Universal York

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Duke Street School was York’s first high school

Courtesy of Google Maps

The York City School District recently sold the Duke Street School at the corner of South Duke Street and East Hope Avenue. Many people probably do not realize that the building dates back to 1860 and that it housed York’s first high school. According to Prowell’s History of York County: “The Duke Street building, opposite the City Market House, was erected in 1860. Later in 1868, a school house on the rear of the same lot was erected. The High School was founded in the Duke Street front school house in 1870 and remained there for two years.” A larger high school building, designed by architect Edward Haviland, was built in 1872. The second high school was situated across from the Quaker Meeting House and was torn down many years ago.

Prowell goes on to state that York High was founded to prepare students for higher learning “and for the active duties of life,” and that it graduated the first class in June of 1872. That was a coed class of two students, Miss Flora B. Hays, who later taught in York City schools, and Edward P. Stair, later Cashier of the Farmers National Bank of York. Commencement was held in the court house, with Dr. Edward Brooks, then principal of the State Normal School at Millersville (now Millersville University) as the speaker.

There were 65 students in all the first year of operation, and the initial curriculum included “careful training in mathematics, the English branches, and ancient and modern languages.” Electives were soon added in other subjects. George R. Prowell himself was one of the four initial teachers, along with William Shelley, Peter Bentz and Mary Kell. Miss Kell was also the first assistant principal of the high school.

There is a charming hand-written, detailed description in the York County History Center files of the Duke Street school and the classes the student took. It is faded, but in a legible hand, so I hope to transcribe it for a future post.

I have not heard who purchased the school, but I hope it will serve the sturdy building with the graceful fence will continue to serve the community for at least another 160 years.

Duke Street and Hope Avenue (then Baptist Alley) from the 1903 Roe Atlas of York