Monday, March 23, 2009

Old Spearfish High School remembered

NOTE: We were unable to attend the March 2009 meeting of the Spearfish Area Historical Society; fortunately, good friends Ray and Darlene Telkamp agreed to audio record the session, allowing us to later hear the presentation and craft the following posting. Many thanks Ray and Darlene!

The memory machines were in full operation earlier this month (3/09) when members of the Spearfish Area Historical Society – many of them Spearfish High School grads of yesteryear – gathered at the Senior Citizen Center to hear Paul Higbee talk about the history of the old school.

Higbee, himself a Spearfish grad, is well-known across the region as a superb writer, and he gave another solid presentation. But many in the audience offered up their own memories, including several about “Fight Corner” at 8th and Illinois, where kids took their disputes for an early-day version of “conflict resolution.”

Most of the discussion related to the 85-year-old brick building that stands in the shadow of Lookout Mountain on the east side of Spearfish. Known today as “East Elementary,” it was built in 1926 and was the first Spearfish High School -- a function it served for more than 53 years.

Higbee’s presentation recalled those days even before the old high school building, reaching back to 1883, when the state normal school was begun. There was no separate high school building in Spearfish. Back in those days, students received their elementary and secondary education at the old normal school.

That was not an arrangement that gained much favor among the citizens of Deadwood, Lead, Belle Fourche, and elsewhere. They were concerned that their tax dollars were supporting not only their own local school, but also a normal school in Spearfish -- and the education of Spearfish elementary and high school kids!

Of course, many locals were desirous of their own school, and so it was that specific planning for a building up on Illinois Street was begun in 1923. City Supervisor Martin Thompson, who was also a contractor, played a key role in construction of the building. A carpenter on the job was J. Howard Kramer, later educated at the University of Iowa, and who would eventually become superintendent of the school that he had helped build!

Even in those early days, the school mascot was a Spartan, although there was much consternation in earlier the years as to the exact school colors. They ranged from maroon and gray to red and white.

Perhaps someone can offer some photographs of old Spearfish High School that we might add to this posting? We have linked to a few images in our History Gallery – contemporary though they are – that might help to tell the story of this venerable structure that was home to so many memories. There’s additional information, too, from Paul Higbee’s excellent presentation.

Please send us an e-mail at if you can share with us a few historic photos of old Spearfish High School! And thanks again to Darlene and Ray Telkamp for their assistance with this posting.