Sunday, May 22, 2011

Broughal School, Gone But Still Missed

     The South Bethlehem School Board established their first public high school, in 1874, in the Penrose School on Vine St. The only other high school in Northampton County, at the time, was located in Easton. Since 1874, the population of the borough grew rapidly.  In 1890, South Bethlehem’s population of 10,386 out did the population of Bethlehem proper. The 1910 census, recorded that the population had grown to more than 20,000. Over a third of the new residents were first generation Americans, immigrants from Europe and Eastern Europe. They sought a better life for their children, which included a good education.
New Broughal School being built as demolition proceeds on old Broughal.
     By the time of the celebration of their Semi-Centennial in 1915, the Borough of South Bethlehem was large enough to be a third-class city. What better way to show their pride than to invest in the future? The school board commissioned the noted architect, A.W. Leh to design a large “state of the art” high school. The borough was so proud of Leh’s architectural drawings that an image of the proposed high school was placed in their Semi-Centennial booklet.
     A.W. Leh designed a four story, 114,000 sq.ft. building in the Italian Renaissance design. It was built (1915-1916) on 4.2 acres on the corner of Brodhead St. and Packer Ave. The floors were laid with Terrazzo tiles. It had a pit-type gymnasium with a capacity for 500 spectators. The first floor, center-of-building, auditorium had a seating capacity of 1,300. The auditorium with balcony was known for its excellent acoustics. Lehigh University ran a jazz series there for several years, taking advantage of the near perfect acoustics. The series included performers; Wynton Marsalis Quartet (1985); Sonny Rollins (1990): Bela Fleck (1994); Tito Puente (1995) and Al Di Meola (1996.)
Broughal School in 1949.
     There were a few unforeseen glitches to the opening of the South Bethlehem High School. With the outbreak of World War I, the allied nations ordered large amounts of goods from the U.S. In the year 1916, before the U.S. joined the war, rail ton-miles increased 32 percent. Shortages were felt nation-wide and delayed the delivery of equipment for the gym and cafeteria of the new school. The U.S. finally entered WWI on April 6, 1917, after Germany sunk seven U.S. merchant ships.
     Another problem occurred in the summer of 1916. A Polio epidemic (known as Infant Paralysis) broke-out across the United States with 27,363 cases reported. Polio was responsible for killing or handicapping more children than any other known disease. Parents were terrified of the disease, until Jonas Salk, from the University of Pittsburgh, used the dead virus as a vaccine successfully in 1955.
Broughal School in 1952.
     South Bethlehem had several cases of Polio. There was a borough wide ban of any kind of public meetings including attending movies, school and places of worship. South Bethlehem lifted the ban on Friday, September 29, 1916. A.W. Leh, architect of the grand new high school, met with the South Bethlehem School Board at the school, on Tuesday, 10/3/1916, to sign off on the project. Leh closely supervised the building of school, one of his greatest achievements. The high school opened that week with Peter J. Hall as the principal. The curriculum included three tracks; classical, scientific and commercial. The total student population in South Bethlehem that year was 2,000.
     At the beginning of the next school year, the high school was presented a flag from the GAR post, Robert Oldham Post No. 527, on September 10, 1917, in a ceremony that included a parade, the Steel Band and several speeches. The Globe wrote about the event, “It was furthermore fitting that the first public meeting held in the handsome and spacious high school auditorium was one in which love of country was the ruling spirit.” The high school’s unique and exquisite auditorium comfortably sat 1000 students that day.
1920 postcard of Broughal.
     The citizens of Bethlehem and South Bethlehem voted to consolidate their governments on July 10,1917. An election for the new city government representatives were held on November 6, 1917, with Archibald Johnson elected as the first mayor. The combined Bethlehems’ population had jumped 65 percent, from 32,810 in 1910 to 50,538 in 1920. In August of 1917, Northampton County Judge, Russell C. Stewart, selected the new school board of nine members for the consolidated city.
     Each new Bethlehem superintendent has had their own ideas about how the school would serve the students. With the building of Liberty High School in 1922, the school became South Bethlehem Junior High. Its name was changed to Broughal Junior High in 1933, in honor of Lawrence Broughal, a former school board member. A 1937 study of the Bethlehem school district reported that Broughal served as a junior high school (7-10) and as a trade and industrial high school (7-12). An addition of 10,000 sq. ft., was added in 1961.
     In 1992, the school celebrated its 75th anniversary. For the diamond jubilee, the school used the motto, "75 Filled with Pride.” The students celebrated with a day of singing songs, meeting alumni and listening to Principal Joseph Petraglia tell the history of the school.
A.W. Leh's drawing of Broughal.
     In 2005, the Bethlehem Area School District, announced plans to build a new middle school for the students of Broughal. Their first idea was to swap the 1916 building for a lot of land on Mountain Top Campus of Lehigh University. The parents of the Broughal students requested that the middle school remain within their neighborhood. In 2009, a new middle school was completed on the lot along side the old school, making the 2008/2009 school year the last year the 94 year old school served the students. At the writing of this article the building still stands. B.A.S.D. plans to demolish the school within days and replace it with a playing field. The Friends of Broughal formed in 2005 to advocate the preservation of the building. Members of the group have faithfully attended school board meetings, city council meetings, written letters to Bethlehem representatives and reached out to anyone who could help to save the beautiful landmark. Christine Ussler, Bethlehem Historic Architect, applied for the eligibility of the building on the National List of Historic Places. She received a letter on April 4, 2005, from the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission approving Broughal’s status of eligibility. In February of 2007, Senator Boscola and Representatives Freeman, Samuelson and Brennan, in a letter to the Bethlehem Area School Board, urged them to consider adaptive reuse of historic Broughal School.
     The elegant building will be greatly missed in the streetscape of South Bethlehem. It was an important part of a group of A.W. Leh buildings that represent the best of South Bethlehem architecture.
A. W. Leh

Local preservationists try to save the Broughal Building. Their signs "This place matters!" fell on deaf ears.
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  1. This blog is a treasure. I just love your stories. Please keep it up.

  2. My mom went to Brougal, it was a tough school even then. I saw Branford Marsalis (Wynton's brother) here in 1990 or 1991, it was such a beautiful building, its a crime they didn't restore it. The new school is an eyesore in comparison.

  3. Just found this interesting blog. Peter J. Hall, South Bethlehem High School's first principal mentioned in the story above was my great, great uncle. So sad that the old school building is no longer. Peter was married to Martha (nee Rowan) and they lived at 522 Pawnee St. in 1920. Martha's brother Thomas Rowan was a long-time South Bethlehem School Board member until the time of consolidation with Bethlehem and a Bethlehem city councilman.

  4. My wife, Eleanor Jane Callan went to this school, living at 540 Wyandotte St. I went to Lehigh U.(class of 1959) and remember seeing the school from the campus. The university's dramatic plays were conducted here.