Ensign Elementary School (1904-1981)
Located at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Twenty-First Street, Ensign Elementary School served students in its East Huntington neighborhood for almost eighty years. Completed in 1904, Ensign Elementary was built to replace another school located at the corner of Third Avenue and Twenty-Second Street. The older school, which was built in 1875, had become too small to accommodate the city’s rapidly growing population. Ensign Elementary was named in honor of Ely Ensign, one of early Huntington’s most prominent business and civic leaders. Ensign was the founder of Ensign Manufacturing Company (later ACF Industries) as well as a longtime city councilman and mayor in 1896. The new school, to which an eastern wing was added in 1907, was an impressive stone and brick building with eight well-lit classrooms. Ensign Elementary was closed in 1981 and demolished a few years later to make way for Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards Stadium, which was completed in 1991.
Backstory and Context
When Huntington was founded in 1871, it was not long before residents, concerned for the education of their children, called for the city to establish a public school. Built in 1872, Huntington’s first school was the Buffington School, a small building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street. In 1888, the ten-room Oley School was built at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirteenth Street. The following year, a school board was established to administer the Huntington Independent School District. As the city’s population continued to grow, it was necessary to expand the existing schools and open new ones, such as the Holderby School in 1891 and a new Buffington School at Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street in 1898.
In 1875, a two-room school building was constructed at the corner of Third Avenue and Twenty-Second Street on the east side of Huntington. Referred to as the Third Avenue School, it was built to accommodate the growing population around Ensign Manufacturing Company, one of early Huntington’s largest employers. In 1885, the school was expanded to four rooms, but it was not long before a larger space was needed. In 1904, the school was replaced with a more modern stone and brick building located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Twenty-First Street. The new Ensign School was a “handsome, commodious building of eight rooms,” with well-lit classrooms, gas heating, and drinking fountains. A new wing was added to the eastern side of the school in 1907.
Ensign Elementary School was named in honor of Ely Ensign, the founder of the nearby factory and a prominent figure in the civic life of early Huntington. Ensign was born on December 19, 1840 in Litchfield, Connecticut to a prominent local family. In 1872, he founded Ensign Manufacturing Company along with William Barnum and Collis P. Huntington, both of whom were also Connecticut natives. After producing metal railcar parts for ten years, Ensign Manufacturing began making wooden freight cars in the early 1880s. In 1899, the company was one of thirteen consolidated into the American Car & Foundry Company, later renamed ACF Industries. As Ensign Manufacturing grew into one of Huntington’s largest employers, Ely Ensign also became a prominent local figure. He served as a longtime member of the Huntington city council, and was elected mayor in 1896. He was also president of the Huntington National Bank and chairman of the committee that had built Trinity Episcopal Church. Ensign passed away in Huntington on January 27, 1902.
Ensign Elementary School remained open for nearly eighty years, even as new schools were built in the area and older ones were closed. When the school was finally closed in 1981, its students were sent to nearby schools like the new Spring Hill Elementary. Around the same time, discussions about the need to construct a new stadium for the Marshall University football team had begun. The new facility would replace the old Fairfield Stadium, which had hosted the team since 1927. In September of 1986, Marshall purchased a parcel of land that included the former Ensign Elementary. The building was soon demolished and the new stadium was built over the next few years. Marshall played its first game at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium in September 1991.
Casto, James E. Lost Huntington: Ensign Elementary School, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. March 31st 2014. Accessed July 6th 2020. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/special/lost_huntington/lost-huntington-ensign-elementary-school/article_5d5c34dd-492f-5c49-8c73-3fe96bc1efa7.html.
Casto, James E. Lost Huntington: Ensign Manufacturing, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. March 24th 2020. Accessed July 6th 2020. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/special/lost_huntington/lost-huntington-ensign-manufacturing/article_3305b1bf-1a97-5c93-81a7-d821c79c1697.html.
“Ensign Manufacturing Company.” 2006. Ensign Manufacturing Company. April 9, 2006. https://www.midcontinent.org/rollingstock/builders/ensign.htm.
The Herald-Dispatch. Timeline of Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. October 23rd 2014. Accessed July 6th 2020. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/sports/marshall_plane_crash/football_history/timeline-of-joan-c-edwards-stadium/article_ca667761-e87c-54a6-9379-5aa7bf63066d.html.
McMillian, Don Daniel. Images of America: Huntington . Charleston, South Carolina. Arcadia , 2003.
State Superintendent of Schools. The History of Education in West Virginia. Charleston, WV. Charleston Tribune Printing Company, 1907.
West Virginia State Department of Free Schools. The West Virginia School Journal . Volume 32. Charleston, WV. West Virginia Department of Education, 1903.
Reproduced from Huntington Chamber of Commerce booklet "Illustrated Huntington", issued 1911.