By the end of the 19th century, New Castle, spurred on by its many manufacturing plants, was one the fastest growing cities in the country. The particular area of the Seventh Ward known as “Tubetown,” just north of the Mahoningtown, was especially thriving due to the close proximity to the New Castle Tube Company, the New Castle Stamping Company, and the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company (Greer Mills). Many of the workers of those plants took up residence in Tubetown and as a result a new primary school was needed for the younger kids.
On Tuesday, March 12, 1901, the new Lawrence School, located on North Liberty Street (where it meets Wilder Avenue), opened for classes. A year later, in March 1902, the school had an enrollment of 150 total children up to the sixth grade. The two-story school had four classrooms on the first floor, but due to budget restraints the second floor (and possibly the basement) left unfinished. The school’s architect was W.G. Eckles, who designed or went on to design many fine structures in the New Castle area.
Roy G. Leslie, who attended Volant College and graduated from Slippery Rock State Normal School in 1899, served as first principal before transferring to the West Side School in July 1905. He went to become the County Superintendent of Schools in 1916 and later served as the principal of the Highland Avenue and McGill Schools before retiring in 1942. He was succeeded by Professor Mont L. Ailey, who resigned in October 1910 to attend law school in Michigan, and was replaced by Miss Lucy Fiscus.
Over the years, with overcrowding in the local schools a constant issue, the topic of whether to complete the second floor of the school came into periodic discussion. It was not until April 1920 that it finally decided to accept bids to complete construction of five classrooms on the top floor. In mid-September 1920 the top floor was opened for classes – with 180 students – and the basement had been improved as well. By the end of 1921 the school had 199 students from sixteen different ethnicities in grades one through seven. An article in the New Castle News lists those of Polish ethnicity leading the way with fifty-two, followed by twenty-eight Americans, twenty-four Negros, twenty-two Russians, thirteen Assyrians, thirteen Germans, twelve Slavs, nine Italians, and a handful of Austrians, English, Hungarians, Hebrews, Romanians, Serbians, Syrians, and Welsh.
In February 1932 the school board undertook some drastic cost-cutting measures, including eliminating the home economics curriculum, closing several swimming pools in maintained, eliminating a host of teachers, and closing the Lawrence School for the time being. The school closed in June 1932 and its 112 students were transferred to the Terrace Avenue or Mahoning Schools for the upcoming school year. Beginning in 1934 the alumni of the Lawrence School started an annual reunion, usually held at Cascade Park, which went on for many years.
The former school building, which never reopened, remained under the control of the New Castle Board of Education and became known as the Lawrence Building. It was generally abandoned and used mainly for storage. In mid-March 1936, when “The Great St. Patrick’s Day Flood” swept through western Pennsylvania, the building was used as a temporary refuge for local residents displaced by the floodwaters. In 1937 the school board provided space in the building to the sewing project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA – later renamed as Works Projects Administration), a nationwide New Deal program that provided sewing jobs to unemployed woman during the Great Depression. A host of local women were taught sewing techniques and manufactured clothes and other vital items for local hospitals and orphanages.
An idea in 1945 to sell the building, along with the old Terrace Avenue and Aiken Schools, never came to fruition. The building generally sat vacant for many years until it was finally demolished and cleared away in July 1971. Soon after the school board began accepting bids to purchase the vacant lot and it was sold in mid-August 1971 to the highest bidder, the B & L Paving Company, for $2,200. These days the Quality Hose & Supply Company facility stands on the site of the old Lawrence School and Tubetown is no longer the bustling section of town it once was.
To read a short article about the opening of the Lawrence School in March 1901 click on: FINE SCHOOL BUILDING ARTICLE. To read about a celebration in May 1901 honoring those involved in the establishment of the school click on: PRESENTATION ARTICLE. In 1903 the overcrowding of schools was a hot topic in the Seventh Ward of the city. To learn more about it click on: NEW SCHOOL NEEDED HERE ARTICLE. To read about complaints of local boys loitering around the school in 1910 click on: BOYS LOAF ARTICLE. To learn about principal Mont Ailey resigning in October 1910 and soon being replaced by Lucy Fiscus click on: PRINCIPAL ARTICLE. To read an article that reports about the unfinished top floor of the school click on: SCHOOL HOUSE NOT FINISHED ARTICLE. To read about the school children cleaning up a nearby lot in April 1915 to use as a playground click on: FIX UP PLAYGROUND ARTICLE. To read about principal Fiscus returning to work after an illness in 1915 click on: RESUMES DUTY ARTICLE. To read about the school children planting a “Victory Garden” during World War I click on: MAKE GARDENS ARTICLE. In early 1920 a night school to teach foreign-born adults “Americanism” and the English language was established at the school. To learn more about it click on: NIGHT SCHOOL STARTS ARTICLE. To read a short article about the school board decision in April 1920 to complete the second floor of the school click on: WILL AID SCHOOL SITUATION ARTICLE. To learn about a young girl hit by a train – and surviving – while walking to the Lawrence School in December 1920 click on: FREIGHT TRAIN HITS SMALL GIRL ARTICLE.