The residents of Wampum, a small settlement founded in Western Pennsylvania back in 1796, were served by several small schools throughout the nineteenth century. One particular school burned down in the fall of 1875, and as a result children began attending classes held in the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church (built in 1871). A new schoolhouse was built in 1877, which I believe was the one located at the intersection of Kay and Church Streets – behind where the old International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Hall is still located. Overcrowding at this school led to students attending classes at several annex locations, including in a large room over William Yoho’s blacksmith shop on Beaver Street.
In 1912 and citizens of Wampum began debate on financing for a new school house. With favorable financing several lots were purchased comprising a triangular property at the end of Main Street, just where the Newport Road veered off past St. Monica’s Catholic Church. The new two-story school house and playground were erected with haste beginning in March 1914, and construction was completed just prior to school opening on September 14 of that same year. The school featured a distinctive tan brick construction that was similar to St. Monica’s Church, which was erected across the street back in 1905. The school served various grades but was mostly known for housing the older kids of Wampum High School. Over the next two decades I believe the school building was expanded and a small annex was built right behind it (all completed by 1934).
The school utilized a small gymnasium on the top floor of the IOOF Hall on Main Street and the baseball field currently located on the Wampum playground. In 1940 the gym in the IOOF Hall was condemned due to the deteriorating condition of the building and the cagers were forced to use the Shelby Gym in nearby Ellwood City. In 1942 the borough was finally able to fund and build a small school gymnasium right across the street from the Wampum School.
It was under the tutelage of head varsity basketball coach L. Butler Hennon, also the school principal and mathematics teacher, that the Wampum High Indians achieved a reputation for incredible success on the hardwood floor. Hennon, a Wampum High and Geneva College graduate, took over the team in 1933-34 and posted a record of 8-7. The next few years were lean on wins, but by 1940 the team had a legitimate superstar in high-scoring center Coy Craine. They won the WPIAL Section 20 championship in February 1941 and repeated this feat in 1944, 1946, and 1947. For such a small school district Hennon would be blessed with some special talent in the coming years that included Coy Craine’s brother Ceasar Craine and step-brothers Rich (Dick), Harold, and Ron Allen, and Hennon’s own son Donnie. Other notables included Ronnie Galbreath, John Novalesi, Ed Marich, John Melfi, Joe Schnitzki, Eugene Swogger, and John Grinnen.
The boys from Wampum won twelve straight Section 20 championships beginning in early 1950. In was during the decade of the 1950’s that the Wampum Indians varsity basketball team became a national (and international) sensation of sorts and essentially put the tiny town on the map. Coach Hennon’s unusual practice techniques, which featured his players wearing weighted jackets, heavy gloves, thick boots, and special glasses to improve their skills, paid off during their games. The team dominated league play while competing primarily against Union, Shenango, New Wilmington, Mount Jackson, Laurel, Darlington, Bessemer, and Zelienople and put up numerous long unbeaten streaks including an amazing 82-game streak in 1957-1959.
The Indians reached their first Class B state championship game in early 1953, but lost a heartbreaker 71-70 to Irwin High School. Wampum, led by senior sensation Donnie Hennon, was soon back in the hunt, this time going an incredible 31-0 and winning their first Class B state title in early 1955. The team also went undefeated in league play the following season, but unfortunately bowed out in the WPIAL finals. Led by the Allen boys the small school racked up two more Class B state crowns in 1958 and 1960. The story of the Wampum High’s basketball team was featured in a cover story in Life magazine in January 1958, and some of Hennon’s techniques were subsequently adopted by the Olympic basketball team of the Soviet Union.
Many of Hennon’s players enjoyed success after their high school days ended. Coy Craine went on to play basketball in the U.S. Army and later with the Harlem Hobos, a Philadelphia-based barnstorming team that performed to crowds all over North America. Hennon’s high-scoring son Donnie, who led the team in 1955 as a senior, went to star at the University of Pittsburgh and later passed up a pro career to study medicine. He later served as a doctor in U.S. Army before becoming a renowned surgeon in Pittsburgh. Rich (Dick) Allen, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, made an immediate impact in the big leagues and was awarded as the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year. In 1972 he won the AL MVP Award with the Chicago White Sox while leading the league with 37 home runs and 113 RBI. He was also a moody agitator who is often remembered as one of the most controversial figures in baseball history. His brothers Harold and Ron also had brief stints in the major leagues. After graduating from high school Ron Galbreath went to be a key player with the Westminster College basketball team and was a renowned college basketball coach in Western Pennsylvania for forty-five seasons.
In February 1954 Wampum – after several years in a temporary union – entered into a permanent jointure with the Big Beaver Township school district. This move brought more area students to the Wampum school. As a result of the jointure some of the younger students in Wampum also started attending classes at the Newport School and the Glenkirk School.
A few years later, due to several factors including financial concerns, Wampum officials started to look at a plan to pull out of the Wampum-Big Beaver jointure and merge with the Ellwood City School District. This led to a rather nasty dispute between Wampum and Big Beaver officials. In June 1961 the Wampum School Board voted to rescind its relationship with Big Beaver effective July 1, 1961, with intentions to join the Ellwood City School District. State and county level officials soon approved of the plan. The illustrious history of Wampum High came to an end with the decision to merge into the newly reorganized Ellwood City Area School District for the 1961-62 school year. Local high school kids from Wampum and Chewton, including my mother MaryAnn DeMarc, generally began attending Lincoln Junior-Senior High School in Ellwood after this. Hennon also went on to coach the Lincoln varsity basketball team at the Class A level, but never duplicated the success he had achieved at Wampum.
The school building in Wampum continued to serve the local community as an elementary school. Plans formulated in 1974 by the Ellwood school board called for the original structure to be razed and a new elementary school to be built in its place. The annex building would be maintained and renovated, while the rebuilt main school building would resemble the Perry Elementary School. At that time the aging structure needed extensive repairs, evidenced by the fact that the second floor was closed off in 1975. In the fall of 1977 the total cost for the project was estimated at $505,000, including $113,000 for renovating the annex building. At that time the students in grades 1-6 were transported to attend classes in the Ewing Park School, while kindergarten classes were held in a local church. The school sat vacant pending work slated to begin in early 1978.
However, by the spring of 1978 the school board, citing delays from state officials in Harrisburg and a growing budget crunch, nixed the entire project and closed the school for good. This angered the residents of Wampum and led to bitter feelings towards the Ellwood City school officials. There was talk of joining up with Mohawk Area School District, if a promise of renovations to the old school could be secured. That initiative did not meet with success and the local students continued to attend classes in Ellwood City.
In early 1980 the Wampum Borough purchased the main school building, the smaller annex, and the gymnasium. The annex was soon remodeled and reopened as the home of the municipal offices and police department of the Wampum Borough. Various plans were discussed for the main school building, but it was eventually sold and converted into an apartment building.
The small gymnasium was maintained as a community center and opened to the public. In March 1994, with 84-year-old Butler Hennon and many of his former players on hand, it was rededicated as the L. B. Hennon Recreation Center. It’s still in use today and seems like it has been well preserved from its heyday. It’s a bit like entering a time machine when entering the building, due to the assortment of trophies and photos and the “old school” look of the tiny gym. This cramped place must have been something for opposing teams to enter back in the 1950’s!
To see an attendance report from the Wampum School on Kay Street for the month ending on January 13, 1891, click on: JAN 1891 REPORT. In May 1913 the citizens of Wampum were engaged in a rather bitter dispute concerning where to build the proposed new school – the Stewart Hill site or the so-called Point site on Main Street (which was soon selected). To read more about the debate click on: SCHOOL SITE DEBATE ARTICLE. In late January 1914 the school board was also able to begin purchase of the Stewart lot – passed over in the initial property acquisition – to increase the size of the new school grounds. To read about it click on: OPTION ON STEWART LOT ARTICLE. To read about the school board selling $500 bonds to finance the new school construction click on: WAMPUM TO BUY BONDS ARTICLE. In early February 1914 the school board selected a light brown-colored brick similar to that used to build nearby St. Monica’s Catholic Church. To read more about it click on: DECIDED ON COLOR ARTICLE.
An early postcard of the school on Kay Street, which was built in 1877 and replaced a nearby schoolhouse that was destroyed by a fire two years prior. (c1905) Larger Image
Schoolhouse built in 1877 on Kay St where it intersects Chruch St. Notice the large American flag hanging sideways atop the school. Photo taken in early 1900’s.
Another postcard showing the same schoolhouse on Kay St in the early 1900’s.
A class photo of students from the Wampum School in 1892. Teacher Miss Tillie Weatherspoon is standing on far right. Among the surnames of the students are familiar names such as Douthitt, Veon, Davidson, Morrow, Freed, Parshall, Cunningham, Stiglitz, and Allen. Larger Image
Old photo revealing where Kay St schoolhouse stood. It’s directly behind the IOOF lodge building (where a second floor gymnasium was used by Wampum school kids for some time) on left side of photo. Notice the horse drawn carriages on the street. c1905.
House on Kay St that now occupies former site of old schoolhouse. Photo taken from middle of Church St. Apr 2010.
I believe this may be a dedication ceremony held at the new Wampum School, sometime after it opened for classes on Monday, September 14, 1914. The school opened with 193 total pupils.
The graduating class of Wampum High School from 1917. (1917) Full Size
The former Wampum Public School during the winter months. (Feb 2011) Full Size
A class of youngsters at Wampum, possibly the combined 1st and 2nd grade class from 1915-1916 or 1916-1917. The kid 2nd from right end of 3rd row looks like Robert Aiello.
Another class photo from the Wampum Public School, possibly the combined 3th & 4th grade class from 1917-1918 or 1918-1919. I believe Robert Aiello is seated 4th from left end. His brother Richard may be in this photo as well.
Wampum School. (1944) Full Size
Members of the 1942-43 Wampum High varsity basketball squad, including star player the senior captain Coy Craine Allen. (1942) Full Size
Members of the senior class of 1943. (1943) Full Size
Cheerleaders from the 1944-45 school year. (1944) Full Size
The faculty of Wampum High School during the 1945-46 school year. (1945)
The senior class of Wam-Pa-Hi during the 1945-46 school year. (1945)
The senior class officers during the 1945-46 school year. (1945)
A summary of senior Edward Marich, the captain of the 1945-46 varsity basketball squad. Marich led the county in scoring as a senior totaling 393 points in twenty-four games. (1945)
The “Twirlers” from the 1945-46 school year of Wampum High. From left its Doris Tebay, Janes Davis, Mary Krosovic, Peggy Grinnen, Helen Johnson, and little mascot Janice Hennon. (1945)
Freshman class officers from the 1945-46 school year. From left its Secretary Willa Stinnett, Vice President Willie “Sonny” King, Treasurer Bob Krosovic, and President John “Beef” McGonigle. (1945)
The future graduates of 1948, pictured here during the 1946-47 school year. (1946) Full Size
The varsity basketball team of 1946-47. This squad finished the regular season with a record of 19-4. (1946) Full Size
The Wam-Pa-Hi senior class of 1947. (1946) Full Size
The 7th grade class of 1953-54. Full Size
The 8th grade class of 1954-55. Full Size
The 10th grade class of 1955-56. Full Size
The high school band, led by director Paul Evans, giving a concert in the gym in October 1954. Full Size
Mathematics teacher Carol Sherman, a graduate of Slippery Rock State Teachers College, joined the faculty in 1956. (1957)
Carol Zoretich, a graduate of Indiana State Teachers College, taught English and French to the high school students. (1957)
Younger students of the elementary level prepare to enter the school in the spring of 1957.
Students learn typing in the commercial class lead by teacher Annette Lombardi during 1953-54.
The Wampum School. (1958) Full Size
The Wampum High Gym. (1955) Full Size
The 1954-55 Indians, who amassed a 31-0 record, pose with some of the hardware they acquired along the way to Wa-Pa-Hi’s first Class B state championship. From left its Francis Bennett, Joe Schnitski, Bob Mathews, senior captain Donnie Hennon, coach Butler Hennon, John Melfi, John Grinnen, Eugene Swogger, Tom Galbreath, and Gabby McMillan. Full Size
The 1958 Class B State champs were led by senior captain #40 Harold “Hank” Allen and his brother #22 Rich “Dick” Allen. Full Size
The captains who delivered the Wampum High basketball team its three Class B state championships. From the left its Donnie Hennon (captain 1955), Harold Allen (captain 1958), and Rich “Dick” Allen (captain 1960). Full Size
Wampum’s 1938 varsity baseball team. Coach Hennon at far left.
Wampum’s 1937-38 basketball squad. Coach Hennon at far left.
The old Wampum Gymnasium, which opened in 1942, was the homecourt of the hardwood Indians until the school district merged with that of Ellwood City in 1961. During that time the boys from Wampum amassed great success including winning three Class B state championships in 1955, 1958, and 1960. (Feb 2011) Full Size
Inside the cramped gym, where the boys’ basketball teams gained national prominence during the 1950’s. (2010)
One of the old backboards where many buckets were scored by the high-flying Indians! (2010)
The old red fold-out bleachers are still intact. (2010)
Red banners proudly honor the three Class B state championships won by the boys’ basketball teams in 1955, 1958, and 1960. (2010)
This photo shows the location of the former Wampum School and associated buildings. The old church and houses to the right (actually north) of the gymnasium were torn down in early 2014. (c2010)