The original Wilson High School building was erected in 1929 on Grandview Boulevard above West Lawn. The first school year started in Fall 1929 and housed 7th-12th grades. The name of the school was chosen in the hope that the life of the man in whose honor it was named, Woodrow Wilson, might serve as an ideal for the young people attending it. According to the first Wilsonian,
A little known fact is that another location was also considered for the placement of the new high school building in 1929. The tract of land at Reading Boulevard and West Wyomissing Boulevard in West Wyomissing was the other proposed spot for the site of the high school. While the Reading Boulevard location was slightly more centrally located within Spring Township at that time, the site on the verdant hilltop looking over West Lawn was deemed to be the better choice.
The high school was dedicated with an impressive ceremony on Thursday, November 14, 1929. The growth of the education system in Spring Township was typical in rural schools during this period in eastern Pennsylvania. When Spring Township was separated from Cumru in 1850, there was no organized school system. By 1854 there were fourteen free schools each with an average enrollment of about forty-six students. The school-term at that time was roughly four months long.
The beginning of the twentieth century saw fifteen schools in the township; but the modernization period began at this time and many of these small schools were closed, their students being enrolled in larger and more up-to-date buildings. In 1910 Van Reed’s School was eliminated; Gehman’s was closed in 1919; Steffy’s followed in 1927, and Kissinger’s in 1928.
By 1928 the Township was shelling out $40,000 to send its youth to nearby schools outside the township to continue their secondary education. So they decided to plan and build their own institution. In 1929, Vinemont, Artz’s, and Gelsinger’s schools were closed due to the new Wilson High School being built. The elementary schools that remained and served students grades 1-6 were West Lawn, West Wyomissing, North Wyomissing Heights (later known as Berkshire Heights), Lincoln Park, Conrad Weiser (located on Fritztown Road, unrelated to today’s district), and Merkel. Many generations of Wilson students continued to attend these elementary schools until the very last of them, West Wyomissing and Lincoln Park closed in 2012.
Wilson had two sports out of the gate; only Boys Basketball and Boys Track were offered that first year. The only other two activities were Glee Club and Band. The next year sports were expanded upon to include a Boys Baseball team and a Girls Basketball team. By the end of the school’s first decade sports included Boys Soccer, JV Basketball, Girls Track, Boys Swimming, Golf, Boys Tennis, and Ping-Pong. Cheerleading was introduced in 1933, and the first squad consisted of three boys; all named Bob.
Boy’s Basketball would remain the “main sport” at Wilson for its first four decades. They won the Western Berks Divisional Championship for four straight years between 1935-1939, and regularly made it into the Berks playoff games. The varying success continued on for the entirety of the school’s history.
Beginning in 1936 Wilson’s sports teams began to refer to themselves as the Presidents, or Prexies for short. Prexies would serve as the term for the school mascot until 1960, when the Bulldog became the reigning icon. It is unclear why the Prexies nickname was dropped, it was certainly unique and provided a link to the school’s history of being named after a President. It appears 1960 was not the first time a bulldog had been utilized in school mascot material. In 1949 a “school culture” yearbook photo shows a book cover; a bulldog named “Mr. Prexie” looking tough and rugged. If you know the answer to why Prexies was abandoned and when the Bulldog was introduced, feel free to drop a comment.
Continuing to Change & Grow
Everyone knows that Wilson High’s school colors are Red and White. What you likely do not know is from the founding of the institution in 1929 until about 1933 their colors were Blue and White. The Alma Mater song was amended in 1935 to include “red” in “blue’s” place. It is unknown why the color was changed.
Also in 1936 an addition was added to the original building. Six new classrooms were established including science labs and shop space. The enrollment was increasing in the mid-30s, mainly due to prospective changes in Child Labor Laws. This meant since children were not able to work, or had to work less, they had the opportunity to attend school longer.
The Wilson High School Football Story
The 1940s saw more advancements for the still fairly knew institution. Wilson is now known widely for its successful football program, but Football as an extracurricular was not introduced to Wilson until the 1945-1946 school year. They played 5 games in that inaugural year in what was more exhibition than actual league play. They went 1-4; beating Reading Jayvees squad 7-0 in their first game, and losing the remaining to Manheim, Wyomissing, Coplay, and Muhlenberg by no less than 14 points each game.
The next year in Fall 1946, the Prexie Football team entered the Berks Conference for their first league season. They played 9 total games, 6 of which were inter-league games. They played Manheim Township, Coplay, Reading Jayvees, West Reading*, Shillington*, Wyomissing*, Boyertown*, Muhlenberg* and a Berks Conference playoff game*. Asterisks denote the league games. They went 4-3-1 total and 3-2 inter-league and placed third in the league in the 1946 year.
Wilson’s football program would remain mediocre to bad (except 1959 when they went 8-1-1*) for the entire 1950s and early 60s until the program as we know it was established in 1964 under John J. Gurski. His first season as head coach the team went 5-5, which believe it or not was an improvement. He remained the head coach at Wilson until 1982 and during his tenure turned Wilson into the football powerhouse it remains today. He ended his coaching career with a record of 151-44-4 which was the most winningest record for a coach in Berks at the time of his retirement. Wilson celebrated its 75th football season in 2019.
Wilson High School’s 1960 Addition
The 1950s saw an influx of enrollment at Wilson High. Due to the merger with Sinking Spring High School in 1954 Wilson started reaching max capacity for the then-25 year old building. The School Board knew that a considerable addition needed to be made in order to keep up. In 1958 the planning began and in 1959 construction followed.
New additions included a hexagonal auditorium, a circular building housing a music room and radio transmission center, a new wing with two stories of classrooms paralleling Grandview Boulevard, next to a new gymnasium and directly below it a new cafeteria. Other upgrades included a new vocational agriculture area, a garage for bus repairs, and a driver training program. All of these additions cost a total of $5 million.
The new additions were completed in 1959, and opened its doors to the students in the 1959-1960 school year. For the first time in the school’s history the Junior High students would be separate from the high school students. The 9th-12th graders occupied the new buildings and the 7th & 8th graders stayed behind in the original building. This was only for a short time; Wilson Junior High was constructed right behind the high school in 1964.
With the construction of the Junior High brought a first for any school in Berks County – an in-school swimming pool, or natatorium. Before this school swim teams practiced and had meets at local YMCA’s. The new school and pool were built for $2.29 million and had the capacity for 575 pupils. The district was growing quickly.
Within 10 years the district needed to expand yet again. In 1974 the district built and opened another 600 pupil capacity Junior High School on land between Spohn Road and Iroquois Ave in the southern part of the district. The school was named Wilson Southern Junior High, and after its opening the then 10-year-old Junior High behind the High School became Wilson Central Junior High. At this time 9th graders were bumped down to the Jr. High with 7th & 8th graders. The High School housed 10th-12th. The entire cost of the new school was $6.1 million, but that also included the connected elementary school, Cornwall Terrace.
A Brief History of Pre-2000 Elementary Buildings
Originally called North Wyomissing Heights, it is the oldest elementary school still in use by the district. In 1907 the two and a half brick structure was completed for $25k and housed eight classrooms. In 1929 an addition of classrooms was added. In 1966 another addition occurred. The building is still functioning today as an Early Learning Center for the district. There was a bit of drama surrounding this area in the 1950s, as the North Wyomissing Heights Area was originally incorporated with Wyomissing Borough but then annexed. The rumor was that Wyomissing didn’t want the Heights students. This didn’t seem to be the case since it appears Wyomissing fought for them, but a judge ruled that Wilson would continue to maintain the area since they owned the property and had already been serving the community for decades. Just a decade ago in 2009 the issue came up again, and again it was ruled that Berkshire Heights was to remain a part of the Wilson School District indefinitely.
The Lincoln Park Elementary that people alive today remember was built in 1948. There was a school building at the beginning of this article pictured in 1930; that building was outgrown and razed. Lincoln Park served its community until 2012, when the district announced it would save $500k a year by closing it. It was razed shortly after and is an empty lot save for playground facilities and ball fields. Wilson SD still owns the property and has potential future plans for a new school building on its site.
West Wyo was built in 1936 with federal grants. Similar to Lincoln Park, there was a school on the site previous to the one built ’36, but it was outgrown. An addition was added to the West Wyo building in 1961, which included a Cafeteria, kitchen, music rooms, health and guidance rooms and new restrooms. It served the community until 2012, when the district announced it would save $500k a year by closing it. It was razed shortly after and is an empty lot save for playground facilities.
Lower Heidelberg was constructed in 1931 on the corner of Brownsville and North Church Roads and had nine classrooms. Lower Heidelberg underwent renovations in 1966. It was closed by the district in 2006 and the pupils moved to the then-newly constructed Green Valley Elementary.
Pre-1954 history has been detailed in this article. After Sinking Spring merged with Wilson to create the Wilson Joint School System, the Sinking Spring building began use as an elementary building. The school underwent some renovations in 1964, including new windows, insulation and new hot water heating system. Sinky was closed down by the district in 2000, and sat vacant until it was converted into apartments in 2004. Pupils from the school were dispersed between Cornwall Terrace and the then-newly built Shiloh Hills Elementary.
Cornwall was built in 1974 along with the connecting Southern Jr. High. It underwent an addition in 1991 that included a gymnasium, rest rooms, vocal music room, early childhood area, resource activity rooms and a lobby, physical education office and three storage rooms. Cornwall had another addition completed in the late 2000s that cost $12.2 million.
Whitfield Elementary was originally a 28 classroom school built in 1962 at the cost of $960k with a capacity for 700 students. It was by far the largest elementary building in the district built at that time. An addition in 1969 added 8 classrooms. In 1991 it was again renovated with the additions of a gymnasium, phys ed. office, a large library and a computer rooms. Also added were child care services and television room.
Conrad Weiser School was located on Fritztown Road and served the community of Fritztown and the surrounding area. In May of 1966 the school board was advised by the State Secretary of the industrial board that they could no longer use the second floor of the building. I am unsure if this was due to structural issues or other safety hazards. The building remains today and has housed various business and restaurants since the school’s closure at the end of the 1970-1971 school year.
West Lawn Elementary was built in 1904 and a 6 classroom addition was added in 1923. The school was razed in 1977 and a park remains on the site today. The bell that was in the tower of the West Lawn Elementary building was placed in Spring Ridge Elementary School’s cupola upon its completion in September of 1995.
Wilson High School Additions in the 1990s and changes into the 2010s
Wilson remained largely the same for over three decades until increased enrollment again called for expansion. In 1996 ground was broken for a new, state-of-the-art gymnasium to be built behind the auditorium. The old gymnasium was converted into the library. An entire new three-story wing was built in the courtyard that was between the old Library/Cafeteria building and the auditorium lobby. The circular music classroom was demolished as a result of that wing being built.
Sports fields have also been heavily upgraded at various times over the decades, most recently upgrading John Gurski Stadium to the tune of $4 million in the early 2010s. A new Jr. High School, Wilson West, was also completed in 2010, which shuttered Wilson Central as a Jr. High School. At this time, the Central building became a part of the High School and after almost 40 years 9th graders were again part of the High School student body. Southern and the new West were deemed “Middle Schools” and now house 6th-8th graders.
Shortly after new year 2020 the Wilson School Board unveiled that a future population growth study predicted a large increase in enrollment within 5-10 years. They presented quite a few proposed plans on changes that would need to be made within the district, all pretty drastic and costing up to $120 million. Some plans include gutting the Wilson Southern Middle School building along with Cornwall Terrace and making them one cohesive Middle School. Another includes building a new Elementary on the site of the old Lincoln Park School. All plans include considerable additions to the current High School building. View these plans here, and be sure to tell the school board how you feel about them if you are a Spring Township resident.
Source: Reading Eagle, Wilson School History by Alan K. Raffauf, Various Wilsonian Yearbooks
Shop Wilson High School Vintage Apparel
SHOP BERKS NOSTALGIA’S DEFUNCT SCHOOL COLLECTION
This article is dedicated to my graduating class, Wilson Class of 2009, my Mother’s class, Wilson Class of 1978, and Grandmother’s class, Wilson Class of 1960.