Pierson School

Pierson School Wm. J. Carpenter Architect 1926

Pierson School
Wm. J. Carpenter Architect 1926

Pierson, Florida is a small rural town in central Florida which experienced a population explosion in the early 1920s. The School Board, meeting in nearby DeLand, in moving to meet the needs of the community for additional education facilities turned to Wm. J. Carpenter AIA as an architect.

From “The Odyssey of an American School System” we find that in 1914 “…a new, four-room (frame), one-story building had been constructed at the First Avenue site…”.  It follows that Mr. Carpenter’s first contract was for the design of an addition to this building “.…In 1924, two more classrooms were constructed to meet the needs of the growing student population at the Pierson school…”

Electricity had not yet reached the rural areas of Florida and power was provided by a Delco Light Plant. Florida Power & Light lines were not installed until 1926..(WJC’s son Edward worked for the Phoenix Utility Company in 1925-26 as they did the installation of the first power lines through the central rural sections of Florida.

The community continued to grow and in 1926 the Town Of Pierson was incorporated. Anticipating increased needs the School Board again turned to Mr. Carpenter for the design. At the School Board meeting of March 16, 1926 “…W. J. Carpenter was employed as architect to draw plans and specifications for the proposed building at Pierson and was instructed to get out the plans immediately.) Within the year a Spanish style, stucco high school was erected west of the existing wooden school building (the elementary school). The new state-of-the-art structure had an auditorium with a balcony; stage and two dressing rooms, two large classrooms, one smaller classroom, the principal’s office, a small library, and two bathrooms.

Pierson School0005

Originally built and used as a high school, the school complex has been expanded several times over the years, and Pierson Elementary currently (2005) serves 460 students from prekindergarten to grade 6. During a visit to the school the staff was most gracious in showing us through the building and sharing what they knew of its history. It was obvious that they have great pride in their historical facility and its condition. Physically it appears to be in excellent condition and will provide many more years of service. Although there have been numerous renovations, updates and expanses since the 1926 construction the original structures integrity and appearance has been faithfully maintained.

When one enters the main door the first thing noted is the beautifully refinished and brightly varnished original southern yellow pine flooring of the hallway and auditorium.The next is the spaciousness of the auditorium and the seating arrangement. The original iron folding seats are still in use, but very up-to-date. The seats were removed in 1998 and shipped to a vendor’s factory for restoration. The 1926 wooden seats and backs were upholstered and the iron frames refinished in a bronze cast. The embossed “P” on the end of each row is clearly visible, as are the architectural embellishments which were either designed or specified by the architect.

Pierson School Auditorium

Pierson School Auditorium

Restored Auditorium Seats

Restored Auditorium Seats

The staff reports that the acoustics of the auditorium are very good, but a small modern PA system is used to enhance sound during assemblies and community meetings. This is a good time to add a personal remembrance of the architect. I recall that the auditorium of the old Mellon High School in Palatka was similar in layout to that in the Pierson School, although much larger. The acoustics were notoriously terrible, even after efforts to improve the sound quallity by installing wires, baffles,etc. In the 1940’s grandfather was attending a musical with me in the auditorium and I remember him being uncomfortable and fidgetting about. Finally he could control himself no longer and blurted out “I would never have designed it like this, but I do know how to fix it.”. I was certainly embarassed at the time, not realizing that he was really an expert on the matter. How ironic!

The original 1926 structure is still free standing as the center of the school complex consisting of a number of buildings that have been added as required to service the 400-500 students now enrolled at the school.

Although the balcony has been enclosed and serves as the electronic control center for the entire school complex, the original stairway, railings and gate of southern yellow pine have been left in place. Even the 1920s gate lock is still being used.

The original auditorium is still in use, but classrooms and library have been converted to administrative offices. Renovation was conducted during the summer of 1998. During June of that year seats, baseboard heating(not being used) and carpeting were removed by contractors. On a rush schedule the floor of the auditorium and stage was refinished, the walls disturbed through abatement were painted, and the seats returned and reinstalled by August 15, before school reopened.

Backgrond information for this article was obtained from “The Odyssey of an American School System” and a site visit in 2005.  All photos by Jack Carpenter.

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