One recent summer afternoon, I visited with my friend Betty on her front porch in the 3900 block of Oliver Street. Her family has lived there since December 1939, when they moved here from Wisconsin, and Betty has many memories of growing up in Hyattsville
During our conversation, Betty took me back to the fall of 1941 when she entered the freshman class at the old Hyattsville High School. It was located at 42nd Avenue and Oglethorpe Street, where the middle school stands today.
Walking up the old wooden steps inside the school is vivid in her memory. Mr. Miller, a tall distinguished gentleman with white hair, was the principal, and his wife worked in the office. The boys, who were smokers in those days, crossed the street to light up off the school premises, away from the watchful eye of Mr. Miller. The girls concentrated on shorthand and typing, while the boys took shop class. All students had to participate in air raid drills, as this was during World War II.
The school cafeteria, managed by students in the home-economics class, was near and dear to Betty’s heart. Like today, students could either bring their lunch or purchase it there. Each Friday, the school’s menu featured a grilled cheese sandwich with cream of tomato soup. It was Betty’s favorite, and her mother provided her with funds each Friday.
The gym was outside the school in a separate building, and no matter how hot or cold the day, the students were required to walk over. Students were used to walking: There were no school buses in those days, and most kids walked to school. There was also virtually no time off for snow.
Even parties were a little different. The junior and senior proms were held in the school gym, with a committee established to decorate. There were no further celebrations after the proms; the students just walked home.
After a nostalgic two hours with Betty discussing the old school, I called another old friend, who grew up in this city, John Small. John was the historian for the class of 1943. However, John did not graduate with his class. As this was during the war years, John enlisted in the Navy at age 17. Many of his classmates did the same. They knew that they would be drafted at age 18, but if they enlisted at 17, they had a better choice of where they wanted to be stationed. When John left the Navy three years later, he completed his senior year of high school at McKinley Tech in N.E. Washington.
It wasn’t long after his return that construction began on Northwestern High School. When the new school opened in the early 1950s, the old one was torn down and Hyattsville Middle School was built in its place.
Many precious memories of the old school went down, along with the bricks and steel, that can never be replaced. I was glad that some of them were shared with me that afternoon.