The Clearwater Historical Society Museum and Cultural Center, located at the historic South Ward School on 610 South Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater, is a work in progress of the Clearwater Historical Society in partnership with Pinellas County Schools and the Clearwater Bombers.
The Clearwater Historical Society is currently seeking funding for this project as well as volunteers for the museum once it opens; more information can be found below.
At the time of the U. S. Bicentennial in 1976, the Hillsborough County Schools published When History was in the Making: The neighborhood Origins of Public Schools in Hills-borough County 1871- 1900. This booklet was based upon the existing official minutes of the meetings of the Board Of Public instruction of Hillsborough County, Florida. Since what is now Pinellas County was then a part of Hillsborough, this booklet gives many entries for early schools in Pinellas County. Although not recorded in this publication, some local schools had been created in the 1850’s and 1860’s but the degree of local government support is uncertain.
Chapter X contains records of schools located in what is now Pinellas County. The first of these minutes entries dated January 3, 1874 is for Clearwater and states:
“On motion of J. P. Brownlee, a school district be made at Clear Water Harbor and on recommendations of the patrons the following persons were appointed Trustees of said school to wit: Thos Harris, G. W. Giffords, and J. W. Drew, and said district number 16. And Mrs. Jennie Plumb having passed a satisfactory examination was granted a second class certificate.” **(Notes by this writer: The G. W. Giffords referenced above is likely a misreading of J. W. Jeffords, an early resident. Clearwater was earlier known as Clear Water Harbor and Clearwater Harbor.)
Mrs Jennie (Reynolds) Plumb, the teacher identified in this excerpt of minutes was the sister of Cooley Sumner Reynolds. Decades earlier, C. S. Reynolds had moved to Florida from New York State. He was in the newspaper business and lived in several areas of Florida including Tampa where he began the Tampa Herald and in Clearwater where in 1873, he published the Clear Water Times, the first newspaper in what is now Pinellas County. Reynolds was also a Baptist minister who in 1866 built a log structure on vacant land in what is now Clearwater Mu-nicipal Cemetery. This log building was Midway Baptist Church but was used for services by members of several faiths and probably by people of the area as a community center.
In 1873, Jennie Reynolds Plumb was a widow with two small children and living in New York State. C. S. Reynolds, knowing of the coming estab-lishment of a public school district for Clear Water, persuaded his sister to move to Florida to be the teacher for this new school that would locate in the log building being used for church. Although earlier schools, such as Taylor School located near today’s Clearwater High, had been established in this area, The Clear Water School was, for which records are known, the earliest under public school administration. This log school operated for about 10 years until both it and the Baptist Church built new structures at nearby locations on South Fort Harrison avenue.
For its 50th anniversary in 1934, The St Petersburg Times reprinted articles from its 1884 edi-tion. One of these tells of the lumber being on the ground to build the new Clear Water School. This was built on land supplied by William Campbell and located on a dirt path that is now South Ft. Harrison Avenue. This one room wood frame building is also mentioned in other documents as being a community meeting place for the people of the area.
As the community’s population grew, another room was added. The original Part became known as the “Big” room and the addition the “Little” room”.
The population continued to grow and subsequently in 1906 a much larger two story masonry
building with four large classrooms was constructed beside the wood frame schoolhouse. The
wood frame school was demolished but the masonry building exists today as building #1 on the South Ward Campus. Because of its rusticated concrete block structure, it was often called the “Stone Building”.
After a quarter century of attempts, Pinellas County began operation as a separate county in 1912. In that same year what is building #2 of the south Ward campus was built as the first Clearwater High School.
In 1915, the population of this area had increased to a level that a new elementary school was
built on North Ft. Harrison Ave. Prior to this time the school on South Ft. Harrison was simply
known as Clearwater School. Now with two such schools, names were needed to distinguish between them. Thus, the names of South Ward and North Ward were chosen. Some accounts say that both were named in honor of a family named Ward. Although there are records that such a family existed in St Petersburg at that time, no evidence has been found for such in Clearwater.
In 1924, A new high school was built on its own campus on Greenwood (now MLK, Jr.) Ave.
A Junior High building was added behind the new High School in 1926. Finally in 1954,
Clearwater High School moved to its current location on South Hercules Ave. at Gulf-To-Bay
Blvd and Clearwater Junior High School expanded into the old high school building. The Clearwater Junior High School remained in this location until in 1964 it was renamed John F Kennedy Junior High and also moved to a new building on Palmetto Street near Clearwater Air Park. The old CHS/CJHS facility burned in 1976 and is now a vacant lot. Kennedy Junior became Kennedy Middle and now is home to Clearwater Fundamental Middle School.
The third major building on the South Ward campus was built in stages during 1950-60’s as a
cafeteria, kindergarten, and media center. During these years, the school continued to be used for other community functions such as civic club meetings.
In 2008 after about 125 years of operation as a school on the site, South Ward ceased operations. North Ward was closed the following year. Since closing, the buildings have been unused and empty. Today they are in varying states of deterioration.
Both South and North Ward schools are important historical structures deserving of preservation as parts of this area’s rich history and culture and as a bridge to the future. South Ward is especially important as the direct link to the beginnings of public, local government school education in Clearwater and Pinellas County.