This Saturday, September 1, Middletonians will witness history when the ribbon is cut for a new middle school and a modernized high school is presented at the schools’ campus on Breiel Boulevard.
The long-awaited festivities, from 10 a.m. to noon, will include a tour of the new, 2,000-plus seat Wade E. Miller Arena sports complex and its new Jerry Lucas basketball court. Each is named after a Middletown High legend: the late Miller, a revered former principal and Middletown schools superintendent, and Lucas, the Middie basketball standout-turned-professional basketball player, 1960 Gold Medal Olympian, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, memory expert and author. (*)
The ribbon-cutting celebrates a $96 million educational renaissance for the school district. The current Middletown High building, which opened on Breiel in 1969, has been greatly renovated and updated. A new Middletown Middle School has been erected. The icing on the construction cake is the new sports arena. (1)
The timing of Saturday’s ribbon-cutting couldn’t be better. Middletown’s new school year officially starts Tuesday, September 4. With it comes the next chapter in the school system’s storied history.
If you’re a longtime local, then you know that Middletown High wasn’t always on busy Breiel Boulevard. Nor were the middle school students.
From 1871 to 1908 the city’s first high school was based on the third floor of the twin-towered South School located in what is now South Park on Main Street. After serving as the location for Middletown High and other schools in succeeding years, the old building was demolished following a fire in 1965. (2).
Eventually Middletown High students moved into a building at the corner of Central Avenue and Clark Street. That structure later served as the setting for the old Middletown City Building. It, too, was demolished after a fire. (3)
In 1923 the high school relocated to the magnificent structure that to this day, although vacated, occupies one lengthy block on Girard Avenue. (3)
Built at a cost of over $1 million thanks to the passage of a 20-year bond levy in 1919, the stately edifice boasted the finest accoutrements and was considered “one of the most expensive and finest schools in the state at that time.” (4)
As the decades passed, thousands of high schoolers were educated within her walls. They revelled in athletic victories in the old Wade E. Miller gym and savored culture in her well-appointed auditorium.
But with time comes change...
In 1969 Middletown High School students bid farewell to the Grand Dame of Girard Avenue and said hello to a new, modern building on Breiel Boulevard.
The last yearbook to emanate from the Girard Avenue location was the 1969 Optimist. Like other yearbooks, it displayed photos and names of all the students and chronicled all the Middie activities.
But this Optimist was different. It was infused with sentimentality as its authors chronicled memories of their aging school, reportedly the oldest in Butler County.
Among the yearbook’s highlights were accounts of the 1968 crowning of the school’s first African-American homecoming queen, Lynne Rankin, at Middletown’s Barnitz Stadium, and the performance by American jazz great Count Basie and his orchestra at the junior-senior prom. The Count not only performed for the impressed prom-goers, but signed autographs as well. (5)
In an entry titled “Memories Encompass Last Year at Old High School,” the yearbook staff wrote :
“As we end our days at old Middletown High School and prepare to move to the new building, we sadly reminisce the ‘good old days’ at this building.
“Since 1923 this school has housed Middie spirit and traditions. Many memories come to mind as we walk through the halls of MHS-- initialed desks, well-worn stairs, and championship trophies.
“All past graduates have some memory of their years at the old Middletown High School. Yet next year the location of the high school will be changed and with it will go many familiar landmarks of the building.
“Though new traditions will be founded, the same goals and spirit will remain with us. For wherever we go, near or far, the Middie spirit will forever be there.”
With high schoolers spending their days at a sprawling, new building on Breiel, the old school on Girard continued to serve the community.
For a time she housed only the freshman class -- hence, her new name, “The Freshman School.” Later she welcomed only middle school students, operating under the names Stephen Vail Middle School (in honor of Middletown’s founder) and Middletown Middle School.
But those days are long gon
This weekend, when another chapter in Middie history officially unfolds on Breiel Boulevard, the Grande Dame of Girard Avenue and her companion, the Wade E. Miller Gymnasium, will continue to stand -- vacant, eerily silent, shuttered behind metal fencing -- in their longtime home near Downtown Middletown.
According to news reports, they’re likely to be hearing from a different kind of visitor : a wrecking crew.
* From Wikipedia: “Jerry Lucas”
(1) “New Arena brings Hollywood movie magic to Middie fans” by Michael D. Clark, Journal-News, December 10, 2017
4.“A Brief History of the Middletown City School District 1800-1987 -- Museum Copy” by Norman M. Hayes available at MidPointe Library Middletown, Local History and Genealogy Gallery.
5.”Optimist 1969, Volume LVII, Middletown High School, Middletown, Ohio,” available for reading at MidPointe Library-Middletown’s Ohio Room or online :