Benjamin Franklin School History
Gayle Faulkner Kosalko
The beginning history of the Robertsdale area gives much background about the emergence of Benjamin Franklin School. The settling of pioneer families in the Robertsdale area preceded the incorporation of Hammond, which took place in 1870. Records show that between 1847 and 1890 the following families took up residence in what is now known as Robertsdale: George M. Roberts, Heinrich D. Eggers, Henry Schrage, William Schrage, Robert Atchison, Frederick Opperman and John Steiber, to name a few. These families provided only rudimentary education for their children, usually around the kitchen table.
In about 1870, the first formal schoolhouse was built near the site of the old pumping station. This building was also used as a voting place, a place of worship and a center for community activities. It was recorded that a Miss Mary Loese was the first teacher of the one room schoolhouse. John Quincy Adams Sparks, a plasterer by trade, was pressed into service as the school’s second teacher when Miss Loese left the area.
With the increasing population by the turn of the century, it became apparent that a new and larger school was needed. In 1902, construction began on a large brick school. It was named Benjamin Franklin School. This architectural fortress stood on 116th and Indianapolis Boulevard for 74 years. It had a few facelifts throughout the years, but structurally it remained sturdy until demolition in June of 1976 to make way for the new school. The building originally had a large steeple, which unfortunately was hit by almost every electrical storm. For safety reasons, the steeple was torn down.
Between 1900 and 1920 the school population continued to grow steadily due to the influx of immigrant families. During this time both Elementary and Jr. High students attended Franklin. High School students attended Whiting High, Hammond High or Hammond Technical. To meet the continuing growth of the student population during these years, a four-room wooden building was built to house the children in the Primary grades (K-3) to the south of Franklin. To the north, a wooden-stucco building was built which included a gym/auditorium and two additional classrooms.
Very little has been found about the early years of Franklin. There was an article from The Times in April 1975, which interviewed Goldie Whiting, one of the first graduates of Franklin School. Goldie was one of 6 seventh graders who attended Franklin in 1902. She was 86 years old at the time of the interview and remembered that Mr. Moore was her teacher and that the Principal was Miss Timmons. In the article, Goldie said that she still had her diploma and many fond memories from Franklin.
In 1922, Wespark portables were erected, not on Wespark Avenue, but rather on 120th and Stanton Ave. North of this location, where Clark High School stands today, was a big hole which was flooded by the Fire Dept. in the winter for the area kids to skate on. The Wespark School, as it was called, was built to take care of the overcrowding at Franklin. At this time, Franklin became a Jr. High School. Due to the fact that children east of Indianapolis Boulevard now had to travel farther to school, the first school lunch program was developed. At the south end of Stanton Ave. stood the famous Soup Kitchen. Large soup bones were purchased at Sudaz’s Grocery Store (119th and Stanton). The bones were soaked all night. The soup, usually a delicious vegetable soup, simmered all morning. For variety, macaroni was often added. Children were supposed to bring their own sandwich to eat with the soup. The cost was 5 cents for two bowls. It was free for those who couldn’t afford the 5 cents.
The Wespark portables stood for 10 years from 1922-32. Miss Alice Hess was Principal for most of these years. During this time at Franklin, a Mr. Lewis was Principal until 1926 when he was succeeded by Mr. R.B. Miller. Mr. Miller, currently in his 90’s and living in Rochester, Minnesota, supplied the following information.
Teachers at Franklin prior to 1926 were Miss Carrie Stroll and Mrs. Pat Griffith. A Mr. Walter Miller taught Science to the Jr. High. In 1926, some of the Jr. High teachers were Mr. Birkett, shop teacher and coach. Mr. Dewey Mason taught Science and was the Band leader. In the late 20s, the Jr. High Band won the State championship under the direction of Mr. Mason. Agnes Kraft taught classes in Special Education. May Liscinsky taught Latin and English. Miss Andrews was also an English teacher and head of the school newspaper called “Dynamo.” Clellan Griffith taught Social Studies. Franklin School had their first Safety Patrol in the city. Arvo Antilla, later to be teacher and coach, was the first captain of the patrols. In February of 1932, Jr. High students were moved from Franklin to the new George Rodgers Clark High School. Franklin became an elementary school again for those children living near and east of Indianapolis Boulevard.
Through the 30s and 40s, Franklin remained an Elementary School. The population of Robertsdale continued to grow. Educational facilities were becoming more and more inadequate. In the mid-fifties, the building was in need of internal repairs and had the top floor closed off for a few years while remodeling took place. Some windows were bricked up and some lumps were removed from the warped floors. This did not however solve the problem.
During the late 1950s through the mid-sixties the Principal was Miss Ellen Viney. She also assumed the Elementary Principal duties of students at Clark (Grades K-6). In September of 1967, Miss Rose Dudas was appointed Principal of Clark-Franklin Elementary. In 1969, The Hammond School Board gave the initial approval to replace Franklin with a new structure. Miss Dudas gave insight as to the need for a new school in an interview in The Times during April of 1975 when she said the following: “The current Franklin has no Library or Resource Center. Books are kept in the school office or in each classroom. The Nurse’s Office has only one cot, two chairs, a desk, a bookcase, and a screen. There was no sink and it was placed between the first and second floor, calling for a lot of stair climbing. The school gym doubled as the lunch room, which is not unusual for an Elementary School. However the room was not any larger than a regular classroom and the six-foot ceilings were made even lower due to the overhead radiators.”
The location of Franklin did not meet state requirements for acreage and safety. A committee was comprised to find alternative locations. After many years of planning and meeting, and the purchase of additional property at the site and acquiring a waiver from the State Department, the O.K. was given to build the new school on the present site. Miss Rose Dudas was instrumental in her pursuit through endless meetings and planning to see that the new Franklin was built.
During the late summer of 1975, construction was begun. School continued in the old building while construction took place. In September of 1976, the school year began in the new facility. The new facility included two Kindergarten rooms, eleven basic classrooms, a special education room, a resource center, a speech therapy room, an Art room, a Music room, a large multi-purpose commons area, as well as administration, health, food and physical education facilities. The building was designed to house 420 students in grades K-5.
During the fall of 1977, Miss Rose Dudas, age 41, passed away. The whole community was saddened. Many felt that the school she worked so hard to see built was a testimony to her perseverance. Mark Biel was appointed Principal on an acting basis for the remainder of the year, then on a permanent basis in August of 1978. Four years after the building of the school, additional land was purchased south of the school as per the waiver agreement of 1975 from the State Board of Public Instruction.