Fairmount High School

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Fairmount High Drawing.jpg
The old Fairmount High School building is a building that is full of a rich history. It has been through many great times and many times of hardship since its construction began in 1898 and its opening in 1902. A glorious foundation in athletics and scholarship was present in the founding of the school. A number of famous Americans were present in the high school’s glory days. Some of these people are the legendary actor James Dean, cartoonist Jim Davis, CBS correspondent Phil Jones, and the “Hurricane Man” Robert C. Sheets. Fairmount as a whole proves to be a town in the heart of Indiana that is, in a way, the cultural center of Indiana. The great school of that town, Fairmount High School, has seen a national “Who’s Who” come in and go out of the doors.

Contents

Construction

Fairmount High School in the early 1900s
Fairmount High School is one of the oldest buildings in Grant County, having been in existence at least a part since the year of 1885. In this year, the south building was built and served as the first Fairmount Academy Building. This building would later be sold to the Public School System, and would be added onto to create the official Fairmount High School Building (Fairmount). The high school received its commission on April 25, 1898, construction to be started later that year. From 1898 to 1902, when the northern part of the building was completed, classes were held in the South Building, or the former First Fairmount Academy School. Even though the school was not completed, the first class to graduate from the Fairmount High School was the class of 1900. There were various improvements on the high school throughout the years, as there are on any school, but nothing too major.

Use as a Middle School

The school enjoyed seventy years of history and scholarship before the last class graduated in 1970. At that time the school was officially closed from being used as the high school. The then-new Madison-Grant High School had just been built and the classes were transferred to the new and more modern building. The school system, however, did not sell the school, but instead thought through all the options and decided that the best use of the high school would be to make it the new middle school.

Closure

The building was then officially closed forever on May 30, 1986, and has not been used a school since that date (Lewis). Modem day concerns are that the building is extremely unsafe and should be demolished. This proposition is receiving much opposition because of the fact that the school is rich in history, and that many of the people that live in modem-day Fairmount have graduated from FHS. Also the stage that the legendary James Dean first acted on is still in tact in the building, and many oppose the demolishing of that stage. The fate of the building, being undetermined, is in the hands of whomever may decide to take it upon themselves and do something with it (Lewis).

Education at Fairmount High

The Fairmount High School basketball team, ca. 1916
Times at Fairmount High were like the times at any other high school of the day. The day lasted from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. with an hour lunch period. There were 3 to 4 classes in the morning with the same amount in the afternoon. The normal classes were offered, and required, and one would find in today’s school society. A certain amount of English, math, science, gym, and social studies classes were required. Others popular classes that were offered were those such as foreign language (Latin, French, and later Spanish), journalism, shop, home economics, and many musical classes. These classes were offered, but however not available to all students. For example, women were not permitted to enroll in the shop classes or the Future Farmers of America (FFA), while one would almost never find a man in a home economics or journalism (Campbell). However, later on in the years, times and ideals did change, and therefore it was not only accepted, but instead required for men and women to take the classes that one would never find them in fifteen or twenty years earlier (Smith). These facts all show that Fairmount High School was just an average school in its time. However, average things can produce extraordinary results--or in the case of the high school; extraordinary people.

Entertainment in Fairmount

Growing up in Fairmount was like growing up in any other small town during the 20th Century. Being a small town, it is automatically thought that there is nothing to do in a town such as Fairmount. However, times change things, and there used to be much more to do in Fairmount than there is in present day. At one time there was a movie theater, a bowling alley, and even a skating ring. The most popular place changed ownership often but was referred to as "Cox's Corner" by nearly everyone. It featured a jukebox and dance floor. In an interview with several graduates of Fairmount High, it is recalled by Ruthanna Titus:

We would just go out to the Corner and just dance all night long. The girls that were lucky enough to find a guy that really knew how to dance were the happiest. You know, cause there are those guys that don’t know how to dance, then the guys who just won’t dance, and then they guys who really know how to dance, and those were the ones that you wanted to find [...]. But we would all just bring our money and all put into keeping the jukebox playing all night long (Campbell).

Soda fountains were also a popular way for one to spend time. Two drugstores were in existence with each having its own respective fountain.

School Traditions

Tradition are present in ever form and aspect of society. Different schools even today have traditions that are and have been present in the minds of the faculty and students. However, traditions today are simply watered down compared to what was allowed during the time of Fairmount High’s existence. Quite possibly the best known tradition to come out of FHS is the tradition of the “Senior Flag”. This tradition was started sometime in the early-mid 1900s and was present throughout the school’s existence (Smith). Charles Smith recalls his views of the tradition:

The way it worked is that the senior class would get together and make this flag, and this wasn’t just any flag, it was the “Senior Flag”. But then they would hang it up on the flagpole for just one day, and would have to keep it up there the entire day. But it was the duty of the junior class to steal the flag and not get caught doing it. If you got caught, who knew what would happen, the seniors could do anything they wanted to do to you.

To the students at FHS, the tradition of the “Senior Flag” was the most important thing all year, except for graduation. Graduation was a time of for and happiness for students, or former students, to be with their friends and families. Graduation was a big deal to students then, just as it is to students now. In the early years, graduation was held in the Wesleyan Park (Campbell). Later, however, it was moved inside to the high school gym. Each class was presented with a “Class Motto” and given diplomas at the ceremony (Smith). These traditions prove that although times do change things, some things remain the same in idea. Fairmount High School may be an old building with as old history, but it had traditions just as schools do in modem day.

Famous Alumni

Fairmount is arguably the cultural center of Grant County, and quite possibly the entire state of Indiana. Many famous people have come from the so famous little town of Fairmount, and most attended the famed Fairmount High. Possibly the most famous and definitely the most acclaimed of all the celebrities that call Fairmount home is James Byron Dean. Dean was as incredible actor in ever sense of the word, and his popularity continues today. Jim Davis, cartoonist, and creator of the nationally known cartoon strip “Garfield”, is a 1963 graduate of FHS. Phil Jones, CBS correspondent, and Robert C. Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center, are respective graduates of 1959 and 1955 (Visit).

More famous people have been students at Fairmount High than can be listed. The community and school, from the years of 1885 through 1970, have produced three college presidents, authors, scientists, artists, actors, inventors, and the founder of the State of Oklahoma (Fairmount). All of these facts come together to prove that celebrities not only come from large, urban, modernized areas, but can also come from smaller communities such as Fairmount.

Conclusion

Fairmount High School is a gorgeous building with a rich and textured history. The significance of the school cannot be shown simply through scholarship, but bust be shown through the effect that it had on all that were a part of its history. James Dean, Jim Davis, Phil Jones, and Robert C. Sheets are all part of that history as were thousands of others. One can only begin to touch on what was accomplished in the existence of FHS. The building has been through some hard times, but with those hard times come times of joy and excitement. Time has changed the building, but it can never change the history that is such a part of the lives of its people.

Works Cited

  • Campbell, Darlene and Aralee Hiatt, Janice Rollins, Don Spahr, Sarah Spahr, Ruthanna Titus. Personal interview. 10 January 2001.
  • “Fairmount High School.” Drawing with caption.
  • Lewis, Howard M. “Fairmount High School.”
  • Smith, Charles. Personal interview. 11 January 2001.
  • Visit Fairmount. Fairmount: Fairmount Historical Museum. 1978.

Credits

This paper was written by Leath Smith and submitted on January 16, 2001 to Mr. Lakes' and Mr. Munn's classes at Marion High School.

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