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Our Rich History: Anybody remember 11th District School? Part of interesting history of West Covington

By David E. Schroeder
Special to the NKyTribune

The  Covington Independent School District at one time was home to more than a dozen schools. One school –  Eleventh District  – was tucked away in the city’s westernmost neighborhood, bordering the city of Ludlow. This delightful neighborhood has officially gone through several name changes. In the earliest newspaper reports, it was referred to as Economy. When the area was incorporated as a separate city, it took on the name West Covington. More recently, it is being referred to as Botany Hills. Whatever the name, the little neighborhood on a hill overlooking the Ohio River has had an interesting history.

Protesting to keep the school open, 1976. (Photo: Kenton Public Library, Covington)

The first public school to be established in the City of West Covington began operation in 1858, with L.M. Strafer as the first teacher. The school was part of the city government and enrolled students in the elementary grades only. In 1869, the first school trustees were elected. The earliest known school building was a two-room frame structure located on Main Street (now Parkway).

In 1875, 100 students from the area attended the school. Two teachers were on the faculty: Miss J. McKenna as principal, and Miss Kitty Sweet as assistant teacher. The building was overcrowded and in poor shape. The schoolhouse was also being used as the town hall and community center.

The school trustees agreed to construct a new school building in 1876. The original school was sold to a Mrs. Clare for $200. Mrs. Clare agreed to move the structure to a lot she owned in the city. The children continued to attend school in this building until the new structure was completed. This must have been an interesting and exciting time for the students, watching their school being rolled down the street to a new location.

Recess, 1976. (Photo: Kenton County Public Library, Covington)

The new brick structure was built at a cost of nearly $5,000 on the original site. The building was designed to house both the school and the city hall. The cornerstone was officially set in place on October 16, 1876. The event included brass bands, a torchlight procession, a bonfire and fireworks. At this time the population of the town had a strong Irish component. The songs played at the ceremony included, “St. Patrick’s Day,” “Rory O’More” (a nod to the neighborhood’s large Irish Catholic community), “Our Country Tis of Thee,” and “Hail Columbia.” The children began attending class in the new building in 1877.

You can view images of the items found in the cornerstone on the Kenton County Public Library webpage.

In 1916, the city of Covington annexed West Covington and the community became part of Covington Independent Schools. The West Covington School was renamed Eleventh District School as part of the process. At the same time, many of the streets in the community were renamed as to not duplicate Street names in Covington. It was at this time that Main Street in West Covington officially became Parkway Avenue.

There were numerous advantages for the children of West Covington to be incorporated into the larger system. The Covington School District agreed to construct a new, modern school building to replace the 1877 structure, and children were now permitted to attend Holmes High School. This was the first time children living in the West Covington neighborhood had access to a free public high school education. The last members of the West Covington Board of Education were: Charles Martin, William Lang, B. Fox, Andrew Fritsch, Charles H. Miller and Perry Ernest.

Work on constructing the new 11th District began in 1919 with the purchase of almost five acres of property adjoining the old school building on Parkway. The architectural firm of Richards, McCarty & Buford of Columbus, Ohio were commissioned to design the new structure. The two-story brick Tudor Revival design included eight classrooms. The dedication took place on September 23, 1923. In 1924, the Covington School Board sold the old schoolhouse to the Morning Star Lodge Knights of Pythias.

4th grade teacher, Sharon Clark. (Phot: Kenton County Public Library)

West Covington continued to grow throughout the 1920s. with several new streets being constructed. As a result, enrollment increased at Eleventh District. In 1929, it stood at 258. Two years later, school officials began planning for the construction of an addition to the school. West Covington architect Chester Disque was hired to design the addition, which included four classrooms, a library and an auditorium. The addition was officially dedicated on December 18, 1931.

Like many old neighborhoods in Northern Kentucky’s river cities, West Covington began losing population in the years following World War II. Enrollment at Eleventh District began a slow but steady decline. By 1976, it had fallen to 200 pupils. School officials began discussing the closure of Eleventh District School and enrollment was not the only problem. The ethnic makeup of Eleventh District was almost exclusively Caucasian and had drawn attention from the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The district was given two options, to integrate Eleventh District or to close the facility and send the students to an integrated school nearby.

West Covington residents organized and fought fiercely to keep their neighborhood school open. They were even successful in getting several residents elected to the school board. These efforts proved unsuccessful. In 1978, the Covington School Board was again ordered to integrate the schools in the district or lose over $1 million in federal funding. The Eleventh District School closed at the end of the 1978-1979 school year. The building was sold to a developer who transformed it into apartments.

David E. Schroeder is Director of the Kenton County Public Library, the author of Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (2014), and coeditor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015).

Exterior of the building. (Photo: Kenton County Public Library)

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