Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

March 13, 2014
100 Years at Grantsville High

From sports championships to blazing fires, Grantsville High School has seen it all 

In 1907, a group of parents, tired of sending their teens away to continue their education, helped organize the first post-eighth grade course.

By 1913, that one-year course had quadrupled, and the little dusty town of Grantsville had its own high school.

“[The people of Grantsville] must have one of the best schools for their sons and daughters, and today, without a doubt, they have come to realize that for which they have exerted their efforts,” declared the school’s first  yearbook in 1914. “The teachers employed by Grantsville High School are among the best in the state, having had excellent recommendations and high qualifications. Their success can be noted by the true high school spirit they have planted in their students.”

Although the beginnings of Grantsville High School came in 1907, the school is celebrating its centennial this year, to coincide with the first class to complete the four-year course. While much has changed in 100 (or more) years — the class of 1914 was made up of 13 students, while the class of 2014’s numbers soar around 175 — some things have remained the same.

Mark Ernst, principal of Grantsville High School, said both past and present students have a wealth of school spirit.

“I don’t know if it’s because it’s a small town, but students just take so much pride in being from Grantsville and being a Grantsville Cowboy, and I hope we can continue that,” he said. “We have so many people who have stayed in Grantsville and then they send their children to Grantsville, so their children have heard about [being a Cowboy] all their lives.”

Excellence in athletics has also been a century-long pursuit. To date, GHS teams have won 56 state championships in football, basketball, baseball, softball and tennis. Of those, 31 were netted by the boys and girls tennis teams through the years — the second highest number of any school of any size in the state. Two of its athletes have gone on to compete professionally — Jack Johnson later played football for the Detroit Lions, and Amy Palmer competed in Track and Field in the 2000 Summer Olympics.

“We’re in the top 5 percent in the nation for state championships, largely for tennis,” Ernst said. “Who knew, little Grantsville, Utah?”

And, much to the chagrin of many a homeowner, egging has been a persistent tradition stubbornly (if unofficially) rooted into the school’s Junior Prom since someone in the class of 1960 thought to throw eggs.

In the beginning, GHS students met at the Grantsville Academy, a grand, three-story building that stood on the northeast corner of Main and Park Streets, an area that is still known as “Academy Square” today. Across the street to the south was the District School Building, a school for elementary school-aged students that was also outfitted with a new gym, swimming pool, showers and dressing rooms.

“The gym was nice — it had a balcony that went all the way around and it was probably used for a great deal of civic things,” said Joan Johnson, who has been researching the history of Grantsville High School for the past decade.

In 1927, the seventh through 12th grades moved across the street to the “new” high school, and the Grantsville Academy was used as an apartment building until it was torn down in the 1950s.

“It’s just a tragedy, I think, but it was probably in great disrepair and unused,” Johnson said.

At the new high school, the institution flourished. The student body grew until it needed a new school, and in 1967 the school was moved again to the northwest corner of Cherry and Quirk Streets, where the high school sits today. The brand-new $9 million building was designed to remove obstacles to teaching, such as too many doors and inadequate lighting, as well as to allow greater learning relationships between students and teachers, said school architect Ralph Edwards in a Tooele Transcript-Bulletin article from the school’s dedication.

“If we surround a student with chaos and disorganization, he will judge other things by these same standards. However, if we place him in an environment of discipline and design, his personality will reflect these things,” Edwards said.

Students from seventh grade to 12th grade were moved into new school, while the elementary students filled the halls of the old building. Grantsville Middle School was later built for students in the fifth through eighth grades, leaving the high school for the four grades it still constitutes today.

Then, in February 1984, a fire ripped through the high school, destroying the entire school except for the gym and metal shop. A 17-year-old boy was later found to be guilty in juvenile court of felony arson for setting a fire in a dumpster that ultimately caught onto the school. Students were forced to attend Grantsville Middle School on a split schedule — the younger students went in the mornings, and the high school students attended in the afternoons — until the high school was rebuilt for the fall of 1985.

The lone remaining portion of the charred school was incorporated into the rebuilt school, and is still used, though a new, larger gym was also built with the school’s resurrection.

In an odd coincidence, the older high school’s demise also came in smoke and flame. A small fire started by burning food in 2009 brought on a flood of firefighters to try to save the building, but the damage from the smoke and water prompted the Tooele County School District to tear the building down and build a new elementary school rather than attempt to repair the landmark.

Now in its 100th official year as a high school, Grantsville High School continues to progress. A citation recognizing the milestone was awarded by the Utah House of Representatives Thursday.

Ernst said the school has already had several centennial-themed events, but the party will continue through the end of the year and into the summer. This year’s graduates will have a special centennial seal on their diplomas, he said, and the anniversary will be recognized at the city’s Independence Day celebrations.

The school’s history continues to fascinate Johnson, who is part of a group compiling a book about GHS’ history. Though not a native of the town, Johnson said she feels drawn to researching it and the people who built the school and its surrounding community, and to the lessons their heritage holds for today and the future.

“[My research] is not complete. I still have to figure out a few things, but it’s been fun,” she said. “I want to know what made them tick. They built this town and the school and all of these things to improve this community not knowing if there would be enough food or if they would survive. They just kept going. That’s a good message for all of us.”

One of the continued strengths of the school — and its community — is its ability to remain true to itself amid change, Ernst said.

“I think that one thing Grantsville’s done a good job with — the high school and the community — is where Grantsville used to be so small and everyone knew everyone, we’ve grown, but by and large the people who have moved here come to love Grantsville and they’re welcomed by the people who have been here forever,” said Ernst, who himself is not a native of the area. “It’s not so much when you moved to Grantsville; it’s that you’re in Grantsville now.” 

Lisa Christensen

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Lisa covers primarily crime and courts, military affairs, Stansbury Park government and transportation issues. She is a graduate of Utah State University, where she double-majored in journalism and music, and Grantsville High School.

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