Huntington East High School (1940-1996)
Huntington East High School served thousands of students over the more than fifty years between its construction in 1940 and the school's closing in 1996. The school was built in response to overcrowding at the old Huntington High School, which had become so severe that students had to attend in shifts. The need for two large high schools reflected Huntington’s dramatic rise in population during the early twentieth century and stood in contrast to the city’s first high school classes which were held in the prayer meeting room of a local church. After Huntington East High opened on September 26, 1940, several additions were made to the school as the student population grew and the building aged. Over those years, the Huntington East “Highlanders” became rivals with the Huntington High “Pony Express” both on and off the playing field. In 1996, the two schools were consolidated when the new Huntington High School opened. After the move, the Cabell County Board of Education relocated its offices in the former Huntington East High School.
Backstory and Context
Although Huntington’s first public school building was constructed in 1872 - just one year after the city was founded - it was many years before a dedicated high school was built for the older students in the community. In 1887, the Cabell County School System established a three-grade high school which initially met in the prayer meeting room of the old Congregational Church at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street. As the city grew, the high school was moved to the Council Chamber of City Hall. The school then met within two rooms within the new Oley School, a red brick building that was located at Fifth Avenue and Thirteenth Street. The result was that Oley School housed students of all ages until a second structure was erected nearby to house the upper grades. As Huntington’s population continued to grow at the turn of the twentieth century, the need for a separate high school building soon became apparent to city officials.
Completed in 1916, Huntington High School was designed to hold 1,100 students. Huntington’s population continued to rise, however. Although the high school served the community well for several years, it was not long before the building struggled to accommodate the student body. By the 1930s, the high school had two sessions per day in order to manage an enrollment of over two thousand students. Under this arrangement, half of the students went to class in the mornings, while the other half attended in the afternoons. Planning for a new school soon began, and officials chose a site on the east side of the city at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-Ninth Street. Construction of Huntington East High School, as well as the adjacent Huntington Trades School, began in 1939. When Huntington East High welcomed its first students on September 26, 1940, it put an end to Huntington High’s overcrowding and let the student body return to a more normal size.
As generations of teenagers passed through Huntington East High over the years, several additions were made to the school. These additions, which were added in 1942, 1945, 1952, 1965, 1981, and 1984, transformed Huntington East High into a campus that sprawled along Fifth Avenue. Although the school had been built to ease overcrowding at Huntington High, it was not long before the Huntington East “Highlanders” became cross-town rivals with the Huntington High “Pony Express.” While this rivalry was especially evident on the football field, it was also present in other parts of student life, such as the annual marching band festival in downtown Huntington. Huntington East High School became a fixture of its East Huntington neighborhood, as students patronized the businesses across the street from the school. Byegone restaurants like Wiggins, Torlone’s Bakery, Gino’s Pizza, Guyan Creamery, and the Scottish Inn were popular spots among students on their lunch break or in need of an after-school snack.
By the 1990s, Huntington East High had served students for over half a century. Despite the many additions that had been made to the school over the years, the building was aging and many of its facilities were no longer up-to-date. Huntington High School, which had been constructed even earlier, was in a similar state. In response to the need for updated facilities, the Cabell County Board of Education decided to consolidate the two high schools into a brand new building. The new school, which was briefly called Cabell West High School and Huntington Summit High School during the planning period, was built in 1995-96 at a cost of $27 million and located near the Hal Greer Boulevard exit of I-64. The new school kept the Huntington High School name, but adopted the Highlanders mascot from Huntington East High School. The new high school opened in the fall of 1996, and both the old Huntington High and Huntington East High were closed. Shortly after the closure, the Cabell County Board of Education moved its offices to the former Huntington East High, and the organization continues to use this former high school for that purpose today.
About the Highlanders, Huntington Highlanders. Accessed July 12th 2020. https://www.huntingtonhighlanders.com/teams/?u=HUNTINGTONHIGHLANDERS&s=football&p=about.
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Casto, James E. Lost Huntington: Huntington East High School, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. September 7th 2015. Accessed July 12th 2020. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/special/lost_huntington/lost-huntington-huntington-east-high-school/article_61c98e06-03c8-5256-b702-a4fc0d265cee.html.
State Superintendent of Schools. The History of Education in West Virginia. Charleston, WV. Charleston Tribune Printing Company, 1907.