Birmingham High School

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Birmingham High School, c. 1907
Interior of the school's auditorium, c. 1911

Birmingham High School, later known as Central High School, was the sole dedicated high school operated by Birmingham City Schools prior to the opening of Parker High School in 1900, and the only high school for white students until Ensley High School was annexed into Birmingham in 1910.

Before 1883 high school age students in Birmingham continued to attend classes at the Free School (later Powell School), which was established in 1873 by John T. Terry and James Powell.

In 1883 the high school students were moved to leased rooms in the Wright Building on the northeast corner of 19th Street and 3rd Avenue North. The presence of a steam laundry on the first floor of that building proved detrimental to study. In 1890 the entire Enslen Building at 608 21st Street North (the present site of the Tutwiler Hotel) was leased to the school board. That building served the school until a new building was finally completed in 1906.

The first dedicated building for a Birmingham High School was built for $160,000 on the site of Terry's home at 2316 7th Avenue North. Other properties on the same block were acquired by the city and were sold for salvage value before the site was cleared.

The firm of Breeding & Whilldin, hired to design the school building, offered the board a choice between re-grading the hill on which Terry's home had stood to reduce the number of steps needed, or to set the main floor three feet above the corner of 7th Avenue and 24th Street. The board chose no to re-grade, "so as not to mar the beauty of the elevated site." At the same meeting, a motion to choose a new name for the school failed, and the name "Birmingham High School" was kept.

The four-story 50-room school opened its doors on February 6, 1906. It was renamed Central High School, to distinguish it from Ensley High School following the Greater Birmingham annexation of 1910.

Central High School burned to the ground on February 12, 1918. Students attended classes at the Paul Hayne School and the Medical College of Alabama until a new high school could be completed. In 1923 Central High School was replaced by Phillips High School, named for John H. Phillips, superintendent of Birmingham schools from 1883 to 1921.



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