George Washington High School
Alma Mater / GW History
GWHS Alma Mater/History
In representing the development of George Washington High School, as we know it today, much of the information is found to be incomplete. This brief report is hereby submitted to provide the student with a fair knowledge of the school’s history, starting with the first accounts of public education.
Education in the classroom in the City of Danville is first recorded in 1806. Danville’s first schoolteacher was a Mr. Matthews who was a Presbyterian minister from Massachusetts. An influx of northern schoolmasters prevailed until the late 1880’s. The only Virginian in this time, Hickerson Speller, came in 1814. In 1826 Danville’s first schoolhouse was built on Wilson Street. Up until this time classes were held in any available location, such as private homes, store rooms and churches.
Preceding and during the War Between the States, there existed a period of disinterest in education. A legislative enactment passed in 1870 calling for free public schools provided a rebirth in Danville’s educational system. In the public school’s first year of operation, 49 pupils were enrolled. Dr. George Washington Dame became the first school superintendent, with J. B. Lowrie hired as Danville’s first public school teacher. Due to an increase in enrollment, a principal was needed; Captain J.T. Averett was the first in Danville to fill the position.
Steady rises in enrollment were seen, as 789 pupils were registered in 1875. Danville’s first brick schoolhouse was built in 1880 on Loyal Street. A three-story structure with three rooms on the second floor served as the first established high school in Danville.
Loyal Street School was soon overcrowded and deemed unsafe; it was then demolished and in its place at the same Loyal Street location, the Robert E. Lee School was erected. The high school took up the entire second floor of this structure.
In 1910, again due to increased enrollment, the high school had to be moved to a separate building on Grove Street. The Grove Street High School served the city until 1927 under the common name of The Danville High School.
As an additional public education installment, the Rison Park School was built in 1908. Erected on the grounds where Colonel William Rison lived on Holbrook Avenue, it provided general education for the primary and intermediate grades.
Superintendent G.L.H. Johnson recommended the name change from the Danville High School to the George Washington High School “in line with the modern tendency in the United States to name high schools in the larger cities after patriotic Americans.” George Washington High School was the first high school in the South and the second in the nation to honor the first President in this way.
The Rison Park School was enlarged before it housed the high school. L.B. Flora and Sons were contracted under a bid of $175,525 to improve the building for the junior-senior high school. To the existing 16 classrooms, 24 extra classrooms, and a then standard size gymnasium, a library/study hall and an auditorium to seat 1,000 were added. The new name of George Washington High School did not appear on the outside of the building, but a quotation from Washington’s Farewell Address along with a facsimile of his signature was inscribed over the front entrance. The school grounds were still referred to as Rison Park.
1956 saw the completion of the present George Washington High School building. Contracted to John W. Daniel Company, Inc. under the contract price of $2,090,314, the installation, built on the 60-acre campus, is designed for 1,920 students.
The auditorium can seat 1,125, and the cafeteria will hold 500. Additions were made to this building in 1963. The A-wing annex provided 16 supplementary classrooms and the Industrial Arts Building was constructed.
During this time, the Danville school system operated with segregated schools. In 1900, there were one white and two black public schools on the southside and one white and one black public school on the northside. The first black high school separate from the elementary department was established in 1925. The high school was an annex to the black public school on Holbrook Street.
In 1936 the John Mercer Langston High School was constructed. Professor E. A. Gibson served as its principal until his death in 1948. Under a public schools building program, black high school students were afforded a much needed modernized facility. John M. Langston High School was relocated to a new complex on Cleveland Street in 1958. The merger of John M. Langston High School with George Washington High School in 1970 brought to Danville, once again, the existence of one city high school.
In 1971 the citizens of Danville voted in favor of a 1.4 million-dollar school bond referendum to finance the addition of a vocational wing to GWHS, which was completed in 1974. A four-classroom addition to the science wing was completed in 1993. In 2010, GW saw the completion of the GW Baseball Field House, constructed next to the baseball practice field on the GW campus. The field house contains locker rooms, an indoor batting cage, and bathrooms.
In the fall of 1997, the Danville Public Schools opened four focus schools at the high school level (Business Partnership Academy, Excel, Global Village School and Global Studies through Arts & Technology). A focus school is a small, self-governed school of choice that is organized around a central theme. Each focus school was semi-autonomous in that it had a high degree of control over its internal governance while it continued to function under the administrative umbrella of George Washington High School. Two additional focus schools have been added since 1997, Health Careers Academy and Technology Academy.
Reputed to be a “great education center” in a report published in 1915, Danville’s school system has been subject to many and diverse changes. Serving Danville as school superintendents have been, in order, Dr. G.W. Dame, J.R. Herndon, Abner Anderson, William H. Davis, F.H. Wheatley, W. C. Griggs, G.L.H. Johnson (1925-48), O.T. Bonner (1948-71), Dr. Zane Eargle (1971-75), Dr. Thomas E. Truitt (1975-87), Dr. Larry E. Leonard (1988-89), Mr. Guy K. Yeatts (Interim 1989), Dr. Eric J. Smith (1989-92), Dr. Mark Edwards (1992-94), Dr. N Andrew Overstreet (1994-2002), Mr. Ralph Warren (2002-2003 interim), Dr. William Torok (2003 – 2004), Dr. Susan Davis (2004-2013) and Dr. Edward Newsome Jr. (2013-present).
Since 1941 George Washington High School has had ten principals: J.T. Christopher (1941-69), Everett L. Motley (1969-74), Robert W. Haskins (1974-89), Charles H. Lackey (1989-96), Joel R. DeBoe (1996-2003), Sherri Huffman (2003-2005), Kenny Lewis and Dr. Ron Sieber, (co-principals for 2006-2007), Christopher Carter (2007-2013) and currently, Withers Jackson.
The high school enrollment of 1,360 in 1940 fell to 1,010 in 1950. The count in 1960 rose to 1,608 and the present enrollment stands at approximately 1,400.