College Park Community Newspaper : CPCN 032817
APRIL 2017 COLLEGEPARKPAPER.COM 18 Features “School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days, Readin’ and writin’ and ’rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick ...” — Will Cobb and Gus Edwards, “School Days,” 1907 While digging through bins of historical scrapbooks filled with PTA minutes, school reports and newspaper clippings from the Orlando Sentinel and weekly Corner Cupboard newspaper, along with hundreds of pictures, the long forgotten, yet familiar scent of the mimeograph machine came wafting into the air. Rachel Hunter (one of Princeton’s many parent volunteers) and I were uncovering treasure after treasure of Princeton School’s 90 years of glorious history. Most of us probably know of Princeton’s most famous alumni, astronaut John Young and aviator Joe Kittinger. But as I perused the scrapbooks from the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, I started to see a tapestry woven by teachers and parents who poured their hearts and minds into building a school. A school that would not only graduate future heroes but weave into it the unbreakable fiber of family. In 1926, Princeton Street was a sandy road on the outskirts of Orlando leading to and from the village of Formosa. The first settler in the area had been Philadelphia attorney James M. Wilcox, who arrived in 1880. It was he for whom the area was originally called Willcox (yes, with two l’s). When the South Florida Railroad came through Orlando in 1881, the Village of Willcox gained the second stop on the train — close to the intersection of present day Orange Avenue and Princeton Street. Mr. Wilcox (yes, with one l) built The West End Hotel to take in wintering tourists and visitors who arrived by train. By 1887, there were about 125 year-round residents and Willcox boasted a grocery store and its own post office which remained opened until 1907 when free mail delivery came to the still rural community. That same year, Mr. Wilcox’s West End Hotel met its demise in a fire The homestead of Richard and Mary Jesse Cone, another of Willcox’s earliest pioneer families, later became the site of Princeton Elementary. When the school was rebuilt and new buildings added in 2012, the foundation of the Cone farmhouse was discovered and documented. In 1925, Willcox was renamed Formosa, and the village was annexed into the city limits of Orlando. The following year, Palm Terrace and the Cooper-Atha-Barr Real Estate and Mortgage Company’s new College Park development were also annexed, adding 340 acres to the city limits. Like most of Florida, Orlando’s boom time growth nearly tripled its population in the 1920s, which created the need for a new primary school. June 10, 1926, the Orange County Board of Public Instruction bid out contracts for two new primary schools — Princeton in the northwest and Grand Avenue in the southwest — and appointed Howard M. Reynolds as the architect for both. He created identical designs for the pair of schools, as he had done the year earlier when he created twin plans for those built in Concord Park and Marks Street. Reynolds’ work reflected the unique regional style he and the few other architects in Orlando deliberately cultivated in the 1920s. As a group, they explained to The Florida Circle in 1924, “Just as architects of old created styles to harmonize with their environment, so have the architects of Florida been creating, from native motifs, a style that is carefully adapted to the climatic conditions and surroundings of the state. This style has an individuality all its own and should have a fitting name to express its origins” (http://bit.ly/2nQWisS). This distinctive Spanish Revival style, sometimes known as Mediterranean, greatly influenced Florida architecture through the 1920s and ’30s. In 1989, Princeton Street School was designated an Orlando Historic Landmark. The application noted elements of Princeton’s distinguishing style: stucco walls; low-pitched, mission tile–clad gable roof; multi-paned windows; decorative gable vents and medallions; the projecting parapeted entry and arched doorway. Something else that hasn’t changed since Princeton opened its doors is the enormous role parents play in the life of the school. During the Great Depression, Princeton became a resource for the community, helping students and families who needed medical care and other necessities, including eyeglasses, they could not afford From the beginning, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at Princeton, recognizing the importance of nutritious meals, prepared and served bargain-priced lunches to students for 10 cents or for free to those in need. Mrs. Thelma Josephine Henry, the school’s first PTA president, played a vital role in this endeavor. Saved in the 1954–55 Princeton School PTA scrapbook, an article for the June 10, 1954, Corner Cupboard Newspaper heralded Mrs. Henry and the PTA. It recalled that when Princeton opened its doors, not all children remained at school for lunch, but because “most mothers welcome an uninterrupted morning ... a group of mothers agreed to provide lunches for the children. All were volunteers.” In fall 1927, Mrs. Henry, still volunteering as the PTA president (a position she filled for several years), was hired by the school to be in charge of its lunches — a job she held for 17 years. In 1944, Mrs. Henry became the first Orange County school lunch supervisor for the 21,000 students then enrolled throughout the county, and she served in this capacity 10 years. Though times have changed, the tradition of parent participation at Princeton is no less important. Living out its mission “to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children,” Princeton’s PTA invests countless hours to the enrichment of academic life and the well-being of each and every child in collaboration with teachers, employees and civic partners (PTA.org). In fact, in 1973 when Florida recommended closing Princeton due to declining enrollment and the poor condition of her outbuildings, it was parents who stepped up to save the school. Meeting with the Orange County School Board to persuade it to refuse the state’s recommendation, Princeton’s parents presented data proving the arrival of young families moving into the neighborhood, and they also enticed families who had enrolled in private schools to return to the public school. Thankfully, the parents prevailed, and in 1978 the state agreed with keeping Princeton’s doors open if student enrollment supported it. (For more details, see Kit Lively’s March 15, 1987, article “School Celebrating Its Place In Orange’s History” in the Orlando Sentinel archives: http://bit.ly/2n9wU4w.) Such loyalty and tradition have long distinguished Princeton, even as times have changed. Just as the older couple in the song “School Days” reminisce their childhood, celebrating Princeton’s 90 years stirs the same sweet sentiments, recalling the innocence of childhood, lifelong friendships and those fleeting, glorious days. But they’re still here. Every day, in every classroom, memories of “readin’ and writin’ and ’rithmetic” are born anew. Happy 90th anniversary, Princeton Street School. Long may you inspire. Happy 90th anniversary, Princeton Elementary By Becky Dreisbach Courtesy Photo Elma Jackson Henry, seen here at her retirement party, was Princeton’s first PTA president and was hired as the school’s first lunch room manager in 1927. Courtesy Photo This 1983 photo shows the Cone family farmhouse on “Clay Hill” where Princeton Elementary stands today.