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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 ]
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