A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: Newport High School, the oldest operating high school in Kentucky

By Roger VonStrohe
Special to NKyTribune

Part 34 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020”

In 1795, Newport was incorporated as a town on the south shore of the Ohio River, only three years after the new state of Kentucky was admitted to the union. Evident at that time was the need for an educational institution to serve the advancement of civilization in a new world carved out of an old wilderness. This new civilization would need doctors, lawyers, ministers, and teachers. In order to provide these professions, a preparatory school was necessary to educate its brightest youth.

Understanding this need, in 1795 James Taylor donated two acres of land to be used for building a school in the new town of Newport. A school building made of logs called the “Bellevue Academy” (named after Taylor’s estate) was constructed on that site on the northeast corner of Fourth and Monmouth Streets. A school building stood in this location from 1795 through 2018 when the old Fourth Street School was razed for a new development (Mary Keturah Jones, “History of Campbell County,” 1876, p. 8). Little did James Taylor know that the donation of those two acres of land would be the start of the oldest secondary school in Kentucky.

In 1799, at the request of James Taylor, the Kentucky legislature chartered a new secondary school in Newport. During the previous year, the legislature had passed an act that would provide financial support for education by donating 6,000 acres of available land in Kentucky, which could then be sold or leased to provide an operating endowment. In 1799, the Board of Trustees of the newly approved school (using the same log house) received the 6,000 acres and the school was chartered by the legislature as the “Newport Academy” (previously called the “Bellevue Academy,” Jones, p. 8). The 6,000 acres were presumably sold to support the Academy.

The 1850 building, pictured here, was replaced in 1936. (Source: Ballou’s Pictorial, December 20, 1856, p. 392.)

The original log school building stood at the Fourth Street location until 1815. At that time, James Taylor led a group of Newport citizens to pledge $337.00 to build the first brick school building in Kentucky and likely the first brick school building this side of the eastern (Appalachian) mountain range (“Subscription List of First Brick Building on Seminary Lot,” Newport, KY, Original Document, 1815).

The 1815 brick school building stood on the same site as the log school building constructed in 1795, until a new brick building was erected in 1850. In this era (1850’s) the “Newport Academy” was starting to be referred to as a “high school” (James L. Cobb, “History of Public Schools of Newport, KY,” University of Cincinnati Master of Education Thesis, 1939, p. 30). The 1850 building tower was removed in 1913 after being damaged by a tornado.

The 1850 building remained as a Newport Public School until 1936, when a new Fourth Street School building was constructed on the same site (Keturah Moss Demoss, “History of the Old Brick School, Newport, KY,” Keturah Moss Taylor Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, February 11, 1938).

The 1936 building was removed in 2018. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

In 1872, a new high school building was constructed over an old cemetery lot at Eighth and Columbia Streets. This building was used for Newport High School until a new high school building replaced it in 1927. The high school classes were moved to the old Arnold Elementary School on Central Avenue during the period of demolition and construction.

On July 12, 1926, the board of education accepted a bid to remove the 1872 building. On September 23, 1926, the board approved the construction bid of Lehigh Construction of Newport for $235,989 to build a new high school building on the footprint of the 1872 building.

Construction of this building began the following year. Bricks from the 1872 building would be used in the building of the new high school. The cornerstone of the 1872 building can still be found in the west staircase of the 1927 building. These two facts have led to some assumptions that the 1927 building was added onto the 1872 building, and that it was built in stages over many years. These assertions are not true (Newport Board of Education Minutes, Newport, KY, 1926).

The 1872 building was replaced in 1927. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

In 1929, a gymnasium was added to the south side of the 1927 building. In 1932, a new auditorium (with two levels of balconies) was constructed above the 1929 gymnasium and connected to the south side of the 1927 building. At the time of construction, the Newport High School auditorium was the largest school auditorium in the state of Kentucky (Newport Board of Education Minutes, Newport, KY, 1929, 1932).

In 1980, Newport High School moved to another new building located on old baseball fields #3 and #4 at the end of East Sixth Street. This building, which can be seen while traveling on I-471, and all the proceeding buildings going back to 1795 have remained symbols of the unbroken continuum of secondary education in the city of Newport and the state of Kentucky since 1795. Newport High School may likely be the oldest high school still in operation in Kentucky, if not all the states this side of the Appalachian mountain range.

Newport High School Timeline

• 1795: Log building called “Bellevue Academy” (named after James Taylor’s estate)

The 1927 building under construction. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

• 1799: Same log building, but now called “Newport Academy”

• 1815: Same location, but first brick school building was constructed, called “Newport Academy” (sometimes called “The Seminary”)

• 1850: Same location, but new brick building was constructed; began to be referred to as “The High School;” also referred to as “Newport Academy,” “The Academy,” “The Seminary,” and “The Free School”

The 1872 cornerstone was relocated in the 1927 building. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

• 1872: New building at 8th and Columbia called “Newport High School” (also referred to as the “Eight Street School”)

• 1927: New building on footprint of 1872 building called “Newport High School” (still standing)

• 1980: New building at 900 E.6th Street, present-day Newport High School.

Roger VonStrohe is a 1966 graduate of Newport High School. He worked for the Newport School System as a teacher and administrator for 36 years and has volunteered since 2007 as the school system archivist.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

The 1927 building, still standing at 8th and Columbia Streets. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

The 1929 gymnasium at Eighth and Columbia Streets was removed in 1994 to make room for the 1995 Newport Middle School. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

The 1932 Newport High School Auditorium was removed in 1994 to make room for the 1995 Newport Middle School. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

Newport High School, 1980. (Courtesy of the Archives, Newport Independent Schools.)

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One Comment

  1. Kathy Rack says:

    I have a couple of yearbooks from Newport HS from the 1940s. Would anyone like them?

Reply to Kathy Rack Cancel Reply