Nearly 100 years ago, 15 cents could purchase a night under the stars atop the roofs of McClain High School.
A Greenfield Republican article from October 1915, just a month after the school opened its doors to students, invited the community to join the first McClain seniors in the “first big night on the red tiled roof with its 10,000 square feet of surface lifted a half hundred feet into the upper dark,” all for 15 cents.
That minimal fee, at least by today’s standards, not only granted admission to the “Roof Garden,” but also included ice cream and cake, and permission “to promenade across the High Bridge,” the article says.
Imagine if you can the excitement that must have accompanied these plans for events held up on the roofs, the new school smell still thick in the air.
There are two roofs on which activities once were held, one above the auditorium and the other above the old gym, each connected by the “High Bridge.”
If one is exiting the hallway between the old and new gyms from the door to the courtyard, the “High Bridge” is just to the right outside the doorway, the structure an architectural interest with its stone arches supporting the bridge above.
Short staircases of what appear to be black marble lay off the hallways that bookend the third-floor library. The doors at the top of those two staircases are now locked, but the stories of what once was are still circulating.
While several people remember hearing the tales about roof-top dances amid a garden-like atmosphere, what has been unearthed so far besides those stories are a couple newspaper articles from 100 years ago and a few photographs.
Three photos provided by the Greenfield Historical Society show a boys’ exercise class, scores of uniformly dressed students caught mid-pose on the roof above the gym.
Another photo shows senior girls engaged in a folk dancing class, the long skirts of their sailor-esque uniforms covering them to the knees of their obviously stockinged legs as they high-step on the red tiles above the old gym.
Yet another photo depicts what historical society president Harold Schmidt speculated was perhaps a drama class. The students are situated in a corner of the roof above the auditorium, and a rug and furnishings, as well as the dress of those present, lend to the theory of a theatrical group.
All the square footage, and the “High Bridge” still remain at McClain High School nearly a century later, but the roofs no longer bear the red tile of the days of old. The same roofs are rumored to have been garden-like and the venue of dances are now off-limits to students.
One hundred years later, the roofs are utilitarian and practical, now the home of large cylindrical duct work and the errant bird feather. The bridge connecting the once utilized rooftops is blocked on one side by the duct work, the red tiles of a century ago either gone or buried beneath the more practical tarred shingle material; the fabled rooftop gardens of McClain replaced by the functional.
Even without evidence of such whimsical things as dances amid rooftop gardens under a twinkling night sky, it’s likely not difficult to imagine what it must have been like on those roofs back then, with the whole world visible below.
McClain High School was dedicated on Sept. 1, 1915, and thereafter the first students filed into its hallways and classrooms that house about 200 pieces of art that include reliefs, murals, statues, and paintings that remain today.
An event celebrating McClain’s 100 years is set for Sept. 4-6, and will include tours of the high school, a Centennial Tea, an ice cream social, a 5K run/walk, a dance, continuous video of historical films of McClain and Greenfield, a rededication ceremony, and more.
As previously reported at a meeting of the Greenfield Exempted Village School District Board of Education, Edward Lee and Lulu McClain’s granddaughter will be in attendance during the Labor Day weekend activities.
For more information about the centennial celebration, or to view a full schedule, go to mcclain100.org.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.