Last month, Chase Street Elementary School (CSE) celebrated its centennial anniversary with a “Centennial Picnic."
The school's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), administration, teachers, staff, students, and their families collaborated to honor 100 years of Chase with potluck-style food, a performance by the Chase Street Xplosive Step Team, the Athens Pop-up Park, a raffle, the annual Chase Street School Art Show, dessert from Lil’ Ice Cream Dude, and a historical timeline display. The event was staffed by CCSD high school JROTC volunteers, some of whom were former Chase Street students. Former principals and other previous CSE staff were also present at the celebration.
In previous years, CSE hosted a "Poetry Picnic" in the spring, featuring a potluck dinner, poetry readings, and writing stations for students to visit. This year, CSE principal Ms. Tracy Neal wanted to convene the school community in a way that celebrated the that celebrated the school and its resilience following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic preventing numerous school events from being held.
“The Centennial Picnic at Chase Street was an opportunity for current and previous Chase Street families to come together and celebrate our long history," said Ms. Neal. "We were able to share written history and experience oral history from previous administrations and teachers. For example, I learned that Chase Street had a song they sang each morning. The previous administrators actually sang the song for us to enjoy. It was also wonderful to see the previous Chase Street students as teenagers and young adults."
Previously known as Chase Street School, the institution has been a cornerstone of the Athens community since its construction in 1922. The school was built in 1922 on a 12-acre lot lauded for its location between Prince Avenue and “The Boulevard,” served by the streetcar. Before it was developed into the school, the lot was home to a circus, and prior to that the New York Yankees and the Buffalo BufFeds held spring training on the grounds. In 1924, the school’s playground officially opened to the public with “hundreds” of local children gathering on a July day to celebrate. By 1928, the school’s enrollment was 355.
Once plans for the building were drawn up by Atlanta architects Lockwood and Poundstone, the city’s school board moved quickly to begin construction in 1922. At the time, the school was designed with two long hallways fronting Chase Street with a central courtyard that could later be converted to an auditorium if the school district wanted.
“The building will rival some of the world’s most famous structures for beauty of architecture,” the Athens Banner reported on Sept. 27, 1922.
Although records show that Clarke County School District officially desegregated in 1970, in 1966 Johnnie Lay Burks became the first Black teacher at Chase Street Elementary. Like the other schools in the district, Chase saw its first Black students enroll during the 1965-66 school year.
Chase Street has always fostered important relationships within the community. For example, foreign officers at the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens (previously housed on the current UGA Health Sciences Campus) made visits to Chase Street to talk with students. Officers from Portugal, Brazil, Greece, and Germany visited the classrooms. During these visits, officers would also meet with faculty for an exchange of teaching methods that was expected to be of value to both the teachers and officers in Athens and their home communities. In recent years, CSE has partnered with the University of Georgia as a participant in the Athens MLK Day of Service as a volunteer site to provide improvements to the outdoor classroom.
A historical display depicting photos and Athens Banner-Herald articles from throughout the decades was created by members of the Chase PTO for the Centennial Picnic. Photos dating back to the 1920s reveal Maypole dances and Halloween carnivals and capture the faces of school nurses, reading teachers, and visitors from foreign countries. The display was placed in the school media center and was viewed by current students, teachers, and families, as well as former students. The display builds on the work of students in Beth Upchurch’s fifth-grade class from 2012.
The history of Chase Street School lives on through the diverse community that calls Chase its cornerstone of learning. The school’s legacy is no more apparent than through the centennial celebration of community, resilience, and education honoring the hard work of students, teachers, staff, and parents that make Chase Street the beloved institution it has been and continues to be in Athens-Clarke County.