By Gary Lloyd
TRUSSVILLE — In an old building unused and fairly empty for the last six years, memories brought it to life again.
It didn’t matter that dented file cabinets were flipped on their backs and square-shaped sections of carpet were cut out of some classrooms’ floors. It didn’t matter that the long hallways were crowded and stuffy. It didn’t even matter that panes of glass were shattered in front of classroom doors, that a few unpleasant expressions were scrawled in blue across upstairs walls, that a silver butter knife was jabbed into the bottom panel of a screen-smashed Magnavox television.
None of this mattered because the people, most of them white- or gray-haired, came Sunday to remember their youth, to share fond memories. Most who came to tour the New Deal-era school building on Parkway Drive in Trussville’s Cahaba Project went to school there in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Their memories were as clear as crystal in a building they hadn’t set foot in since their senior years, decades ago.
Grady Lancaster recalled starting school there Sept. 3, 1940 as a seventh-grader, two years after the school opened as part of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program. He remembered his older sisters beginning there Sept. 6, 1938. Lancaster graduated in 1946, what he said was his best memory at the school.
Arthur Payne, who graduated from the school in 1964, said he could see past some of the renovations the historic building has undergone and could see where he once went to school.
“It’s still the same old school,” he said.
Before there were zoning lines and a school for every city, the old Hewitt High School was an area hub for students.
“This is the most historically iconic building in northeast Jefferson County, and the students came from all over, from Palmerdale, Pinson, Clay, Roebuck Plaza, Trussville, Center Point,” Payne said. “Everyone came here, so this building has a lot of memories for generations of people.”
Those people turned out for the final tour Sunday. Some talked about what classes they took and in which rooms. One man, standing in the former principal’s office, joked about his only whipping in high school, while a woman quipped that there was still a paddle hanging in that office.
A woman told her friend about being asked to dance by a cute boy on the steps of the auditorium stage at some school social event. One man walked through the front doors for the first time in years and expected to see the gymnasium, which is now covered by two classrooms and a media center, though part of the center’s floor is still the original. Some brought tattered yearbooks, one from 1947.
“It’s just a neat deal and it’s just an awesome time to see all these people,” said Trussville City Schools Facilities Coordinator Barry Davis. “It’s pretty important because this was the historic place in Trussville, this was the centerpiece in Trussville for so many years.”
The building remained the high school until 1984, when high school students began attending a new school built on Trussville-Clay Road, now Hewitt-Trussville Middle School. The former high school on Parkway Drive was used as Hewitt-Trussville Middle School from 1984 through 2008.
Davis said the drawings for the remodeling of the building should be complete in late November or early December. The $8.15 million project could let for bid in December or January 2015, and the plan is to open the school in 2016.
Payne said it was important for the historical building to stay intact because it’s a “focal point” for Trussville. He said it’s one of the only projects — the homes and the school — constructed in the 1930s to still be completely intact.
“It’s not only historically important for Trussville or northeast Jefferson County, but for the whole country, really,” Payne said.
Most of Sunday was spent in the school’s lobby, where graduates from years past had the most space to look back before the building comes alive again, this time for nearly 500 elementary students. One of the last people to walk in the front doors for Sunday’s tour seemed surprised when he recognized friends.
“It’s like a big reunion in here,” he said.
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.