Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



Bridgeville High School History, Part Three
July 27, 2017



The Bridgeville Area Historical Society “Second Tuesday” workshop for July was a continuation of the review of the history of Bridgeville High School. The Class of 1926 was the first one to spend its entire senior year in the new building on Gregg Avenue and, we thought, the first class to publish a Yearbook. Consequently we spent the entire evening discussing that class and the consequences of moving to the new, modern facility.

It is difficult to imagine the culture shock this class experienced. For eleven years they were shoe-horned into Washington School and several temporary buildings erected on the playground.

Suddenly they were transported to an environment that included all the conveniences of a twentieth century high school – a large auditorium, a stage that also could be used as a gymnasium or a dance floor, a large library, a home economics room, a wood shop, a metal shop, a mechanical drafting room, locker rooms, etc.

The facilitator initiated a discussion of the layout of the new building by challenging the audience to stretch their memories by recalling the location of the various rooms. My brother provided a sketch of the basement of the building, where the locker rooms, wood shop, and boiler room were located. He recalled sneaking into the school to play basketball by taking advantage of a coal chute door leading into the boiler room.

Mention of the boiler room initiated another question – the location of the large smoke stack which dispersed the soot high above the community. We have no answer at present as to the location of this stack relative to the first and second floors of the school.

The building was originally planned to have twelve rooms, with capability of adding eight more. The first four were added in time for the Class of 1926 to take advantage of them; the final four were added in 1939. We assume the two additions were at the end of each of the wings.

At this point we believe the three first floor rooms in the northern wing were ninth grade home rooms. The first floor of the portion along Gregg Avenue housed the principal’s office, the superintendent’s office and two seventh grade home rooms. The southern wing had two eighth grade home rooms and the home economics room.

The three second floor rooms in the northern wing were the location of the senior class home rooms. The Library was in the southern wing along with two junior class home rooms. The front of the second floor had the remaining junior home room and the three sophomore class home rooms.

Incidentally it is our opinion that one of the temporary buildings still exists. We believe it was acquired by the Women’s Club and moved to Dewey Avenue to become their home.

The availability of the facilities in the new building generated an explosion in the number of activities available to the students, many of which were illustrated in the Yearbook. Sports were emphasized. The football team won four, including an exciting upset of Carnegie, lost two, and tied one game. The team included Lou “Doc” Skender, who later had a fine career at Duquesne University, serving for many years as their Athletic Director.

Despite playing in the new gymnasium, “one of the finest in the country”, the basketball team had less success. Those of us who were in high school two decades later lamented the fact that this same gym was so small and antiquated compared to those in the newer schools.

Soccer was a different story. BHS was in the midst of a three year period in which the soccer team was awarded the championship of Allegheny County each year. The Yearbook reports the team was so good that it was difficult for them to schedule games with other schools.

Perhaps the most impressive sports story was the fact that the high school fielded a girls’ basketball team, something that was unheard of twenty years later. One wonders what happened in the interim.

Non-athletic activities also proliferated. The Glee Club boasted fifty voices. There was a thirteen piece orchestra, but no marching band. The photograph of “the Quartette” included five vocalists; perhaps BHS was better in music than in counting.

Other activities included the Spanish Club (El Corredor), the French Club (Le Circle Francais), and the Lincoln Literary Club. The Debating Team, made up of three young ladies, lost its debate, on federal subsidizing the merchant marine, to Crafton. The “Go-to-College” Club consisted of thirty young ladies focusing on preparation for continuing their education, a stark contrast to our perception of the role of females in those days.

The Senior Play in 1926 was a contemporary classic, “Golden Days”, a masterpiece of misunderstandings and unrequited love portrayed against the backdrop of “the Great War”. An interesting juxtaposition in the photograph of the play is a frowning Bernadine Sims sitting on a sofa next to Harold Green, who is enjoying Naomi Davis’ arm around his shoulder. Miss Sims got even in real life by marrying Mr. Green and “living happily ever after”.

The Faculty was supervised by Superintendent was Mr. W. C. Bedillon and Principal Olive Hickman. The other fourteen teachers included two who were familiar to the older members of the workshop – Mrs. Carman and Mrs. Cronin – because of their longevity.

The Class of 1926 continued the trend of larger classes each year by graduating thirty eight seniors. The Yearbook is full of optimism. After all it was the era of the Roaring Twenties when business was booming and the future was unlimited. Another culture shock was ahead for these unsuspecting young people – the stock market crash three years in the future, followed by the Great Depression and World War II.

Members of the workshop brought in highly relevant artifacts to supplement the discussion. Much to our surprise Mell Dozzo produced a copy of a Yearbook published by the Class of 1925. When we began this series of workshops I thought there were two yearbooks published in the 1920s, but was convinced I was wrong when I learned the Historical Society had only the ones from 1926. It appears Mell’s copy is the only one currently available; we hope someone will locate several more.

Karen Godwin brought in a Historical Society calendar with a photograph of the thirty second reunion of the Class of 1926, in 1958. This generated an easy transition into a newspaper article from 1998 which described a mini-reunion of four remaining members of the class – Cecil Riles, Paul Wirant, Anne Schneider, and Rose Bentrem.

Next month the “Second Tuesday” will be quite early; the next workshop will be at 7:00 pm on August 8, 2017, in the History Center. Our discussion of Bridgeville High School history will finish out the Roaring Twenties and move into the 1930s.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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