by Paula Bosse
Classes begin today for students in DISD schools, one of which is Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, located at Mockingbird and Matilda. Stonewall turns 75 years old this year (2014), and I’m proud to say it’s where I spent many years as a happy student. When I learned recently that the school had originally been built as a single-story building (instead of the two stories we know today), I was pretty surprised, and this little unknown nugget prompted me to look into the early years of my alma mater.
In the 1920s and ’30s, Dallas was expanding very quickly northward from Vickery Place, the residential neighborhood around Belmont and Greenville. As the area we now know as Lower Greenville and the M Streets was developed, the two elementary schools (Vickery Place School, then at Miller and McMillan, and Robert E. Lee, at Matilda and Vanderbilt) were soon filled to capacity. Building a new school to serve burgeoning “Northeast Dallas” was an immediate necessity. So in 1938, the city purchased a 9-acre chunk of land along Mockingbird, one block east of Greenville Avenue and right alongside the Denison interurban tracks that ran on Matilda (when I was growing up a couple of blocks away, I used to see remains of those tracks but didn’t know what they had been used for — I wrote about those tracks here and here). The land had been part of the vast Caruth land holdings.
The building was designed by architect C. H. Griesenbeck. It had eleven classrooms, a cafeteria, and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 400. Although originally built as a one-story building, Griesenbeck was mindful that expansion would be necessary in the future, and his design took into account that a second story would be added in the years to come. Construction began in late 1938 and was scheduled to be completed for the opening of the 1939-40 school year.
The name of the new school was decided upon a few months later:
“Stonewall Jackson’s name was chosen for the new school, Dr. Norman R. Crozier, superintendent, said because of the high ideals of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, one of the unique and romantic figures of the War Between the States, and as a companion to its nearest school, Robert E. Lee.” (Dallas Morning News, Feb. 1, 1939)
But if you’re going to sink a hundred thousand dollars into a school, you’ve got to have houses for families to live in to make sure your future student pool doesn’t run dry — and at that time very few houses had been built that far north. Cut to W. W. Caruth, Jr., son of the Caruth family patriarch who basically owned everything north of Mockingbird (Caruth owned a huge expanse of land once estimated at being over 30,000 acres). Not long after selling the land at Mockingbird and Greenville to Dr Pepper, Caruth fils began to develop the land around the then-under-construction school — he called the new neighborhood “Stonewall Terrace.”
The property went fast.
As the neighborhood was taking shape and the construction of the school building was nearing completion, the school’s official boundaries were announced:
“Boundaries of the Stonewall Jackson School will be from the alley south of Morningside on the east side of Greenville Avenue and from the alley south of Mercedes on the west side of Greenville to the M-K-T Railroad on the north.” (DMN, Sept. 3, 1939)
Despite some problems with labor shortages, the school managed to open on time, on Sept. 13, 1939, the start of the new school year.
The school and the neighborhood grew quickly, and the number of students soon doubled. In 1950 the school board approved preliminary plans for an addition to the school. This addition (which would cost $369,000 and be handled by the architectural firm of Tatum & Quade) would include a first-floor wing with four classrooms, a gymnasium, and a lunchroom, and a second story containing eight classrooms, a library, and a music room. (The cost of construction would probably have been quite a bit more had the original architect not had the foresight to design the building with the expectation that a second story would be added in the future.)
The construction was substantial enough that it had to be done during the 1951-52 school year. Because the old lunchroom was being dismantled while the new wing was being built, students were required to bring their lunches the entire year. All they could get at school was milk. No fish sticks, no Salisbury steak, no chess pie. Just milk. Sorry, kids.
The new addition was completed in time for the beginning of the 1952 school year. And that’s the version of the building that stands today, looking pretty much unchanged.
It was a cool building then, and it’s a cool building now. It’s sad to see how much of the playing fields keep disappearing as ugly portable buildings take over, but the new garden is a great new addition — I wish they’d had that when I was there.
I really loved that school. When I was a student there, grades went from 1st to 7th, and I loved all seven years I spent there. Thanks for the great childhood memories, Stonewall. And Happy 75th Anniversary!
Sources & Notes
Top image is architect C. H. Griesenbeck’s architectural rendering of Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, originally a one-story building.
Here are a few articles to check out in the Dallas Morning News archives:
- “$11,250 Offer Made for New School Site” (DMN, Oct. 26, 1938)
- “Contracts for $104,150 Let on Northeast Dallas School” (DMN, Dec. 22, 1938)
- “New Northeast Dallas School Named Jackson; Board Pays Tribute to Famous General” (DMN, Feb. 1, 1939)
And, yes, it probably sounds weird to outsiders, but students actually do call the school “Stonewall” — just like we call Woodrow Wilson High School (the high school Stonewall feeds into) “Woodrow.” It’s like a secret handshake.
Below, an undated photo from DISD’s Pinterest board (if you squint, you can see the Piggly Wiggly at the southwest corner of Mockingbird and Matilda).
UPDATE: After years of controversy, Stonewall Jackson Elementary School will be rechristened “Mockingbird Elementary” in 2018. Whatever its name, it’s still a great school!
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.