Days Gone By - stories from the past

Sayre Street School in Montgomery, Alabama -history dates back to before the Civil War

SAYRE STREET SCHOOL

sayre street school

Chilton College and the Sayre Street School Site

The present building that originally housed Sayre Street School only dates back to 1891, but the Sayre Street site located at the corner of Sayre and Mildred Streets, has been connected with education since before the Civil War. A private boys’ school, the Franklin Academy, was originally located at the Sayre Street School Site.


In 1863, the Franklin Academy was advertised for sale. It appears it may have been purchased and named Cox College, by Dr. S. K. Cox of Montgomery. Dr. Cox was a Protestant Methodist minister of Montgomery and was known to have been President of a female college in Montgomery.  A teacher named, Mrs. Pollock who later made famous Pollock and Stevens Institute of Birmingham, Alabama was also associated with the Montgomery college.  Dr. Cox left some time after the Civil War and moved to Christiansburg, Virginia where he again associated with a college. He died some years later in Baltimore.2

Chilton College for girls and young women

Chilton College was an institution for the education of girls and young women, established in Montgomery in 1866, by Mrs. Lavinia T. (Bradford) Chilton. It was first located on Felder Avenue at the site that later became the residence of Hon. S. Hubert Dent, Jr.

On July 6th, 1872, Mrs. Lavinia (Bradford) Chilton purchased the building formerly occupied by Cox College, moved and opened the Chilton School, a private school for girls, on the property.

The connection to F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The Sayre Street Grammar School was named after William Parish Chilton of Tennessee, who was related to Zelda (Sayre) Fitzgerald (wife of famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald).

Zelda (Sayre) Fitzgerald

Zelda_Fitzgerald_portrait

Elvira Frances, Musidora and Mary Catherine were sisters of Senator John Tyler Morgan and William Parish Chilton, of Tennessee first married Elvira’s elder sister, Mary Catherine.  When she died in 1845, he married the younger sister Elvira Frances, known as Ella. Musidora married Daniel Sayre, the grandfather of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

Thomas George Chilton, the son of William Parish Chilton and his first wife Mary Catherine, married Lavinia T. Bradford. He died May 16, 1860, leaving her a widow. The Chiltons were cousins of the Sayres and like the Sayres, they were a distinguished family with insufficient funds so she founded the school to find employment.

“The School was named after William Parish Chilton her father-in-law and cousin to the Sayres.

Renamed Montgomery Female College

After 10 years of successful work. Mrs. Chilton’s health failed, and she passed away in October 1881, leaving her only daughter, Margaret L. Chilton, as her only heir. Margaret was single over 21 and resided in Mansfield, Louisiana. The school by this date had been renamed the Montgomery Female College. 1

The City Council, short on funds and unable to construct new buildings, in the late 1870s, had been renting Mrs. Chilton’s property for classrooms. With the improving economy of the 1880s, the financial assets of the City began to rise and, in 1882, the School Committee purchased the lot, building, and all shares in the incorporated Montgomery Female College. The price for the structure, stocks and a 270 x 220 feet lot was $6000.00. In 1885, a large building was constructed behind the Capitol on Union Street which housed the Boys High School and the Capitol Hill Grammar School.

City renting structure for Sayre Street Grammar School

On June 24, 1885, the School Committee recommended that the upper floor of the Chilton School designated Girls High School, be renovated by placing partitions in the chapel to provide more classrooms. By this time, the City was renting a structure adjacent to Chilton School, utilizing this frame building as the Sayre Street Grammar School. The Committee’s report on its condition was “that it is safe is the best that can be said of it…. every room needs repairs…. only three of the ten are large enough.” In 1888, the Council purchased a 136 feet lot south of Chilton School for $4000.00. The price indicates that a building was on it and, presumably, was the ten-room frame structure.5

In 1888, the Committee reported that the increased enrollment at Sayre Street Grammar School necessitated the hiring of another teacher. Frequent references were made also to the physical condition of the building and its need for repairs.

At the end of the 1890 school year, on May 6, the Committee stated that the buildings within the system were “totally inadequate” for the demands and recommended that since there was more than enough land around the Chilton School for another building, the lots on Sayre Street with the “frame schoolhouse” be sold. Committee Chairman, Alderman T. H. Watts, Jr., urged the construction of a “handsome and modern” structure on the corner of Sayre and Mildred Streets. In December, the property was sold with the stipulation that the school could continue to use the frame building until the end of the school year.

New building approved

Alderman Watts, on February 2, 1891, presented plans to the Council for a new building and asked for approval to open bids. This was granted, and on March 2, 1891, contractor J. B. Worthington, at a bid of $17,066.90, was awarded the contract. The Council, operating under a newly passed state law, required Worthington to post a $2500.00 bond, making him liable for the quality of materials and labor.

The new school served grades One-Five, and the Girls High School Six-Eight. At the time of its construction, Sayre Street School was located in a prominent middle-class neighborhood and educated students from the area west of Union Street.

At about the same time as its construction, the Board was giving consideration to the building of another grammar school on Herron Street, about eight blocks northwest. This facility, the Herron Street School was in service in 1893. In 1900, Decatur Street School opened and siphoned off a portion of Sayre Street’s student body.

Girls High School continued in Chilton Building

In the realm of higher education,  the Girls High School continued in the Chilton Building and a private Boys High School served older boys. In 1895, Central High School, at the corner of Lawrence and High Street was built and use of the Chilton Building was discontinued as the Girls High School. The private Boys High School was still in service.

In 1899, the Boys High School, now publicly operated,  was located in the same building as the Capitol Hill Grammar School on Union Street; the school building at the corner of Lawrence and High was known as the Girls High School.

Sidney Lanier High School started in 1906

In 1906, the School Board began construction of Sidney Lanier High School on McDonough Street. Upon its completion in 1910, co-educational secondary schooling was initiated in the City.

The 13,500 square feet of the two floors retain most of the original detailing and features. Wide halls divide both floors with cross halls containing the two sets of stairs. The staircases are adorned with turned newel posts and balusters. The walls throughout have beaded wainscotting. Four large classrooms with cloakrooms open off the halls on each floor. On the second level, partition walls have been added in the front and back halls to provide more rooms. There is a large tiled bathroom on each floor. Students originally went home for lunch, but a lunchroom and kitchen were added in the basement in the 20th century. The furnace is also located in the basement. Many of the older homes in the neighborhood have been demolished to make way for parking lots.

This institution was housed in a rectangularly massed structure with a frieze below the eaves and, possibly, bracketing. Its interior rooms opened off a wide central hall; a chapel was on the second floor. The building was deeper than the Sayre Street School which was later constructed north of it.4
sayre street school map

Located in a once-prominent neighborhood

Located in a once-prominent middle-class neighborhood four blocks from the downtown business district, the Sayre Street School occupied a large corner lot close to the street. The two-story masonry building is a local interpretation of the Victorian Romanesque with round-arched entrances, gabled pavilions defined by flat buttresses, decorative stone bands, corbie tables, and polychromatic brickwork accenting the gables and the openings. The building rests on a brick basement which is almost fully exposed on the rear (west side) of the building due to the slope of the lot. A belfry with a pyramidal roof was blown down by a storm in the 1940s and the caps of the buttresses were probably lost at the same time.4

Windows, which have round or segmental arched heads, are all 4/4 now boarded over with plywood. Double doors consist of single lights over horizontal panels and are topped with regular transoms. Two tall chimneys, corbeled beneath the crown, are set on the sides near the rear. One has been severely damaged.

Old building marked with a marble slab

The old building had been marked by a marble slab inscribed “Chilton College.” To commemorate its existence and also the educational work of Mrs. Chilton, in 1909 this slab was formally placed on the base, and near the northeast corner of the present Sayre Street School building, with impressive exercises. by the Peter Forney Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. As a part of the commemorative exercises, the name was changed from Sayre Street School to Chilton School.

The Sayre Street Grammar School, at its closing in 1976, was integrated and served grades one-six. Its demise came about because of a shifting population and laws regarding integration.T he school was sold to private investors sometime before 1982 and is now used for office space. 6

SOURCES

  1. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, Volume 1
  2. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/82002066.pdf
  3. Report of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Alabama, Volume 74 By Alabama. Supreme Court

1Report of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Alabama, Volume 74 By Alabama. Supreme Court

2The Ladies’ Memorial Association of Montgomery, Alabama:its origin and organization, 1860-1870

3Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise  By Sally Cline Arcade Publishing, Sep 1, 2004

4National register of Historic places inventory form

4National register of Historic places inventory form

5National register of Historic places inventory form

6National register of Historic places inventory form

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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4 comments

  1. Florence Tarrant

    Tarrant City Ala. was said to have been named for Felix Isham Tarrant ,but some thought should have been named for Benjamin Tarrant, one of first settlers in the area and lived there until he died. Fought at the battle of New Orleans, The Creek Indian War and the Mexican/ American War alongside his cousins, Carter, Rueben,John Richard and James. All Tarrants. Elam Tarrant was there also.

  2. Florence Tarrant

    If anyone in Ala. has pictures of any of these old timers from that era, I would love to have copies of them. Have been working on Tarrant family tree for years. contact me [email protected]

  3. Sheryl Sallas McBride

    Was this school named for Judge Sayre, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s father ?

  4. Sandra Stickler

    Melanie Stickler Falconer

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