By David Humphrey
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — FAIRMOUNT — The history of Fairmount High School dates back to 1885. In this year, the south end of the building was constructed and served as the Fairmount Academy Building. The building was later sold to the Fairmount Public School System and became Fairmount High School.
After the school received its commission in the spring of 1898, construction began to add onto the existing high school. From 1898 through 1902, when the northern part of the school was completed, classes were held in the south building. Though construction of the school was not yet completed, the class of 1900 was the first to graduate from Fairmount High School.
Like many high schools during the early part of the 20th century, Fairmount High School emphasized on the importance of education and extracurricular activities. School days began at eight o'clock in the morning with students dismissed at three in the afternoon. Students had an hour for lunch where they enjoyed one another's company outside of the classroom.
English, math, social studies, science, and physical education were included in the school curriculum and were requirements for all students. Shop, home economics, foreign languages, journalism, writing and music were electives. However, female students were not allowed to enroll in shop class or participate in Future Farmers of America. Though it was permitted, male students seldom took classes in journalism or home economics. Over time, Fairmount High School recognized social change in the United States and opened classes to students of both genders. Before long, female students learned to use the band saw in shop class, whereas male students baked cakes in home economics class.
In 1911, the school's first monthly publication called the "Black and Gold" was printed. The school newspaper featured artwork, poems and stories written and created by members of the "Black and Gold" staff. In 1927, the newspaper changed its name to "The Breeze." It was during this time when Fairmount High School became a member of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges. Teachers at the high school were held to very high standards with an extensive curriculum for students. In the fall of 1921, music was added to the curriculum that led to the formation of the school's first orchestra that consisted of fourteen instrumentalists.
At the end of any given school day, youngsters gathered at Cox's Corner, which had a jukebox, dance floor and soda fountain. There was also a bowling alley, movie theater and skating rink in the cultural center of Grant County.
Basketball and football were the two main sports played by athletes at Fairmount High School. The Fairmount Quakers won sectional basketball tournaments in 1929, 1942 and 1955. In 1935, the half-mile relay track team set a school record that was not broken until 1965. The team was composed of Maz Clifford, Verle Overshiner, Eugene Hahn and Harry Warr, who also held the school broad jump record from 1935 through 1952. Overshiner held the record for the 100-yard dash that was never beaten in the history of the school.
One of the best known traditions at Fairmount High School began in the early 1900s — Senior Flag Day. Seniors at the high school designed and made their own flag that hung from the flag pole. Members of the junior class did whatever was within legal bounds to steal the senior flag. However, if the culprits were caught, they suffered consequences at the hands of the senior class. Senior Flag Day took place prior to graduation, which was held in the spring at Wesleyan Park. As the senior class grew in size, graduation ceremonies were held in the school gymnasium.
Several graduates of Fairmount High School have brought recognition to the town. The most famous was actor James Dean, who skyrocketed to fame in the 1950s. His movie roles included "Rebel Without a Cause," "Giant" and "East of Eden." Dean died in a car crash on Sept. 30, 1955, at the age of 24. "Garfield" creator Jim Davis also graduated from Fairmount High School in 1963 and continues to operate Paws Inc. in Albany. After graduating from Fairmount High School in 1963, Phil Jones went onto a successful career as a correspondent for CBS News. Jones joined the CBS Washington Bureau in 1972 and became the White House correspondent during the Ford administration. He retired from CBS in May 2001. Other well known graduates include Marvin Coyle, former vice-president of General Motors, and James DeWeerd, past president of Kletzing College in Iowa, the youngest man ever to be named president of an American college.
The last graduating class of Fairmount High School was in 1970. Students that attended Fairmount transferred to the newly built Madison-Grant High School. The old high school was utilized as a middle school before closing on May 30, 1986. Due to the historical significance, much effort has been made to preserve the building. However, those efforts have fallen short and the school continues to deteriorate at a rapid pace. Those visiting the old high school, at 201 South Vine St., now find the century-old structure surrounded by a security fence. Much of the roof and second floor on the east end of the high school has collapsed, leaving one to wonder if the school is beyond being saved. Fans of James Dean have long wanted to remove the gymnasium stage where he once acted in school plays, but the setting remains within the school. Time may have changed the building, but nothing can change the history of Fairmount High School.