First there was a new town called Denison. The year was 1872.  Then there was the first free graded public school in Texas. This was less than a year later in 1873.  Then Denison outgrew that first school and 13 years later the first elementary school for white students opened. That was 121 years ago in 1886. That school building was named for Sam Houston and was located at 1100 West Morgan. Sam Houston had died in 1863, long before the school was built, but he was  a hero and had served as governor of both Texas and Tennessee – but not at the same time. He visited this North Texas area long before Denison was established as the guest of Holland and Sophia Porter. Many cities, including Texas’ largest, streets, parks and other schools including Sam Houston State University in Huntsville have be named in his honor.

Huntsville even has a 69 foot tall statue of Sam Houston that greets travelers along Interstate 45. Denison’s schools were supervised by the Denison City Council in those earliest days. Sam Houston Elementary School first was known as the Third Ward at South Tone Avenue and Nelson Street. A.C. Bell was principal there and W. D. Gerrard was superintendent of schools for 1887-88, according to the Denison City Directory.

Information on the first Sam Houston school is sketchy and very little is known except that it was the town’s first school for whites and was built in 1886 in the area where the present school now stands. In 1887-88 there were four schools listed in the City Directory: the Main Street School, which was the Denison Educational Institute; the Third Ward at Tone and Nelson that was Sam Houston; Fourth Ward at South Travis and Nelson that is close to Lamar Elementary. However, Lamar Elementary wasn’t constructed until about 1890. Langston School for Black students opened in 1874 with 35 students. It was located at the corner of Nelson Street and North Travis Ave.

Early day teachers in all four schools were listed together. They were Misses Mary C. Loudon, Nannie T. Loudon, Campie Redwood, Agnes Frizzzell, Irelene Walker, Lizzie Wemnaugh, E.M. Moseley, Eliza Sims, Ida M. Shreeves, Grace Clifford, Stella Close, Mrs. Katy R. Venable, Mrs. A.R. Malcolm, Mrs. Mary T. Brown, Mrs. Kate Ford, Mrs. A.C. Wood, Mrs. Ida Cracken, Miss Lizzie Reid and Mrs. Clara B. Franklin.  There also were five private schools in Denison at the time.

A school directory for 1904-1905 in the Bi-Ennial(cq) Report of The Public Schools of Denison lists Miss Mabel Dain as principal and Miss Maude Patrick, Miss Willie Mayes and Miss Maria K. Watt as teachers. By that time there were the high school, Washington School, Burleson, Peabody, Stevens, Lamar, Houston, Raynal, Anderson and Langston school, operating to educate the children of Denison. F.B. Hughes was superintendent. Houston had 270 of those students. There were a total of 2,544 students in Denison schools that year.

The original Sam Houston School served the students in its ward until 1938 when it was torn down and a new structure was built with the help of Roy Finley and the merchants of Sugar Bottom. Charles Brigham, the unofficial mayor of Sugar Bottom urged the school faculty to honor Mr. Finley when the new building was dedicated in 1938. That new school was built at a cost of $60,000 and was considered one of the model elementary schools in the state. The school was the first new school built under the leadership of B. McDaniel, who became the superintendent of schools in March 1937.

Marvin Vincent started first grade in the basement of Waples Methodist Church while they were building the new school building. His teacher was Miss Moss, who was a very strict lady and also taught most of Marvin’s cousins. He was living in the 1000 block West Morgan and he and Don Hutchison played all over the new building while it was under construction. They walked the length of the auditorium on the outside ledge a thousand times, he said. One of the worse spankings he ever got was for throwing small rocks onto the top of the building.

During the war students dug up the ground on the east side of the school and planted a victory garden. Every day a class picked four boys to water the garden and when Marvin was in the fifth grade he, Taylor Willoughby, Billy Richard Trach, and Jimmy Blankenship were chosen to do the watering. When they went back to class all four were soaking wet. No doubt, they had fun, but that called for a spanking from O.C. Mulkey and another one when Marvin got home. Produce from the garden was given to needy families.

A few years after Marvin attended Houston School, Donis Kay McBee Henson was a student there. She lived not far from school and remembers walking home for lunch. She felt perfectly safe, but today would not allow her daughter to do that. Actually, she and her next door neighbor walked home at recess the first day in the first grade, thinking it was lunchtime. Her mother took them back. She said that Houston School was a fun experience for her from the first grade on through the eighth. She particularly liked her beautiful third grade teacher who called her students “little angels,” although Donis Kay says that they weren’t. She said she feels blessed to have friends she’s known since her Houston School days.

Gordon Rutledge, who was principal at Layne Elementary for many years before he retired, actually began his teaching career at Houston School. He was working at night on the railroad and had just returned home one day when the superintendent called him and asked if he would come to the school and teach a class.

Gregory Roman, principal at Houston before moving to Terrell to complete his teaching career, named the school mascot, the Bulldog, and gave the school its colors of blue and gold.

Walton School, a tiny schoolhouse at the corner of West Day and South Perry that had served the Black students in the area since 1917, was consolidated with Houston in 1965. Walton was named to honor Dave Walton, first principal of Langston School in Southeast Denison. While the Walton building still stands, it is a private residence today.

Dr. Cathy Weems has been principal at Houston for the past six years. Dr. Weems is an enthusiastic supporter of the school and said it’s the friendliest place in town. When she first arrived here she immediately was welcomed by Mary Lou King, former school board president, Jeanne and Horace Groff (Jeanne was principal at Golden Rule for many years) and Katherine Dean, a former principal at Houston. This is Dr. Weems’ 16th year as a school principal. Ten of those years were in her hometown of Whitesboro at an elementary school. She will be taking a break from school at the end of this semester.

For the second year in a row, Houston has just been named a Texas Distinguished Performance School. It is one of 129 schools in the state to receive that honor. Houston also is an Exemplary School. Twenty-five percent of the students are in special education or PPCD (Pre-school Program for Children with Disabilities) classes. There are two special classes for children with mental retardation and two classes for children with autism.

Thousands of children through the years had experiences like Marvin and Donis Kay and have memories of Sam Houston School that they never will forget. I wouldn’t hesitate to guess though that Marvin probably got more spankings than most of them. He turned our pretty good though. - Donna Hunt

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