Historic Structures

McKinley School - North Side School, Columbus Indiana

Date added: May 10, 2022 Categories: Indiana School

The first public school building in Columbus, Central School, was erected in 1859, expanded in 1873, and reconstructed in 1904. Other public schools were built in 1877 (Lincoin), 1880 (Jefferson), 1886 (Washington), 1892 (McKinley), and 1896 (Garfield). These were built in response to rapid population growth which took place in the 1850's and 1860's. After that period, the population grew at an increasingly lower rate until the 1930's, when a population boom which was to continue into the 1970's began. Between 1896 and 1952, no new schools were constructed, though some existing schools were expanded. Between 1952 and 1973, eleven new schools were constructed in Columbus. None of the schools constructed since 1952 have been designed by local architects. All but one were designed by nationally renowned architects through the modern architecture program of the Cummins Engine Foundation, which pays architectural fees for many public buildings in Columbus. The exception was designed by an Indianapolis firm. Thus McKinley School is one of the six original public schools, that served Columbus from the 19th century until the mid-20th century, and that include the only examples of schools designed by local firms.

After Central became the High School and Washington the Junior High in 1904, and until the 1950's, the elementary schools were Lincoln, Jefferson, McKinley and Garfield. All four schools were similar in size and appointments. Lincoln and Jefferson, constructed in 1877 and 1880, respectively, were built in older neighborhoods which began to decline in prestige as new north side additions were platted. North side residency was made practical by the construction of the street car line in 1890, and later by the automobile. At the time of its construction, McKinley was at the northernmost limits of the city in a newly developing area. Garfield was built four years after McKinley and was also in a newly developing area. Of the early schools, all but Jefferson are still in existence. Only Central is still in use as a school. Lincoln has been rehabilitated as office space. Washington houses apartments. McKinley and Garfield are vacant. Jefferson was demolished to make way for a new building in 1952.

The architect of McKinley was Charles F. Sparrell. Though Sparrell practiced architecture in Columbus for less than 20 years (the early 1880's until the late 1890's), he had the greatest impact on the face of the city of any 19th century architect and probably of any local architect in Columbus’ history. The known extant buildings of Sparrell, other than McKinley, are old City Hall, the Methodist Episcopal Church, a commercial block at 518-520 Washington Street, the old Post Office, Washington School, Garfield School, the A. Overstreet House, the J.A. Weller House, the Prall House, and the Odd Fellows Building. At least five other Sparrell-designed buildings have been demolished and two others have been altered beyond recognition.

Old City Hall, McKinley School, Garfield School, the old Post Office, and the Methodist Episcopal Church are Richardsonian Romanesque in style. These are the only buildings of this style in Columbus. Of these, old City Hall, McKinley, and Garfield stand out as the three best examples of this style, and as the three most distinctive examples of Sparrell's work in Columbus. They are all constructed of brick with stone trim. With massive proportions and large, round arch entries, they are all the type of monumental public building for which the style was intended. Each building has other distinctive details as well. City Hall and Garfield have large square towers above the entry. McKinley has a gable roof central pavilion. In keeping with the style, each building has stone banding. Old City Hall and Garfield also have decorative brickwork.

All of these buildings have a high degree of integrity on the exterior. In all three cases, the interiors have been altered to some degree, and windows have been replaced. Old City Hall is the largest and most elaborately detailed of the Richardsonian Romanesque buildings, although Garfield and McKinley are more pleasing in composition and design. All three buildings are, however, significant local works of the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

The other two Richardsonian buildings are less pure examples of the style. The old Post Office faces Washington Street (the main commercial street) and has the appearance of a commercial building rather than a public building. The building is rusticated concrete block, and has some round arch openings, a square corner tower, and several Queen Anne oriel windows. Its integrity is generally good, except for the first floor facade, which has been completely altered. The Methodist Episcopal Church is brick with stone trim. As the result of a 1960's remodeling, some of the building's main features were altered. A square corner tower was replaced with a colonial steeple, and the entrance was moved from the corner to the side of the building.

The extant historic schools not designed by Sparrell are Lincoln and Central. Both buildings have good integrity. Lincoln has its original windows, eave brackets, window heads and other exterior details. It has been remodeled on the interior, very sympathetically, for use as office space. The building is missing a tower, which was originally on the roof, above the front entry. Lincoln is the oldest extant school building in Columbus. Central, reconstructed in 1904, neoclassical in style, has fairly new (and unsympathetic) windows and exterior doors, but otherwise has good integrity. Central, now a junior high school, is the only historic school in Columbus still in use as a school.

McKinley was constructed at a cost of about $10,000. The builder of record was W.F. Coats, who was a partner in the local firm of Dunlap and Coats (a company which survives to the present day as Dunlap and Company) from 1885 to 1900. (Coats is not known to have built any other buildings during this time on his own, without Dunlap. However, J.R. Dunlap was a township trustee at the time the school was built. His involvement in the construction would probably have been perceived as a conflict of interest, since the township trustees were, at that time, responsible for the schools.) Dunlap and Coats worked on the Madison and Rush County Courthouses, the Indiana Reformatory, and business blocks in Rushville, Mitchell and Medora, according to an 1898 sketch of the company. The firm most likely constructed many other commercial and residential structures in Columbus and other towns, though this cannot be confirmed, as all company records were destroyed by fire.

McGuire and Shook of Indianapolis were architects for the building's addition, designed in 1941 and constructed in 1942. The trustees must have anticipated the eventual need for an addition, as an 1892 report in The Evening Republican, the local paper at the time, evidences: "(The building) is so constructed that four or more rooms may be added to it, as will be necessary by future development." ("The City's Schools," The Evening Republican, Columbus, Indiana, December 1, 1892.) The addition was designed to be compatible with the original building.

The school was originally known as North Side School. The name McKinley was adopted between 1903 and 1915, in memory of the assassinated President.