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By Mike Avitt
This week’s picture features the Mount Ayr High School that was built in 1895.
It only lasted seventeen years and I am often asked why a building this beautiful was so seemingly short-lived.
This school building replaced the one built in 1875 and sat at the same location as future high school structures.
Built in 1895, the school measured 85 by 97 feet, was constructed of pressed brick and stone, and housed about 400 students and eleven teachers.
The Mount Ayr Centennial Book says the trouble began in 1910. Apparently, there were reports of dangerous conditions, although the book does not identify those conditions.
What we do know is the 1895 school was built too small. Superintendent Fasold pointed out the overcrowding, and Fasold also predicted future increases in enrollment due to the increasing value of a high school diploma.
So, in April 1912, voters in Mount Ayr approved a $45,000 bond issue and the old school building was no more. But, is there more to the story?
Let’s look at Mount Ayr in the years 1910 to 1912.
Electricity came to the town in 1909. By 1912, running water was a certainty and arrived in 1914. The old school was not equipped with electric wiring or water pipes.
The years 1912 to 1916 were a building boom as three Mount Ayr churches built brick houses, the library was built brick, and the Mount Ayr depot was transformed into an elegant train station with steam heat, running water, and electric lights.
I believe the water and electric light luxuries were big players in the new school game, but I have one more thing to mention – a basketball gymnasium.
High school basketball in Mount Ayr first appeared about 1900. In 1902, the high school girls had organized a team.
As far as is known, these teams played in the Mount Ayr Opera House at 104 E. Monroe. However, road games were a different story. On November 11, 1911 the Mount Ayr boys played a basketball game in Grant City outdoors!
Mount Ayr usually played teams on the Mount Ayr branch of the CB&Q: Grant City, Kellerton, Lamoni, Davis City, and Leon. By 1910, automobiles were enabling teams to travel by car to nearby schools for games.
So, the new school and gymnasium were built in 1913 and in 1919 the Ringgold County High School Basketball Tournament began its fifty year run.
Not all games were played at Mount Ayr in that 50 years but the “new gym” is where it started.
I had 8th grade wrestling practice in that 1913 gym in 1970-71. It was small, dark, and smelled like sweat socks. I saw basketball hoops at each end and wondered why they were there because this room was obviously too small for basketball. There were concrete seats on only one side.
But, that gym saw much action until 1936 when a very large, well-lit, gymnasium was constructed.
So, in my opinion, the 1895 school was built at the wrong time. It was beautiful and this was a time when beauty was a part of architecture, in schools, churches, businesses, and homes.
But, not anymore.