Then and Now: First Wichita High School
First City High School Was Downtown

THEN: Wichita’s first high school building, built in 1884, was located between Second and Third Streets on the east side of North Emporia.

(Wichita Public Library Photograph Collection. Repository: Wichita Public Library)

The first public school opened in Wichita in 1869, not far south from the current North High School location.

The building was a dugout made of cottonwood logs and sod, and when the children stepped outside the dugout, they could see Indian tepees in the distance. William Finn, a surveyor, taught this first school for one dollar a month.

Shortly thereafter, the school moved to the rooms of a Presbyterian Church at the corner of Wichita and Third.

In 1871, a Board of Education was formed, and a combination grade and high school was built at Third and Emporia. That small wooden structure burned down New Year’s Eve, 1879.
It was insured for $2,500 and was replaced, at a cost of $41,500, in the spring of 1884, by a separate brick high school building with a handsome bell tower. It was located on the south end of the 300 block of North Emporia.

The high school opened, Sept. 16, 1884, with an attendance of 34 students. By December, the enrollment had increased to 42.

As enrollment increased, the tower was removed and extra rooms were added in 1886.
In spite of that addition, the structure was soon too small again, and a new building was built, on the north end of the 300 block of North Emporia. It was finished in 1911, at a cost of $250,000.
Wichita’s student population was increasing rapidly, however, and, by June 18, 1912, the new building was too small to accommodate all the pupils. The first floor of the old high school building was prepared for the use of high school students, and, by the fall of 1913, the entire old building was being used as an annex.

While the “new” structure still stands, at 324 N. Emporia, and is used for Board of Education meetings, because of the need for more classrooms, plans were soon made to construct an even larger high school. That building cost almost $1 million and opened in the fall of 1923 at the corner of Douglas and Grove. The first brick high school was torn down in August 1923, and where it had been is now a parking lot for the BOE.

(Notes for the above article were gathered, in part, from the Tihen Notes, Special Collections, Wichita State University and the Wichita East High Messenger, May 24, 1978)

NOW: The site of the first high school is now a parking lot for the Wichita Vocational Technical School.

(Photo credit: D&V Churchman, 2005)