Parkersburg Big Reds Girls Basketball: School History

Monday, October 15
PHS School History

The present Parkersburg High School was completed in 1917 but it took a special law passed through the West Virginia Legislature and the determination of one man to accomplish the feat.

Built at an approximate cost of a half million dollars, which included the grounds, building and equipment, Parkersburg High School was the dream of Charles Elliott Van Devender, President of the Board of Education.

The businessmen of Parkersburg elected Van Devender because they wanted a new high school and they felt he was the man for the job. After assuming office, Van Devender sought out various properties and decided on the piece of land between 19th and 24th Streets on the west side of Dudley Avenue, as the location for the new high school building.

There was bitter opposition to this site, some opponents going so far as to burn and hang Van Devender in effigy on Seventh Street in front of the old high school building. They felt it was foolish to build and enormous high school in a swamp, in a cow pasture that was located outside the city. "A building to house 1,200 students that would never be filled with students."

The site actually was a swamp, filled with cattails and water snakes, and over lying quicksand.

When the building was completed in 1917, the front campus and the front door could only be reached by an elevated boardwalk. Van Devender had a vision of what could be done with the site, and he refused to permit anything, or anyone, to deter him from his purpose. Every tactic known to demonstrators was used to stop the work but all attempts were unsuccessful. His adversaries criticized and opposed every action, including placing an "unheard of" price on the property that Van Devender wished to acquire.

Also, at this time there was a West Virginia law which existed saying that no school ground could contain more than four acres. Since Van Devender wanted 27 acres rather than the four which the law made possible, he met with Charles Kreps, attorney for the Board of Education, and had a bill properly drawn up. Van Devender took the bill by train to Charleston where the legislature was in session. There he met with Senator Robert Gregory and convinced him to present a bill making it legal to acquire 30 acres of land for school use. The bill was passed.

An architect named F.L. Packard from Columbus, Ohio, designed the three-story structure and Van Devender spent much of his time at the building site overseeing its construction and expenses.

The school opened with room for 1,200 students. There were 38 classrooms, including shops and laboratories; an auditorium with a seating capacity of 1,350; a gymnasium with a seating capacity of 1,000; three offices; a lunch room with a capacity of 500; and additional rooms for storage, janitorial supplies, etc.

The main building of the original structure is resting on a concrete slab, which rests in turn on quicksand. Underneath that slab are many pilings. Because the structure is "floating" in the quicksand, all the settling has been uniform and even today very few cracks have formed inside the building.

In 1928, money was made available for the building of the two wings. The title "Central Junior-Senior High School" was used for many years when the school was operating under a six year plan, 7th through 12th grades. The name changed to Parkersburg High School when this system changed. However, as long as the seventh and eighth grades remained in the south wing, that wing was referred to as "Central Junior High School."

In 1956, With the completion of two junior high schools and the construction almost finished for a third one, seventh and eighth graders were taken from the high school building. It was a four year institution until 1960 when it became its current three-year institution.

The original cost of PHS was $675,000. In 1915 there were 128 graduates while by 1928 the number had increased to 209. In 1965 the number reached 1,150. currently the enrollment is 1,650 in the upper three grades.