Mabelvale High School, 1881-1966

Mabelvale High School no longer exists as an entity, though the facilities still stand. The school was located in the town of Mabelvale, a suburban, mostly rural community on the southwest border of Little Rock, Arkansas. The student body consisted of those who lived all over southwestern Pulaski County and beyond the Little Rock city limits.

The complete history of Mabelvale High School begins in 1881 and ends in 1966.

Several significant events occurred in the year 1881. In Washington, D.C., James A. Garfield was sworn in as President of the United States, only to be shot four months later by Charles Giteau. Garfield died two months later and was succeeded by Vice President Chester A. Arthur. In New York, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell formed the Oriental Telephone Company. In Arizona, the city of Phoenix was incorporated, and just to the south in Tombstone the gunfight at the OK Corral was fought. At Fort Buford in Montana, Chief Sitting Bull led his people in surrender to United States troops. In Washington, D.C., Clara Barton founded the Red Cross, and the state of Kansas officially inaugurated prohibition by becoming the first state to ban the sales of all alcoholic beverages.

In Little Rock, having won the election of 1880, Thomas J. Churchill succeeded William R. Miller as Governor of Arkansas. The Arkansas legislature ended years of confusion about the various ways to pronounce the word “Arkansas” by proclaiming “that received by the French from the Native Indians, and committed in writing by the French word representing the sound; and in accordance with same it should be pronounced in three syllables, with the final 's' silent, the 'a' in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the first and last syllables". In other words, the traditional form "ARKansah" became the official legal pronunciation, though it’s mostly pronounced “ARKinSAW” these days.

In Mabelvale, the directors of School District Number 40 purchased Lot 8 Block 35 for the purpose of constructing a school building. The sum of $25.00 was paid to the owner of the land, The Iron Mountain Southern Railway Company. (In 1917, The Iron Mountain Southern became the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In fact, what most of us know as the Missouri Pacific Station at Markham and Victory was originally the Iron Mountain Union Depot). Conceptually, with the purchase of Lot 8 Block 35, Mabelvale High School was born. The first building was constructed in 1885, and thus with facilities and students, Mabelvale High School began operation. A larger structure replaced the original in 1905, and a modern brick building went up in 1927. Across the years, the school acquired the entire block bounded by Second, Third, Hazel, and Walnut Streets.

In 1951 a great fire (which began suspiciously in the boy’s rest rooms on the second floor) destroyed the main school building. The community rallied and the student body spread out to church buildings and other area locations and continued their education uninterrupted. The Pulaski County Special School District (I never understood that name -- still don’t) hastened to get a new school designed and constructed. It was completed in record time and the students moved into the structure on Mabelvale West Road in 1952.

Arguably, the most important time in Mabelvale High School’s history occurred in the fall of 1958. With the city of Little Rock mired in the sludge of the 1957 school integration crisis, the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, ordered the four Little Rock High Schools (the all-white Little Rock Central High School, Hall High School, and Technical High School, as well as the all-black Horace Mann high school) to close, ostensibly to prevent expected violence.

Subsequently, there was a mad scramble by the parents of 3,698 high school students to find alternative educational opportunities for their children and in doing so the Little Rock graduating classes of 1959 were torn asunder. The newly formed, private and all white, T. J. Raney High School could only accommodate 750 students. Others were sent to live with relatives and attend schools in other cities and states. Many students, especially those whose families could not afford any of those alternatives, just sat out the year, and many of the boys elected to enter military services. But a good portion of students were enrolled into the Pulaski County, North Little Rock, and Jacksonville schools, as far as those facilities and their teacher/student ratios would allow, and the 1958-1959 school year found all of those schools filled to unexpected capacity.

Mabelvale High School absorbed more than its share, but had to turn away hundreds. The new students, mostly from the Hall High School area of western Little Rock, were quickly accepted into the MHS population and got down to the business of education. When the Little Rock schools reopened in the fall of 1959, many of the displaced students elected to stay at MHS rather than leave their newfound friends.

In the spring of 1965 MHS graduated its last senior class. Midway through the 1965-1966 school year, on January 20, 1966, the student body and many of the teaching staff migrated to the new John L. McClellan High School on Geyer Springs Road, which incorporated all students in southwest Little Rock and the Mabelvale High School district. The class of 1966 would be awarded McClellan High School diplomas.

Bill Battle, who was a member of the Class of 1966, said it happened this way, "There wasn't any march over to the new school like some people think. Instead, when we left for the Christmas holidays in 1965, we cleaned out our lockers, and after the holidays we checked in at McClellan. It was that simple."

Beginning in the fall of 1966 Mabelvale High School officially became Mabelvale Junior High School. MJHS was acquired by the city of Little Rock in 1987 and the school was renamed Mabelvale Middle School and incorporated into the Little Rock School District. In 2000, MMS received the Magnet School designation. Thus it is today.