Free and Dupont Streets, Ridley
Park, PA – (1887) 1918-1966
a community, Ridley Park has always evidenced a strong commitment to the
education of its children.
Residents of the town before its incorporation as a borough could send
their children to a variety of public and private schools. Within Ridley Park proper, the choices
included a private school thought to be of high school caliber—the Wilson
School located at the intersection of Sellers Avenue and Chester Pike. This institution (1877—circa 1884),
operated by John and Hannah Wilson, functioned as a boarding school for girls
and a day school for a select group of boys. In September of 1882 Agnes Taylor opened the Ridley Park
Seminary at the home of her father, William Curtis Taylor (now the Brian Court
Apartments, 17 W. Chester Pike).
Essentially a grade school advertised as offering “fine scenery and
healthful air as well as such individual attention as will enable each student
to succeed.” The school also offered some college preparatory courses. Students also had the option of
attending the Norwood School, the Leiper Church School, the Leiperville School,
and the Holland Street School, as described in the Ridley Township
history. Upon the town’s
incorporation as a borough, however, residents wanted their own school.
response to this request of the residents and to the steady increase in
population, the Ridley Township School District purchased, on June 5, 1885,
lot-559 and parts of lot-558 and 560 from Ridley Park landowner Joseph Edward
Burk. Construction began
immediately, and the “Ridley Park Public School” located on Tome Street
(between Park and Barker Streets) opened in January of 1886. In the words of Ms. Nellie Sample, a
teacher in the new school: “It was one of the most beautiful elementary school
buildings in this section of Pennsylvania.” At this point, the secondary and primary grades included
students from all parts of the township.
Tome Street School was turned over to a newly formed Ridley School
District in 1887, shortly after the town’s incorporation as a borough.
1895 the growth of population in the borough had forced this group to add four
classrooms to the Tome Street School, which by this time serviced students of
high school age. Of high school
education during this time period, the writer of school history in the program
for the Class of 1937’s 50th year reunion held May 22, 1987 states:
“Ridley Park High School was started first in 1887, when it consisted of one
room in a building on the site where the Tome Street School stood. The first class of four students was
instructed in one course by Miss Mary A. Welsh.”
1915 residents petitioned the board for their own junior-senior high
school. In February 1916, a
five-acre site at DuPont Street, Free Street, and Trainor Street was bought for
$5,000, and construction was begun in the late spring of 1916. The school opened in September of 1917,
and was formally dedicated on January 21, 1918. The new high school attracted students from as far away as
Colwyn and Marcus Hook, in addition to servicing the Ridley Park students, most
of whom were currently attending Chester High.
1927 a separate gymnasium was constructed. During the summer of 1928, it was covered with red stucco to
make it conform architecturally with the rest of the building. This wooden frame structure burned to
the ground on June 3, 1930. A
large new gymnasium/auditorium made entirely of brick and attached to the high
school was dedicated on March 3, 1930.
June 14, 1940, a fire destroyed the interior of the high school, necessitating
a complete renovation, which substantially changed the original floor
plan. Significant among these
internal changes, according to a report prepared by Supervising Principal J. Layton
Moore, were a more ample library more centrally located, a science laboratory
classroom suite, and a larger office space for the school administration. Rest rooms for staff members were
provided. In addition, a new wing
containing four new classrooms (two on the first floor and two on the second
floor) was added between the gym and the high school, two areas that had
formerly been connected by a tunnel on the basement level and via a breezeway
off the first floor. Two of these
new rooms (upper) together with an area made possible the inclusion of more
equipment and a broader offering for commercial students as well as a larger
art room, located adjacent to the auditorium stage. While these renovations were occurring, the 600 students
utilized the churches, barnstormers, and other buildings in town as classrooms,
giving the town the appearance of a college campus. The bell outside the Borough Hall was rung by a different
student each day as chosen by one of the teachers who had classes in the C. C.
Pierce Post building to signal the changing of class periods.
August of 1944 six acres were purchased from the E. K. Nelson estate. This property, which adjoined the high
school, became “Cornog Field,” named in honor of William “Doc” Cornog, who was
a teacher and athletic director in the district for 29 years. The field was regarded by many as one
of the most beautiful locations for recreational and athletic activity of any
small high school in the area.
the mid-‘50s it was determined that the high school building, constructed in
1919 and rehabilitated in 1940, was inadequate and in need of
Principal Moore reported that locker rooms were ill-arranged and unsanitary. The Homemaking Department was
considered obsolete and the shop area inadequate, unsafe, and out-of-date. A vote of the people duly authorized
the school board to finance through direct obligation bonds the erection of a
new wing to the high school building.
The additional structure included a shop and a mechanical drawing room,
new locker and shower rooms, physical therapy headquarters, physical education
personnel offices, and an athletic equipment storage room. In the main building a complete
modernization of the homemaking facilities was achieved. Facilities for the school health
program, an office for the school nurse, a guidance suite, a visual aids room,
and additional and more attractive locker rooms for general purposes were
realized within the high school structure. In 1955 changes were made in the gymnasium/auditorium to
provide more maximum use of the interior space for physical education activity,
while in 1956 a radical renovation was made to the high school science
to significant changes in the community such as the acceleration of
manufacturing and industrial activities along the Delaware River, the
construction of the Brandywine Farms Section, and the West Lake development,
the population of Ridley Park increased to an estimated 6,500 by 1958. Since 1905, when the four-year high
school had been established, Ridley Park had attracted outside students. In addition to pupils from Tinicum
Township, students from Parkside, Marcus Hook, Trainer, Linwood, Upland, and
Colwyn came to enroll in greater numbers.
Although, the enrollment of students from outside the district decreased
as districts moved toward state-mandated consolidation, high school enrollment
throughout the ‘60s stabilized at about 659 students (grades 7 to 12,
inclusive). Of this number, some
300 came from outside school districts.
Graduating classes numbered about 100 yearly.
the mid-‘60s, it became evident to Ridley Park and to the sending districts
that the facilities at Ridley Park High School were not adequate for the needs
of the projected enrollment.
Districts began to think in terms of large administrative units to cope
with the problem of building space.
The Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction endorsed and
stimulated efforts toward larger school districts and the eliminiation of the
numerous small ones that had been established originally when the state public
school structure was set up in 1831.
Ridley Park High School’s last graduating class was the Class of 1966. In that year, despite much community
opposition, the Ridley Park, Eddystone, and Ridley Township School Districts
joined together in a merger that was state-mandated. The high school then became the Ridley South Junior
High. In August of 1972, the
building that for many a “Parker” symbolized “the pride of (their) youth” (Alma
Mater) was torn down to make way for the brand new Ridley Junior High School,
thus uniting the students of Ridley North and Ridley South Junior Highs.