Two historic Pine Bluff schools with combined roots stretching back more than 200 years are being razed, and demolition is to be completed in less than 60 days.
Sixth Avenue School, located on West Sixth Avenue between Laurel and Beech streets, dates back to 1870. The original three-story structure — a scaled-down replica of St. Louis’ public school building at the time and featuring a frontal tower that gave the facility a height of 88 feet — was the city’s first constructed-to-purpose public school, late Pine Bluff historian James W. Leslie wrote in his 1981 book “Pine Bluff and Jefferson County: A Pictorial History.”
That building was heavily damaged in a Jan. 19, 1893, fire, and a new building — centering on the remaining two floors — served until 1946 when it was replaced by what became the final facility. The Sixth Avenue site housed all local classes for a time and later served as the high school before a long-time designation as an elementary.
The old Gabe Meyer Elementary School on Linden Street between West 23rd and 24th avenues was constructed in 1921. Like Sixth Avenue School, it experienced several usages before finally closing.
It’s been 25 years since the buildings actually functioned as district schools, although Gabe Meyer hosted students as a contracted Head Start facility for a time until two years ago, Pine Bluff School District Communications Director Kenetta Ridgell said Friday.
Ridgell said that the decision to demolish the landmark schools was primarily based on economics. Both structures were old enough that they had become health and safety hazards, she said. Although neither was serving a current purpose, the district still had to provide upkeep and maintain insurance on them.
“They got to the point to where they were considered to be dangerous,” Ridgell said.
Ridgell said district Maintenance Director Seth Wynne had stated that the average lifespan of a typical school building is about a century. The Sixth Avenue structure is roughly 68 years old while Gabe Meyer dates back about 93 years.
Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum Executive Director Kristi Alexander said Friday that some items from each school site were donated to and will be displayed at the museum, which is located in a 1906-constructed Cotton Belt Railroad depot at 201 East Fourth Ave.
Alexander said individuals who might possess merchandise from or related to the Gabe Meyer, Sixth Avenue and/or other old area schools may also donate those items in order to share the past with younger and future generations.