Mexico Landmark Reaches Milestone

A Mexico landmark is reaching a landmark birthday.

Construction of Mexico High School began with the laying of the cornerstone in 1926, 95 years ago.

Prior to MHS, high school students attended McMillan High School at 209 East Monroe from 1906 until 1927. McMillan High School was the first school in the city to be named for a local educator. Professor Daniel Addison McMillan was named Superintendent of Schools in 1883, a position he held until his death in 1906.

Construction on McMillan High began in the early part of 1906 and by early fall, students moved in. There were 10 rooms and 10 teachers, utilizing the first and second floors of the building.

McMillan was actually the second high school for Mexico. In 1873, construction began on what was initially known as “The Public School” on the northwest corner of Jackson and Olive. It opened in 1874, housing all 12 grades until high school students moved to McMillan. “The Public School” was also known as Central and North School during its history.

As the need for a new high school to replace McMillan grew, the school board, headed by St. Clair Peyton Emmons, Sr., were faced with 14 prospects for a location as of February 5, 1926. Of those, 3 were given serious consideration: the Wade Street site, a site on Boulevard, and one on North Jefferson. The architects, famed Mexico architect Ben C. Elliott and the firm of Thomas, McClellan, & Thomas favored the Wade Street site, as did Emmons and Superintendent L.B. Hawthorne. The Wade Street site was chosen on March 15th over objections that “it was too far out in the country.”

According to The Mexico Ledger, “The farm home of the Cauthorn family and a saddle horse farm were located on the site. A circus and Chautauqua ground and a small coal mine were included in the purchase. ‘Little Deep’ and the path to ‘Big Deep’, favorite swimming holes were also located on the Wade property.” At one time, Mexico had the distinction of having the largest high school campus in the midwest and was known as “Missouri’s Country Club High School.”

MHS cost $250,000 to construct with an extra $70,000 for furnishings and when it opened in 1927, enrollment was 418. The first graduating class was in 1928.

The class of 1988 held a birthday party for the school in January of 1988.

According to the January 23, 1928 issue of the Mexico Evening Ledger: “Mexico High School students took possession of their new building at the close of a jubilant processional march Monday morning…” The article goes on to describe the new facility: “The auditorium with a seating capacity of 1,500 and a gymnasium with portable bleachers are in two wings of the building. There are also a large cafeteria, spacious quarters for physical education and vocational home economics. The junior and senior classrooms and study halls are on the second floor, with physics, the library, and chemical and natural science departments on the third floor. A large stage, with curtained backgrounds, has red, white, and blue lights, with the footlights in the form of flood lights. A large silver screen for projection work, a fireproof projection room, ample orchestra pits, four equipped dressing rooms, seats with arms for writing, and five stage entrances are auditorium features. L.B. Hawthorne, for fourteen years superintendent of schools, heads the faculty of twenty-four teachers and supervisors. Entering the stone tower, the entrance can easily compare with a large city school or theater. Checking rooms are on either side of the door. The decoration and lighting effects add greatly to the beauty. The tile designs on the floor are real works of art. A large stone stairway winds through the tower to the top floor. All woodwork is oak. From the tower entrance one can go into the auditorium, up the stairs to the upper floors, or through the lower halls to the administration offices.”

Over the years, MHS has grown, including a “new” addition in 1962 that not only included a new modern cafeteria but also doubled the size of the gym. In 1968, the Mexico-Area Vocational Technical School opened, freeing up space in MHS when vocational classes moved north to the new building.

The original, enlarged gym was named for veteran teacher, coach and Athletic Director Bob Gooch in 1988.

The John W. Willer Fine Arts Center came next in honor of longtime band director John Willer.

The Sports Complex was constructed with indoor practice facilities and a larger gym with the Gary Filbert Court to honor the famed coach.