History of White Sulphur District High School
Educating “Country Boys and Girls”
An article in the White Sulphur Springs Sentinel of January 19, 1912, announced that “the board of Education of the White Sulphur District will meet tomorrow to consider the question of the establishment of a High School here to the voters of the district. We understand the idea is to issue bonds of say 25 years. ”The article went on to explain that “the valuation of all property in the District is now over one million dollars, and figuring on that basis, a tax of one fourth of one percent would pay the interest and sinking funds on the bonds.”
The decision to build a high school was driven by the untiring efforts of Mr. H. C. Bailey, principal of the local grade school, and other community leaders. The State Superintendent of Schools was also lobbying hard in favor of high school education for all, arguing that “country boys and girls should have as good opportunities as those who live in town.” and “a high school elevates the tone of a community.”
The new school building was erected in 1912 at a cost of $20,000. White Sulphur was one of the first towns in Greenbrier County to have a high school. During the time of construction, Mr. Bailey conducted high school classes in the O’Farrell house on Patterson Street. Because the school was built under the auspices of the White Sulphur District Board of Education, its official name was White Sulphur District High School.
In the year 1912-13, the school was organized as a two-year high school and met the requirements of a third-class high school. At the time, the new building was considered too large and only two rooms were used during the first two years. The subjects offered were plane geometry, first-year algebra, three years of English, American history, botany, Latin, and physical geography.
The extra-curricular activities were outdoor and indoor basketball (with students from other classes and faculty rounding out the teams) and the literary society. The basketball teams sometimes took the train to out-of-town games. During the winter months, various places served as “gymnasiums” for basketball, such as, the “Old White” ballroom, and the second floor of what was then the McQueen Store building.
In the spring of 1913, Kenneth Gillespie, Florence Treasel, and Bessie Gardner, had the honor of being the first graduating class of White Sulphur High School. Green and white were chosen as the class colors and eventually became the school colors.
At the end of the 1913-14 school year the policy of graduating after a two-year course was changed, and requirements were set up to extend high school to four years. Therefore, there were no graduating classes in 1915 and 1916. The school became a first-class high school in 1920, and was admitted in the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1931.
Starting in 1925, the school boasted the unusual distinction of having a female principal. Miss Florence Smith served in that capacity for some 20-plus years, and influenced many beneficial changes in the high school. Although she was characterized as being very lady-like, she did not hesitate to track down and return truant boys she found playing pool at the Central Restaurant downtown. The school’s Future Teachers of America chapter was named in her honor.
In 1929, a new gymnasium-auditorium was added to the building. This addition also contained a science laboratory, home economics rooms, locker rooms, and extra classroom, and a library.
Over time extracurricular activities expanded to include a yearbook, The Brier, first published in 1916 and dedicated to Miss Louis Clark, the faculty advisor. In 1927, a newly established school paper, The Fountain, was published with Wayne Ayres as the first chief editor. The publication’s name came from the idea that it was a “spring of knowledge.” Although the school discontinued the newspaper later due to lack of funds, it was revived briefly in the 1960s when C. Michael Williams, the last editor, arranged to have it printed as an insert in the White Sulphur Springs Star in partnership with Lewisburg High School. The school band was organized in 1932, by Mr. E. R. Llayne, and reorganized in 1938 by Mr. Samuel Cutright. The first Hi-Y club was organized in 1930.
Among the traditions that developed in the early years were the selection of a class motto, color, and flower each year. There was a four-day celebration for graduation that included a class play, class night, and banquet. Gifts were displayed on table in the library. The school board gave carnations, and teachers held a banquet in the graduates’ honor. The class night tradition continued until the early 1960s.
Until the Depression, girls wore white dresses and boys wore black suits at graduation. When the financial hardships of the Depression made it hard for the students to afford the dresses and suits, caps and gowns were introduced for the first time in 1930.
In 1932, it was decided that rather than have a guest speaker, the five students with the highest grade point average during their high school career would be invited to speak at graduation. That tradition continued for a number of years, but in later years graduation again featured guest speakers.
The Green Devils
John Arbogast, a Fountain sports editor, suggested that White Sulphur High School athletic teams should be called the Green Devils, and Coach Sam Rice and Principal Florence Smith agreed. A new school song, Hail White Sulphur High School, was written by Miss Virginia Perryman.
Over time, girls’ sports were dropped due to a lack of resources, but the boys’ football and basketball teams enjoyed a lively rivalry with Lewisburg, Alderson, and Ronceverte High Schools, and the girls served as cheerleaders. White Sulphur became a dedicated basketball town. Because only few games were broadcast on local radio station WRON, fans returning from winning out-of-town games would toot their horns as they rounded the curve approaching The Greenbrier so that the entire town would know of their victory.
School activities were held all around town. Proms were held at The Greenbrier and homecoming dances were held in the school gym. During World War II, proms moved to the gym because the hotel was being used as a hospital. Football was played at Memorial Park. The band room was in the old city hall building. Banquets were held at the Emmanuel Methodist Church across the street from the school. Each year the seniors were treated to a “skip day,” during which they made day trips to parks nearby.
Proms had themes, but no real decorations since they were held at The Greenbrier. Homecoming dances in the gym were highly decorated and were a fundraiser for the juniors to pay for the prom to honor the seniors. Juniors also sold popcorn at ball games, held raffles and did other fundraising to pay for the prom.
Growth and Change
After some initial controversy, White Sulphur High School was integrated in January of 1956 when Johnny Swann and Doug Minnieweather transferred in from the Bethune School, a two-room school for Black students in grades 1-8 in White Sulphur Springs. The following fall three additional students from Bethune and four from the all-Black Bolling School in Lewisburg transferred in. Swann went on to play for Miami University in Ohio and in 2021 was named one of the 100 greatest West Virginia basketball players by the Charleston Gazette.
When the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test was established in 1956, White Sulphur had at least one National Merit finalist each year until the school closed, and students from White Sulphur Springs continued the streak for several years at Greenbrier East High School.
By the 1950s, White Sulphur High School was a bustling hub of activity, and not just for the local community. Because it had the largest gym in the area, it became the home for regional band festivals and drama competitions.
The gym may have been spacious, but the school itself was beginning to burst at the seams. Originally built to accommodate 220 students, by 1968, the year it closed, there were 726 students in grades 7-12. Because there was no cafeteria, students either brought their lunch to eat in the gym, walked home, or ate at Bones Diner or the Terrace Restaurant downtown. To allow room for instruction, all students were required to take a study hall (some study halls had up to 90 students), and those living within the district limits went home for study hall. Only those students living outside the district rode the bus.
In January of 1966 a bond issue passed to fund construction of a new high school to serve the eastern half of the county. There were 95 seniors in the last class to graduate from White Sulphur High School on May 31, 1968. Their rallying cry was “We're the Greatest of the Great, Senior Class of '68!”
Although high school students from White Sulphur Springs moved to the new Greenbrier East High school that fall, the school continued to serve as White Sulphur Junior High School until the opening of Eastern Greenbrier Junior (now Middle) School in 1992. Later it housed the Greenbrier Episcopal School, and when that institution moved to Lewisburg, the building was used by civic groups and for community events. In 2019 it was announced that it had been purchased by the Disability Opportunity Fund, and work began in late 2020 to convert the building into The Schoolhouse Hotel.
Among White Sulphur High School’s many distinguished alumni are:
- Diane Curry, mezzo soprano known for singing a wide range of roles with the New York City Opera
- Dr. Richard O. Curry, prominent history educator and freelance writer.
- Dr. J. D. Harrah, pioneering thoracic surgeon who trained under Denton Cooley at the Texas Medical Center and performed the first open heart surgery in the Tri-State area.
- Dr. Dannie Hilleary King, world renowned virologist and microbiologist who consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci during the HIV crisis in the 1980s.
- Dr. Mary Ellen King Mazey, president emeritus of Bowling Green University
- Dr. John A. Williams, historian who has written extensively about Appalachian history and culture and is now writing a history of White Sulphur Springs as it relates to The Greenbrier.
(Sung to the tune of the Our Director March by F. E. Bigelow)
Hail White Sulphur High School, Hail green and white,
To thee we’re loyal, and for thee we’ll fight until
We conquer every foe that dare oppose thee,
Honor ne’er deny. School, dear old Greenbrier, our White Sulphur High.
Higher than the mountains that round us rise,
Are our ideals, honors which we prize forever.
We will be loyal to our schoolmates, to our colors true.
Dear White Sulphur High School, we will fight for you