Ridley Park Junior-Senior High School
Free and Dupont Streets, Ridley Park, PA – (1887) 1918-1966
As 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.
In 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.
By 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.”
In 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.
In 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.
On 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.
In 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.
During the mid-‘50s it was determined that the high school building, constructed in 1919 and rehabilitated in 1940, was inadequate and in need of modernization. Supervising 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 laboratory.
Due 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.
By 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.