History of Melrose
The history of Melrose can be traced to 1890 when it was first known as the District 18 School of Shelby County, established at the intersection of what is currently Spottswood and Boston Streets. The school was a two-story, framed, unheated building that soon became an important institution in the Orange Mound community. The school’s name was later changed to Melrose in honor of Dr. Melrose, a philanthropist and humanitarian who gave much of his service to school, civic, and community activities.
As history records it, Melrose started as a one teacher-principal school. Mrs. Fannie M. Kneeland was appointed as the principal of the newly named Melrose School; she also served as the only teacher. Expanded to a three-teacher school, students attended Melrose in grades one through eight and enrolled at Booker T. Washington for high school. In 1894, Melrose graduated its first class, comprised of five (5) girls.
When the Orange Mound area was annexed into the city in 1919, Melrose became part of the city school system. At the time, students were educated in an eleven-classroom, outmoded stucco structure. In 1929, a reporter from the Memphis Press-Scimitar visited the school and reported many conditions that needed remedy. Principal William Alexander Lynk and his faculty, however, were given high marks for their creative use of school funds. Profits from the cafeteria had been used for books, three pianos, band instruments, a sewing machine, and two phonographs.
In 1937, city officials received $137,000 in support and financing for a new building through the New Deal’s Public Works Administration (PWA) program. The new three-story, brick Melrose School building would have 24 classrooms, a library, administrative offices, a health department clinic, sanitary conveniences on each floor and provision for future classrooms and an auditorium. As reported in the Memphis Press-Scimitar (November 16, 1937), “It will be fireproof. It will be for ‘Negroes’.”
In 1938, Melrose and Park Avenue Schools merged when the new brick, steel, concrete, and fireproof building was completed. In 1940, additional land was purchased, and the physical plant was expanded to include 79 classrooms, a well-equipped library, two domestic science laboratories, one applied science laboratory, two soundproof music rooms, a shop building, a combination cafeteria-auditorium, and an 11.65-acre campus area.
In September 1942, Melrose became a high school following the process of adding a grade per year beginning in 1943. The first graduation was held on May 27, 1946, at Mt. Pisgah Church to an overflow crowd of parents, faculty, and community residents.
In the 1943-1944 school year, the Melrose Golden Wildcats football team was inaugurated with Cecil D. Goodlow as the coach. They played their first game on Thanksgiving Day against the more experienced Manassas High Tigers. In 1944, J.W. Westbrook joined the staff and organized the football, boxing, and basketball teams. In 1948, a $217,000 football stadium was built. With that beginning and continuing today, Melrose has produced some of the city’s most outstanding high school, college and professional football and basketball players.
In 1972, the tenth through twelfth grades moved to a modern Melrose High School building on Deadrick Avenue where the school is still located. The PWA building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, has remained vacant since 1981.
The continuing involvement of nationwide school alumni with the old school and neighborhood in Memphis provides more evidence of Orange Mound’s significance to its residents’ sense of identity, a sense that continues to endure even for those who no longer live in the neighborhood or even in Memphis. Graduates carry within their memories the wisdom garnered from the “fireside chats” and the desire to serve with pride and humility.
Mrs. Fannie M. Kneeland
Mr. J.A. Foster
Mrs. Mary Bradford
Mr. Jeremy Graham
Mr. J.T. Franklin
Mr. R.H. Neville
Mr. Harry T. Cash
Mr. Floyd M. Campbell
Mr. Melvin Conley
Mr. LaVaughn Bridges
Mr. LeRoy McClain
Mr. Leviticus Pointer
Mr. Mark Neal
Mr. Taurin Hardy