An Eastern High School was located at Aisquith Street and Orleans Street, then at East North Avenue and Broadway and finally at 33rd and Loch Raven. Images of the three schools which served the city from 1844 until 1986 can be seen at:
The last Eastern High was built during Roosevelt’s New Deal when the Public Works Administration sought to bring the country out of the Great Depression. The site - on a hill - was part of Venable Park overlooking a stadium on the north side of 33rd Street.
In honor of Lizette Woodworth Reese, who graduated from Eastern in 1873, a statue was donated in dedication to the poet at the site in 1939 by her friend and sculptor, Grace Hill Turnbull, and it became known as the Good Shepherd.
When Eastern was closed, its students were moved through merger to Lake Clifton High School and the statue followed.
The building atop the hill was abandoned and subjected to wide spread vandalism. Broken windows became the most visible symbol of its deterioration. Rumors that a developer wanted to raze the school and build a strip mall led to protests by the community.
A bid by Johns Hopkins to purchase and rehab the space was approved. The building was placed on the National Register and nicely restored with the help of valuable historic tax credits.
Eastern High Alumni Association financed the disassembling of the statue and its placement back at the old campus in a new more prominent spot with support from Johns Hopkins/Eastern, Commission on Historic and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) and 14th District City Councilperson Mary Pat Clarke.
A re-dedication ceremony brought back two grand nieces of Lizette Woodworth Reese who had graduated from Eastern.
Depicting a shepherd holding a lost lamb and caring for the others around him, the statue is inscribed with a Reese poem, which begins:
Come, every helplessness
and every dread,
You that are wounded, come,
Or poor, or buffeted.
Here is a pasture, here
Is grass, a country wall;
You are the sheep, in need
A shepherd is at hand ....
Mary Pat Clarke, on the occasion of its return to Waverly, observed “ How fitting - and how hopeful, almost like our own personal Statue of Liberty.”
Nancy Connor, curator of Eastern High collections and Vice President of its Alumni Association, took me on a tour recently of the three cases displaying items in the corridor at Johns Hopkins/Eastern, which included a class ring which sits on the page of the yearbook showing the student who donated her ring to the collection, Loe Ellen Hinson Griffth.
Abell Community historian Jo Ann Robinson informed me, upon learning the address in the yearbook for this student was on Abell Avenue,
“Lou Ellen Hinson Griffth was the daughter of Jesse James and Ruth Hinson who were among very early Abell residents, probably from the 1920s. Their other daughter, Carol Lee and one of their sons, Jesse Jr. lived on in the house for the rest of the century and maybe into the 21st. Their house was a favorite stop for Abell Christmas carolers because Carol Lee made candy and Jesse Jr. dressed up as Santa and passed it out. Jesse Sr, taught math and science at City College. The family attended St. Johns Huntingdon.”
Lou Ellen Hinson Griffth contacted Nancy Connor shortly before her death with a request that Nancy show her around her old school at 33rd and Loch Raven. She wanted to make a visit there to see the school and the Good Shepherd and to donate her class ring to the collection before she died.
When I asked Nancy why Eastern closed, she told me it was her understanding that Mayor William Donald Schaefer wanted to tear it down to add parking spaces for fans attending games at Memorial Stadium.
Another Eastern graduate who preferred to remain anonymous, told me she blamed Schaefer, who went to City College and only cared about City and not about Eastern.
Curious, I read through old Sun newspaper archives to learn that there had been an effort to prevent the closing by some students, teachers and alumni. There was a letter to the editor penned by Joyce Kramer, former Waverly and Charles Village resident, who was now living in Florida. Upon asking her what happened, she wrote me this back:
I documented the case for keeping it open and to reveal to our communities what a sham it was. Then Mayor Schaefer kept telling the public that the school was underutilized when in fact we had overcrowded classes; it was the only combination citywide/community high school in the city. Our students in both schools were performing well because all the teachers held the students to the standards of the citywide school which was and probably still is the way to attract the top students and leave the poorer performing students to neighborhood schools. When the Mayor announced the closing, plans had already been made to move Eastern students to Lake Clifton, but, of course, we were told that we could fight the closing, which we did at the city and state boards. I discovered all sorts of documentation that revealed that the closing was a foregone conclusion. The Mayor tried to pit the surrounding communities - Waverly, Coldstream-Homestead -Montebello, Ednor Gardens, etc. - against each other. He told us that if we didn't close the school, Memorial Stadium would have to close because more parking was needed.”
Memorial Stadium ended up shutting down, too; though eventually Stadium Place and the YMCA were built there and both serve the community and city very well. When I asked Mary Pat Clarke about the closing of Eastern she reminded me that the city had always undervalued and underfunded female education.
Nancy Connor loved her experience at Eastern from which she graduated in 1966. She served three times as reunion chair for her class, created a class Facebook page and has devoted long term volunteer service to the alumni association. Before her marriage, Nancy lived in Remington and Govans. About going to Eastern, she said, “Socialization there opened a whole new world of friends.” As volunteer curator, Nancy receives items from alumni of many different classes who want to contribute to the display cases in the corridor.
I asked Lizette Hannegan, one of the grand nieces of Lizette Woodworth Reese, via e-mail, to describe her Eastern experience, and got this reply:
“This year is my 50th graduate reunion, so there will be an opportunity to re-connect with people that I haven't seen for many years. Even though reunions can be fraught with startling changes in people, it still will be a nice time, I'm sure. We gather in late September.
As for me, my years at Eastern were filled with serious academic work and I feel that I received an excellent education there. I was in a class of about 35 girls who were in a special program called the College Prep. We had no electives and no PE after the freshman year - it was all academics, so when I graduated I had 4 years of history, 4 years of science, 4 years of English, 4 years of Latin, 4 years of French, 2 years of math - you could choose to be a math or language major. It was both wonderful and a challenge because all of the class members were focused on working hard, so we bonded in an unusual way. I guess it was a success because, as I remember, every single girl got accepted to a 4 year college. I then attended Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.
I would say that the only down side of my years at Eastern is the flip side of being in the special program - we were totally encapsulated and moved to each class together, so the exposure to other students was very limited, except for lunch time, and you know how teenagers group together in a cafeteria! There are still some of the class mates that I have kept in touch with all these 50 years, so it was a very important time for us.”
According to Nancy Connor, Johns Hopkins/Eastern tries to allow for visits by alumni to return to their old school and to see the display cases there which preserve memories of Eastern.
The Good Shepherd statue sits on the hill overlooking 33rd Street by Ellerslie Avenue in view from below and can be reached by a long set of steps. It is a wonderful place to sit and meditate!
While the old auditorium has been redesigned to create many office cubicles, the high ceilings remain as does a flash of pomp and circumstance above the old elevated stage area.
A book exists about Eastern High through 1949. I spotted it in one of the cases. Nancy flatly refused to lend me her precious copy, but promised I could find one at Amazon. My online purchase of “ Through the Years at the Eastern High School” was placed and awaits delivery.
The fate of the Eastern High Alumni Association remains in doubt as its remaining volunteers tire and age. One of the most disappointing things I discovered was that there is no website where one can go to learn about who went to Eastern High over the years and what the school’s graduates went on to accomplish.