Trenton Central High School: A Remembrance

Posted in Past Exhibits

TCHS Postcard2

November 1 – May 2, 2015


Superintendent Bickett’s
Fight for Trenton Central High School

Lecture and Power Point Presentation

by Co-curator, Karl Flesch

Sunday, April 12, 2015, 2 pm

Admission — $5.  Free for members of the Trenton Museum Society.


On October 14, 2014, the Trenton Public Schools Board of Education voted to demolish Trenton Central High School. The New Jersey Schools Development Authority will be funding the construction of a new $130 million high school for Trenton.

The former high school building, opened in 1932, was an iconic structure that inspired and nurtured thousands of Trenton students over the past 82 years. The Trenton Museum Society celebrates the soon-to-be-demolished building in an exhibit at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie from November 1, 2014 through April 18, 2015.

Designed by architect Ernest K. Sibley, construction of the school began in 1929 with the first classes occupying the building in January 1932. It was built as a larger version of Trenton High School West, formerly Junior No. 3, out of red brick and composition stone trim in the colonial revival style, inspired by the historic background of the city.

TCHS Auditorium Light Fixtures showing Lenox-made shades

TCHS Auditorium Light Fixtures showing Lenox-made shades

Many of the features that contributed to the unique beauty of the school were made in Trenton. The porcelain shades in the light fixtures in the auditorium were made by Lenox in Trenton. The brown faience tile lining the hallways was made by the Mueller Mosaic Tile Company of Trenton. Even the sanitary ware, such as sinks and toilets, were made by the Trenton-based Maddock pottery company.

The exhibit shows iconic artifacts from the school – a Maddock toilet, pedestal sink and water fountain, an original student desk that seats two students, one of the caged clocks from the gymnasium, wooden chairs used by students and teachers, and hallway light fixtures. The School Board is loaning two large portraits of the first two principals of the school – William A. Wetzel and Paul R. Spencer, and a large aerial picture of the school.

Early yearbooks from the 1930s and 1940s show the school façade and interior. Artifacts used in the school are on display, such as scientific instruments, silverware, china, kitchen utensils, and a display cabinet with partial skeleton used in science classes.

The two cornerstones of the building, from 1929 and 1956, will be opened at Trenton High School’s Homecoming football game on October 25. No one knows what is inside. The contents of the cornerstones will be lent to the museum and displayed in the exhibit.

The Chambers Street façade, almost 1,000 feet long, featured a broad central wing (Building A) attached to two smaller proportional wings (Buildings B and C), with colonial towers surmounting each of the three wings and ionic columns framing the three entrances. The central wing was surmounted by a clock tower, one of the famous landmarks of the school.

TCHS Foyer Mosaic

TCHS Foyer Mosaic

In the lobby were four spectacular mosaics created and installed in the high school in 1941 by an artist who worked for the WPA Federal Arts Project, Monty Lewis, entitled Youth Carrying the Heritage of Arts from the Past into the Future. The Trenton School Board has pledged to save these priceless pieces of art. Photographs of them are included in the exhibit.

The B Wing contained a Community Room with a separate entrance for community events and a ticket booth for performances. The C Wing contained a branch of the Trenton public library until 1972, also with a separate entrance.

The gymnasium was built as two gyms, one for girls and one for boys, with folding doors between them. The concrete bleachers had a capacity of 1,500 with portable bleachers adding another 1,500. Sports Nite was held in the gym starting in 1935, with the last one occurring in 1999. The event would eventually cover five nights of competition between the Red Team and the Black Team and drew over 8,500 spectators.

The auditorium had a seating capacity of 1,500 with a balcony. There was beautiful carved plaster around the auditorium and rich velour drapes used to hang in proscenium arches. There were dressing rooms and a costume room backstage, trap doors in the stage floor, a gridiron to hoist scenery, and a room beneath the stage that was used for making and painting props for Sports Nite. Its walls were covered with graffiti written by students as far back as the 1940s.

Other notable features of the school were a model apartment with a living/dining room, bedroom and bath, Olympic-size swimming pool, classrooms with hard wood maple floors, beautiful wood trim and cabinets made out of chestnut, corridors wainscoted with faience tile, terrazzo vestibule and lobby floors, and a tunnel that went to St. Francis Hospital across Hamilton Avenue. Marble was used extensively throughout the school in the bathrooms and showers.

In 1956 a new wing was built dedicated to vocational education. It was the only addition to the building.

The Trenton Museum Society invites graduates, teachers and administrators from the school, historic preservationists, and those interested in Trenton’s history to attend the exhibit.

April 12 at 2 pm, Co-curator and TCHS historian Karl Flesch will present a lecture with Power Point, Superintendent William J. Bickett’s Unending Fight for a New Senior High School

Dr. William J. Bickett became superintendent of Trenton’s schools in 1920. Over the next 11 years he took a demoralized school system and, in the face of bitter, undeserved criticism, put it in the very front rank of school districts.

Mainly due to overcrowding, Trenton had been in need of a new high school since the early 1900s. Through Dr. Bickett’s efforts, Trenton was able to acquire the Chambers tract and years later build Trenton Central High School.

Unfortunately, Dr. Bickett died less than two months before the opening of Trenton Central High School, which was the culmination of a building program that included Junior No. 3, Junior No. 4 and the New Lincoln School.

Light refreshments will be available following the presentation. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and talk with the curators.

Admission — $5.  Free for members of the Trenton Museum Society.

Great photos in the Trenton Times.

Read about the exhibit in the Trentonian.

Watch coverage of the exhibit on 6 ABC Action News