It was a time when Youngstown was undergoing explosive growth and particularly expanding south of downtown. Between 1900 and 1920 the population grew from 44,885 to 132,358. In 1910, there was one high school serving the city, The Rayen School. School superintendent N. H. Chaney started leading a campaign to expand the Youngstown City school system.
Architect Charles F. Owsley, the architect for the Mahoning County Courthouse, was employed to design the building. Looking at both buildings, you can see the family resemblance. Metro Monthly has a video online of both exterior details and pictures of the interior of the school. It was a grand building–the auditorium, ceilings, the school offices. The cornerstone was laid in 1909 and the school opened in 1911. The Rayen School had a reputation for excellence, and the opening encountered skepticism that the new school would match Youngstown’s first school for excellence. Superintendent Chaney assured parents of students that would be sent to South High School that they would be prepared just as effectively for life.
Whether the school matched The Rayen School in academics, South quickly proved itself in athletics, defeating Rayen in their first football match 12-0. For many years to come, this would be the major rivalry between Youngstown schools. By 1914 money had been appropriated for a new stadium behind the school. One of the early football stars at South High School under “Busty” Ashbaugh was Chet McPhee, who played at half back, graduating in 1915. After college, he returned to Youngstown to coach at newly established Chaney High School, a new rival for South.
During the flu epidemic of 1918, South High School was converted to an emergency hospital for a time, when existing hospital capacity was overwhelmed. Approximately 380 patients were cared for there, 90 of whom died, including three teachers who had volunteered their services.
Perhaps the most illustrious alumnus of South High School was Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. in 1927. Judge Nathaniel R. Jones was another South High School grad, who eventually rose to the second highest court in the land. Football players Bob Dove and Fred Mundee as well as Major Generals Wilbur Simlik and Robert Durkin were graduates. In later years, Simeon Booker who wrote on civil rights in Jet Magazine was also a graduate. Joseph Napier, Sr, is another South High grad and Youngstown storyteller. One of his videos recounts “The Youngstown South Nine,” South’s one championship cross country team in 1980. Napier was a member.
At Chaney, we went to a lot of games at South’s stadium, one of two serving the high schools in the city. The South High Warriors in their red and blue were often a tough opponent in football and basketball. My other major encounter with South was the field house, from which I graduated. Beyond those experiences, I did not have a lot of contact with South and don’t think I was ever in the building. From the pictures I’ve seen, that was my loss.
Population was the reason South High School was built and it was the reason it closed. As Youngstown’s population shrank in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Youngstown closed a number of schools. In 1993, the decision was made to close South High School. For a time, a charter school used the facility, Eagle Heights Academy. Eagle Heights Academy came under scrutiny because of poor academic performance and financial irregularities around 2010 and eventually closed. A new school, South Side Academy, took its place, and in 2015 moved out of the South High facility due to dissatisfaction with White Hat Management, who at that time owned the building. South Side moved into the former St. Patrick’s Elementary at 1400 Oakhill, out of which they currently operate.
It is not clear to me whether the South High School building has a tenant at present. The satellite map from this year suggests that the bleachers in the stadium are deteriorating, and I wonder from looking at it about the condition of the roof. If that goes, then the interior will deteriorate quickly. This would be sad–it is a gem of a building and a South Side landmark. And it represents an illustrious history as the city’s second high school, one that launched many students into life.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!