By AMANDA BEAM
NEW ALBANY —
Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about the people and events that have shaped the 200-year history of New Albany. Read all installments by clicking on the bicentennial link under the “seasonal content” header at newsandtribune.com
From a one-room log cabin to a huge brick complex spanning almost two city blocks, New Albany residents have always valued education. So much so that in 1853, the town created the first public high school in Indiana. Originally named Scribner High School after the city’s founders, the 160-year-old institution has weathered relocations, sporadic closures and even war. But through it all, the school persevered and remarkably transformed into the New Albany High School we know today.
Back when the Scribners first settled on the banks of the Ohio, having an informed citizenry was at the forefront of their thoughts. Within a year of their arrival, a large log cabin schoolhouse was built at the corner of State and Spring Streets. Other smaller institutions cropped up around town and by January 1821, New Albany felt it necessary to incorporate all of its schools and consolidate their control to a board of managers.
In a 1921 article written for the Indiana Magazine of History, Mary Scribner Davis Collins detailed the early development of education in New Albany. Most importantly, learning wasn’t just a grand notion for the Scribners. They actually put their money toward bringing their ideas to fruition.
“The educational advantages of a city have much to do with its desirability as a residence and New Albany stands in the front rank in this particular,” Davis said. “The founders of the town were zealous promoters of education and a permanent endowment fund of $5,000 was set apart, the interest of which was to go perpetually for school improvement.”
Schools would continue to come and go during the early 1800s. Bucking the trend, in 1853, the city used the accumulation of interest from the endowment fund and constructed Scribner High School on the corner of First and Spring. George H. Harrison was named principal of the institution and its 59 students.
For a little over a year, the new school ran smoothly. But an Indiana Supreme Court ruling in 1855 would soon change all that.
In the decision, the justices determined that taxes could not be used to fund local educational institutions. Most public schools in the state were immediately shut down. The following year, the legislature amended the Indiana Constitution and allowed for the funding from taxation. Scribner High School reopened in January 1856 with 244 students. The Indiana Supreme Court made a similar ruling in 1858, once again shutting down the school only to have it nullified by the legislature the following September.
About this time, arguments over slavery and secession started to pipe up in the southern states. When these quarrels turned into the Civil War, Scribner High School closed its doors, becoming instead a hospital for Union soldiers.
At the end of the war, the school again began accepting students. By 1870, two separate public institutions differentiated by sex served area students: the New Albany Boys High School and the New Albany Female High School. Ten years later, the schools once again merged and occupied the current Carnegie Center lot. After one more move in 1905 to East Sixth and Spring, New Albany High School would be moved to its current location on Vincennes Aveune in 1928.
Since that time, some improvements have been made.
“New Albany High School stayed pretty much the same until about 1973 when the boys’ basketball team won the state basketball championship,” said Vic Megenity, a former New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. teacher and a local historian. “As a result, the general public agreed that, ‘Hey, we need to do something to NAHS.’ So they expanded the building and added on a swimming pool and expanded the gym.”
Other than winning state sports’ titles, the high school on Vincennes also founded WNAS-FM (88.1) in 1949, the first student-run school radio station in the nation. Author Steve Warren in his work “Radio: The Book” listed spelling shows, storytelling, community news, science and coverage of high school sports events as being some of the things WNAS has covered.
Some famous actors, sports figures, scientists and politicians have all walked through New Albany’s hallowed halls. Astronomer Edwin Hubble taught at NAHS while Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton, renowned pro baseball player Billy Herman, golfer Fuzzy Zoeller and television star Josh Dallas attended the school. Since 2007, NAHS has maintained a Hall of Fame to memorialize some of its grad’s achievements.
With all the recent renovations to its buildings, the school’s chaotic moves should be well behind it. NAHS isn’t leaving the downtown area anytime soon, a fact that makes Megenity quite happy.
“It’s relevant that NAHS has stayed in its present location. There were a lot of high schools, like Jeff for instance, in a lot of cities in Indiana that put their high schools out in the suburbia area. And they sort of have gotten away from the downtown schools,” he said. “With that major expansion they had a dozen years ago, I think they’re going to be there for [a] lifetime.”