|City/Town: • Stillwater
|Location Class: • School
|Built: • 1938 | Abandoned: • ~1980s
|Historic Designation: • African American Heritage Site • Abandoned Atlas Foundation Contribution to POK Most Endangered List (2022)
|Status: • Abandoned • Endangered • For Sale
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz
From 1900 to 1938 African American students living in the Stillwater community could only attend up to eighth grade locally. With no separate high school, they would have to move to Oklahoma City, Norman, Guthrie, Tulsa, or Langston. That was until 1938 when the African American citizens of Stillwater rejoiced at the news that a new separate high school would be built in town.
Superintendent of the “current” Washington School, E.D. Price received the telegram on October 30, 1938 from Senators Josh Lee and Elmer Thomas stating that $13,909 from a Public Works grant had been set aside for the expansion/new building of Washington School. Another grant of $17,000 from the school district would allow for a total of $30,000 to be used for the construction and furnishing. The present building would be moved to the southern end of the property and continue to house classes until the work was done and then be transformed into a nursery school. This building was later demolished in the 1950s. At that time the foundation for the auditorium/shops building had already been laid. Ground was officially broken for the one-story brick school with four classrooms on December 19, 1938. The contract for construction was let to McMillin Construction Company of Enid.
The first senior graduating class graduated in May 1939 in the unfinished gymnasium with four graduates. Known as the Washington Bears, the school was named after prominent African American figure Booker T. Washington. The community embraced the facility referring to it not just as a school but as their heritage. A place that brought them together and provided more than just education. Principal Lee Ward was dedicated to providing his students with the best education in the state. Oftentimes going above and beyond to make sure they got just that. They had the only shoe repair class in Stillwater instructed by J.F. Ballard.
By 1950 improvements throughout the school were needed. They had one bus that picked up 38 children and traveled 120 miles a day. The old frame building was in disrepair, the cafeteria had health code violations, and a lack of space for students. The community would cast their ballots on a $450,000 bond issue to make improvements at the Washington Separate School and the one in Cushing. The bond issue was passed and $225,000 was given to the Washington School. Amongst the improvements would be the addition of six new classrooms, a new cafeteria and more modern equipment. A few years later the re-roofing of the gymnasium was let to Jim Haycraft for $1,825.
Due to the Brown v. Board ruling in 1956 separate schools all across the US closed and or consolidated. Washington’s high school students were integrated into the Stillwater Public School system. The last graduating class was made up of seven students with eighteen more transferring. After that it continued to be a grade school integrating 7th and 8th grade with SPS in 1962. It seems classes officially closed around 1964 and the building became a headstart for numerous years. Iris Slade, who attended elementary school at the site prior to integration, said she has fond memories of the school even after it fell out of its original use. When she was in her teens, Slade said she was given the key to open up the school in the summer to host plays, concerts, sports and other events.
The Washington Separate School was sold around 2009 to Primeland Properties LLC. Primeland presented plans to raze the property and build office spaces on the land and in February 2012 during a council meeting. They had promised to give $2,000, bricks from the building and dedicate a piece of land for a monument to the Washington School Reunion Committee. This caused a movement within the community calling for the preservation of the entire original 1936 building. Community members were willing to part with the later additions to allow for the development of the property. The owners were offering $40,000-$45,000 to demolish the buildings or if a person would like to buy the building, which has running water and utility access as well as hook-ups they would be open to negotiations as well.
If you or anyone you know is interested in purchasing the Washington Separate School please contact Primeland Properties at (405)-853-5514 or inquire on www.creekcre.com
Gallery Below of Washington School – Stillwater
If you wish to support our current and future work, please consider making a donation or purchasing one of our many books. Any and all donations are appreciated.
Donate to our cause Check out our books!