howard Work, former resident; Jeff Little, resident.
Murdock, Eugene C. Bernard P. McDonough: The Man and His Work, 1988.
Opinionaires completed in 1991 by residents of Washington Avenue, on file with Bernard L. Allen.
Parkersburg News: "Robert Davis Funeral Set For Tuesday," August 12, 1915; "PHS Past Detailed in New Book," by Julie Watkins, June 8, 1986.
Parkersburg Sentinel: "Dennis Daley Answers Call," December 6, 1943; "Frank G. Davis Taken By Death," July 5, 1944; Golden Anniversary Edition, June 1939; "P.J. McDonough Passes Today," February 25, 1944; "Smith Turner, Lawyer, Dies," May 2, 1943.
"Parkersburg Woman's Club Holly Trail Features Home',' an undated Parkersburg newspaper clipping about the home at 1232 Washington Avenue.
Roe's Atlas of the City of Parkersburg, West Virginia and Vicinity. Chicago, Ill, George Cram and Co., 1901.
Schafer, John Paul, My Historic Neighborhood, Social Studies Project, Wood County School, 1991.
Way, Gary, Notes compiled on the history of Washington Avenue in the 1980's and given to Bernard L. Allen Inc. 1986.
Whiffen, Marcus, American Architecture Since 1780, M.I.T. Press Williams, John A., West Virginia: A History, 1976.
Wodehouse, Lawrence American Architects from the Civil War to the First World War: A Guide to Information Sources.
Wood County Land Books, Recorder's Office at Wood County Courthouse in Parkersburg, W. Va.
________"Andrew Delmar Hopkins, A W. Va. Pioneer in Entomology," W. Va. Forestry Notes Circular 155, #14, January, 1992.
† Dr. Bernad Allen, Nancy B. Hoy, Parkersburg High School-Washington Avenue Historic District, Wood County, WV, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.