Jeffersontown School Once Served as the Heart of the Town
Writer / Beth Wilder
The earliest school in Jeffersontown stood at the foot of Water Street (in the vicinity of College Drive and Neal Drive) near an old barn, and by the early 1900s it was in a rather dilapidated state. As of 1908, no child in Jeffersontown had finished the common school course (that is, through the eighth grade), and the citizens of the area showed little interest in any school in Jefferson County.
The school continued its downhill slide, while The Jeffersonian newspaper editor, J.C. Alcock, wrote articles trying to make Jeffersontown residents realize they should have more self-respect and not tolerate such a “disgraceful” school in a location that was “hardly suitable for a dump.” The building was condemned by county health officers in 1911, but it remained open while local real estate agent E.R. Sprowl worked ceaselessly to secure a new, up-to-date school building on land that he and the Jefferson Heights Land Company were willing to donate just for a school in the Jefferson Heights subdivision, which was under construction at the time.
Through the next few years, the Jeffersontown Commercial Club and other organizations worked hard to get local residents to contribute money toward a new school. By early 1914, the townspeople had raised $5,000, so the County Board of Education shared the expense of erecting a new, $14,000 brick school building in Jeffersontown. Architect Brinton B. Davis designed the structure with an elevated first floor that held four large classrooms, while the basement had windows to allow plenty of natural light for the auditorium, play rooms, trade and domestic skills rooms, furnace room, and lavatories. E.I. Weathers, Mary Simpson and Gladys Hobson made up the teaching staff.
Although the new school at the corner of College Drive and Galene Drive was built to house grades one through eight, talks began immediately to offer high school classes as well. Professor J.W.D. Renegar was hired to be in charge of the high school department, and by 1916 the Jeffersontown School offered the first two years of high school. Students wishing to complete the third and fourth years of high school had to commute to Male, Manual or Louisville Girls high schools.
On September 2, 1925, 17 students enrolled in what would become Jeffersontown High School’s first complete four-year program. They held classes in the basement of the school for a couple of years, then were temporarily transferred to the Masonic Hall so the school’s roof could be raised to allow for a second floor to accommodate all the new pupils. At this time, a two-room portable building was also set up – the first of many to come – to house the growing number of students in attendance at the school. At the same time, a very popular circular fire escape was added to the building. Children loved getting the opportunity to slide down it, so it was cleverly utilized as a fun ride during the many community fairs held on the school grounds.
The property also served an important community function when, in 1943, the Works Progress Administration opened a cannery on site. Local residents were encouraged to process their own food, and the cannery was so popular that it remained open several years after the end of World War II. The Jefferson County Board of Education sponsored the cannery, proud that it could extend its services to the entire community, but the cannery was just one of many outbuildings taking up space on the property filled beyond capacity with students by the late 1940s. The school was bursting at the seams, and something had to be done.
1950 was the last year a senior class graduated from the Jeffersontown School on College Drive. The building reverted to a grade school, and high school students had to attend Eastern or Fern Creek for the next several years, until a new high school for Jeffersontown students was constructed on Six Mile Lane in 1966.
Jefferson County schools were integrated in 1963, so black children who had attended the Alexander-Ingram School on Shelby Street were absorbed into the Jeffersontown School on College Drive. By the 1970s, the building was once again filled beyond capacity, so second-year students were sent to the Shelby Street school, which then became known as the Jeffersontown Annex.
In 1971, county school officials discussed the merits of relocating the Jeffersontown Elementary School and creating a new middle school to alleviate the problem of overcrowding. Most residents were against either suggestion, frustrating board members with their refusal to accept modern facilities. Eventually progress won out, and a new Jeffersontown Elementary School opened on Cedarwood Way in 1973. With that new building, plus Cochrane and Kennedy elementary schools and the recently constructed Carrithers Middle School to serve area residents, the antiquated Jeffersontown School on College Drive was no longer deemed necessary and was torn down in the summer of 1978. The site was occupied for a short time by the Jeffersontown Special Education Center, which eventually became Tully Elementary School.
Although time and progress have removed the original Jeffersontown School from its home on College Drive, the old school building will always be present in the memories of those who attended it. It was a huge part of the lives of practically every young person in Jeffersontown for many decades, as well as a focal point of community activity. The Jeffersontown School served as the heart of our town, and the echo of its importance to local residents will continue to resonate in the fond memories of all who had a connection to it.