This 1976 photo shows Keith McBrayer and members of the Junior Historians at the then-McDaniel Junior High working on the clock and bell in the tower at the school.


Freddy Lessly, Gabe Parker &  Horace Groff check out the old bell that once hung atop the original Denison Educational Institute.




It looks like the day is near when the old Denison High School in the 800 block West Main is going to be torn down despite efforts of Denison Heritage Inc., the last several years to save the old building.

Banner story in the Herald Democrat on Sunday, July 21 was written by DHS graduate Gary Carter with the headline "End of an Era."

The city of Denison is working to acquire the deed to the property from DHI, the group that has been trying to raise funds and preserve the building and turn it into something for which Denison could be proud.  But after several feasibility studies and lots of ideas, the funds couldn’t be raised for the multi-million dollar project.

The Smith Foundation has voted $300,000 to help with the demolition and other foundations are expected to chip in raise the remainder of the $500,000 needed to remove the historic building. Feelings among people in Denison, particularly those who attended the school, have been mixed.

The property must be used for the public, so a new library is among the handful of suggested uses that have been discussed for the block that anchors the West end of downtown.

Mayor Robert Brady, also a graduate of Denison Schools, told Carter that the city has spoken to foundations that are willing to support revitalizing the property contingent on the building being demolished. He said it would take a bond election when economics are right and a decision is made on what the city wants to do with the property.

Contracts on transferring the property to the city are in the works, according to another DHS graduate, Diana Williams, a member of the board. She assured Carter that the site will remain for public use.





After reading Sunday’s Herald-Democrat banner headline on page one, "The End of an Era," I felt like I had just learned that a very ill friend or relative had just passed away. I was sad to hear the news, but relieved to learn that he/she was no longer suffering.

The old school in downtown Denison has been very close to my heart, having spent four of the best years of my life as a high school student there in the 1950s, then watching my children enjoy the same school through their junior high years. Even my mother and uncle spent their high school years in the building.

But watching it sit vacant, deteriorating and being abused by those who have entered through broken windows (including pigeons and other birds) has changed my thinking about the building.

I’ve written editorials to "save the building" more than once and attended meeting after meeting aimed at finding a solution to what to do with the old building. I still love the building, but my mind has changed. The time has come to "move on."

It has become an ugly white elephant anchoring the west end of our downtown area and no longer should it be an eyesore to people thinking of moving to Denison. The right decision has been made in my estimation.

The people who have exhausted every avenue trying to save the school should be complimented. They have worked hard trying to find a way to rejuvenate the old building that closed in 1986.

The time has come for those of us with sentimental ties to what many remember as Denison High School, later became McDaniel Junior High School and now is known as "the old high school on Main Street" to "cut the apron string" so to speak.

From what I’ve heard around town, enough funds to tear the school down are almost a reality and the transfer of the property to the city is a near "done deal." No doubt there are plans for public use that are being strongly considered.

Let us hope that a new library is on the top of the list. Denison needs a more spacious library and what could be a better anchor for the west end of downtown than a public library and possible community center of sorts to showplace Main Street and Denison Downtown.

We’ve heard many people who hoped the school could be salvaged say they will be happy as long as something from the school becomes part of the new plan. On top of that list is the clock tower that has stood guard over Denison since 1914, part of which goes back to the first school in 1873.

Digging back into my high school file, I found an article that I wrote in 1976 telling about Keith McBrayer, sponsor for the school’s Junior Historians, working on the synchronization of the bell with the clock.

This was a Bicentennial project for the Junior Historians. McBrayer and the students were able to get the clock working for a time, but it stopped again. Several other tries have been made through the years by others, including Darrell and Keith Hooker and Paul R. Jennings. But for years it has been sitting idle.

History of the bell isn’t perfectly clear, but it is known that the heart of the mechanism was installed in 1873 in the first school on the site, the Washington Academy, which also became known as the Denison Educational Institute.

Since Denison’s first school also was the first free graded public school in Texas, its history has endeared the bell and the clock to the hearts of older Denisonians who have been here all of most of their lives.

When the original building was dismantled in 1913 to make way for the first "new" high school, the bell from the old school, considered even then as a community heirloom, was saved to become the gong for the new clock installed when the school was built in 1914. The clapper is said to have come from the original bell on the First Presbyterian Church.

Frank McCune, an elderly friend in 1976 who remembered just about everything about Denison’s early history, told us that R.D. Beirne, an early day Denison merchant who was born in 1850 and died in 1928, donated the clock when the school was built in 1914.

McCune, who has been deceased for many years now, said he thought Beirne paid between $2,000 and $3,000 for the clock, which was a lot of money in 1914. Beirne operated a department store in the 300 block West Main.

Beirne and McCune were good friends. McCune recalled that the clock struck on the hour and half hour from 1917 to 1921, the years that he attended the school. It was still striking in the 50s when I was there, although the time wasn’t always accurate.

Fortunately, the historic bell has been removed from the bell tower and stored by Denison Heritage Inc., who acquired the property from Denison schools, to protect it from vandals, who several times have made their way to the tower. Also stored are many of the red tiles that covered the gymnasium and south wing which were to be torn down in plans recommended by feasibility studies.

Some of the tin tiles from classroom ceilings have been sold by DHI to maintain some of the upkeep such as grounds, boarding up windows and trying to keep the building secure.

The Denison Alumni Association has 17" X 11" color pictures of the school in its heyday available for sale. Once the school comes down, the pictures will become collector’s items. They are available from Marvin Vincent or any member of the Alumni Association for $20. This is the picture that is on the cover of the fall issue of "Traditions" Magazine that is published twice a year by the association.

We will all miss the old school, but we look forward to seeing what will take its place, whether it be a new library, a full-fledged civic center or a place of some sort for downtown events. Whatever it is, it will serve the city and its residents and help improve the appearance of the heart of our city.

Thanks to the Smith Foundation and any other foundation that comes forward with the money to get the demolition under way. Thanks to those individuals who have contributed to DHI through the years in hopes of saving the building and thanks to those who have worked hard trying to do so.

Sometimes you have to just turn loose and move on. We’re looking forward to moving on to something for which we can all be proud.

This article was published on July 26, 2006 in the Herald-Democrat of Denison and Sherman. - Donna Hunt




A $1.5 million question begs for correct solution.  It was actually in the mid-1970s when the demise of the old Denison High School building on Main Street was first discussed.

Then McDaniel Junior High, school officials made a decision that the building was to begin its end run as a learning institution. The last day of school in 1986, on a hot June day, I meandered about the old building taking it all in. We were told it was going to close for good that year. I remember being shooed out of the building and as I awaited my ride home; they actually put a chain and a lock on the door.

Twenty years have passed and time took its toll on the building. Trees grew through the windows and water seeped into the majestic auditorium where it seems like yesterday I watched the “Nutcracker Suite” performed by a symphony and ballet group.

Fast forward to today. I’m standing on the corner of Armstrong and Main with my eyes closed and I can still see and smell the school building. It’s not like I have this scrapbook of memories and photos I drag out when I wax philosophic about the “good old days.” No, eighth grade is a tough time for many young students. A lot of people possess bully stories and the like from those days at McDaniel, so I’m sure they don’t really care much for that part of their past.

But the building, its history and all its secrets were solace to me as I sat through a boring history class or had to endure the spillover from a fight in the hall nearby. And whether you attended the school or not, it’s a part of the Denison landscape, for better or worse.

So, what to do with the building? That’s the million dollar question. Actually, it’s at least a $1.5 million question. But that’s whole other can of worms.

What the issue of the old building has been boiled down to is this: Save it or tear it down. But, as many have found, the issue really isn’t that black and white. If it was that clear, then the common sense thing to do would be to call a bond election and let the people of Denison decide.

Just as an aside, the original property the old school is set upon was donated to the city when Denison was still an infant and the city called for a $15,000 bond to build the first school. Which, as the historical marker on the current building depicts, is the site of the first free graded public school in Texas. When that building, first called Washington School, came down, the next structure was built with — you’ll love this — city bond money. So, I say there’s precedent to calling a bond to “do something” with that site. While that was a hundred years ago, it’s precedent nonetheless.

And speaking of a hundred years ago, newspaper accounts and editorials in the Denison Daily News and The Denison Herald showed that there was concern that certain wealthy, powerful individuals in the city were calling the shots. The term “good ol’ boys” was never thrown around in the newspaper, mind you, but this is how the commoners referred to this practice of the few holding sway over the many in small towns. To me, it’s the golden rule ... he who has the gold makes the rule.

I bring this up because since the 1990s, it had seemed that the blue-collar, old railroad town of Denison had grown up and shed this monocratic rule. Even the established in the community had gotten behind the “new energy” that came with the downtown revitalization. The city’s slogan even changed to “Small Town Big Art.”

I have always said that Denison’s heart beats through its downtown. To gauge the pulse of the city, you have to look no further than what’s in the shops downtown, who’s calling the shots on the various boards and committees, and what is the make-up of the city council and city staff. Keep in mind, even City Hall resides in a refurbished old downtown building.

Every publication bragging on Denison, whether it be from the Chamber of Commerce or the city or whatever, has a picture of or mentions the “Historic Katy Depot” in “beautiful downtown Denison.” And, for those who don’t know, it took one man and darn near all his expendable cash (C.J. McManus of “Dad and Lad” fame) to bring the historic Katy Depot back from decay and eyesore status.

I have heard countless Shermanites complain about the look of their downtown, where the heart of that city once pulsed strong, saying “we tore down all our old buildings.” Of course, the truth is many burned and were lost to condemnation or just plain forgotten about. Now, don’t feel too sorry for Shermanites as they can hang their hats on the bright and shiny new Town Center and Sherman Commons on the north side. The sales tax from that area isn’t too shabby either.

But, back to Denison.

The city doesn’t have the intersection of two major U.S. Highways to draw interest from big box retailers. A fact’s a fact, get over it. What basket do you put your eggs in then? Beg for retail? Search for an eclectic mix, such as that trying to happen on Main Street? Perhaps both can happen at the same time.

Travel writers across the nation agree that tourism in America is changing. The move away from touristy meccas such as Orlando and Las Vegas is seeing more travelers going for what’s called “regional travel.” In this case, Americans are going to other places in America to see how those people live. For instance, travelers from Southern California have gone in record numbers to travel the Northeast, seeking out lobster shacks in Maine and walking the Revolutionary War trails in Boston.

I’m not going to beat readers over the head with words such as “historical tourism,” because people don’t travel hundreds and thousands of miles to see an old building. But, Dallas is a serious destination for regional travel, and people want to see cowboys and longhorns and cactus and all the other stereotypes Texas is known for. In Dallas proper, the only cowboys they see are football players and the only longhorns they’ll interact with graduated from the University of Texas.

So, those regional travelers take day trips from Dallas proper, and McKinney is a popular stop for them. What does McKinney market for itself? It’s “historic downtown,” and its crown jewel — the restored old courthouse on the square. A concert hall by night, but a tourist mecca by day. And to think, about 10 years ago they wanted to tear it down to build a Walgreens (true story).

Now, to the point. Once the old Denison High School is torn down, it’s gone. Forever. Period. Save it or tear it down, that’s the question, huh?

Then leave it to that question. Make a set of goals and a dollar amount needed to begin the restoration and leave it there. Get an answer one way or another from the foundations about where they stand with the money they’ve given and/or want back. Get the building out of the city’s hands and let a non-profit go forward with the money that’s been given and pledged and be supportive of the effort. Take the personality conflicts and the nasty name-calling out of the process and think about what’s best for downtown and what’s best for the city as a whole. And, more importantly, take into consideration what the people want, whether that be through an election, straw poll, or whatever. Check the pulse.

Remember, the past is prologue. Look at the Katy Depot, McKinney’s Courthouse square, and what those in downtown Sherman miss from their landscape, and then think about the old Denison High School building.

Besides, who wins if there’s an empty, overgrown lot full of mustang grapevines and an unpruned pecan tree?

GARY CARTER is city editor of the Herald Democrat.



hello fellow graduates---i am a graduate of dhs and am dismayed at the way the city let that beautiful building just rot down.  why on earth didn't the city do something with it 20 odd years ago ? it would have made a great office building and with some great imagination there are several things that could have saved it.

those four yrs there have left me with wonderful memories--the teachers were so very good---i can remember faces but for some i can't put a name to the face---walking home for lunch---sitting on the wall waiting for the bell to ring----hearing that clock in the middle of the night ---going to classes up and down those stairs---these are just a few of the memories i'll take to my grave with me.  they can take the building but not my memories. 
i read your paper everyday on line so i try to keep up with things in denison.  we took our daughter there last year just so she could see where i went to school----hoping we could go in and she could walk the halls as i had done, but the building was all boarded up.  thanks for your valiant effort to save good old denison high school.   jo nell  [emerson ] david--gulfport, ms.


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