Abandoned Former School Building in CT

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut
Date added: June 09, 2024 Categories:

In 1915, in response to the burgeoning high school population and changing educational philosophy, the city's only secondary institution (Crosby High School) was divided into three independent curricula; classical, commercial and vocational programs. Planning was begun in 1916 for a large new facility to accommodate students matriculating through the commercial program. Originally to have been named English High School, the institution was renamed during the planning phase for Stephen W. Wilby, principal of Crosby High School and esteemed educational leader, who died suddenly on March 30th, 1917. The building, opened in 1920, was designed about the popular "hollow-square" plan by Louis A. Walsh, a leading Waterbury architect of the period and noted school designer. Wilby High School was the largest secondary institution constructed in Waterbury, until the opening of the new Kennedy High School in 1965, and the city's sole example of a high school executed in the Tudor Gothic architectural style. Of the city's three original high schools (Crosby, Wilby and Leavenworth) only Wilby High School is extant among these.

Stephen W. Wilby served as principal of Crosby High School from 1897-1917 during the period of Waterbury's most expansive population growth. Highly industrialized Waterbury, "The Brass City" attracted a great influx of European laborers and skilled craftsmen between 1880 and 1920, which resulted in a distinct pattern of ethnic settlement of the city. The Waterbury Department of Education reflected on the magnitude of the city's growth in 1925:

"The population in 1896 was 43,000 and in 1925, 108,000 - a growth of 150%. This rapid growth has been due in a large part to the fact that Waterbury is the center of the brass industries of the world and also that the average rate of wages paid is among the very highest paid in this country."

In 1896, Waterbury's High School occupied a portion of the Crosby Grammar School, consisting of a large Assembly Room and five recitation rooms. At that time the High School offered a four-year College Preparatory course, a three-year Scientific course and a two-year English course. Principal Wilby, recognizing the increasingly diverse educational needs of the growing ethnic migrant population, introduced during his twenty-year tenure and succeeded in institutionalizing before his death, the commercial (Wilby High School) and vocational (Leavenworth High School) programs.

The extraordinary growth of the high school-age population and the increasing popularity of secondary education during the first quarter of the twentieth century also directly influenced the founding of Wilby High School paralleling curriculum development. During the period 1896 to 1925:

"The enumeration of pupils shows a gain of 141%. The total number of pupils shows a gain of about 188%, while the High School shows a gain of 947%.

High School
1896 -- 249
1925 -- 2,767

The enormous gain in High School population shown in Waterbury is characteristic of High Schools throughout the United States during the last twenty years and is the most remarkable development in the school systems of this country.

The percentage of pupils in Waterbury to the total population is unusually high as compared with that in other sections of the country, being exceeded by that of only one or two cities in the country and then only occasionally. During the greater number of years Waterbury has led the entire country in this respect.

The Wilby High School was the natural development of the Commercial course which was established in 1897 with twenty-one pupils. By 1925, the core curriculum consisted of courses in Bookkeeping, Stenography, Merchandising and Modern Language, all of which were designed to provide students with a solid business education. In addition to the regular subjects required in high schools for business career preparation, special instruction was offered in Freehand and Mechanical Drawing, Cooking, Sewing and Woodworking, Vocal and Orchestral Music and in Dramatics, Debating, Physical Training including Swimming.

Excerpts from the Annual Reports of the Waterbury Board of Education reveal however, that growth pressures and the resultant lack of adequate school facilities were of paramount concern during the formative years of Waterbury's secondary educational system.

"In 1914: … It is apparent that Waterbury has never caught up with its high school population, that its secondary work has for years been carried on under serious disadvantages, in spite of the fact that the present building is the sum total of several additions. (Crosby High School) Then the problem was tackled in a large way and the present three-school project is the admirable result."

The construction of Wilby High School, which commenced in September 1917 was a direct result of both the growth and development of the commercial and vocational programs and the decision by the Waterbury Board of Education in early 1917 to establish the former as independent curriculum entities in new physical plants. Long term overcrowding of classrooms also influenced this decision as Principal Wilby reported in 1915:

"The fifth year of double sessions came to an end in June … To give you an insight into present conditions … there are fourteen session rooms in the building. When school opened in September every seat in every room was filled at the very start. The increase of the year's enrollment over last year's is two hundred and fifty. We cannot, without great difficulty, accommodate more than the present number, six hundred and eighty, during the morning session next year …"

The new Wilby High School, located between Pine and Grove Streets, was opened for classes on May 14th, 1920. For the first time since the organization of the school, classes were conducted beginning in the morning, rather than at one p.m., the former double sessions at Crosby (ten years) having finally been eliminated. The city's high school student population continued to increase into the 1930's even as Waterbury's industrial prowess began its long, slow decline. Net registration of students at Wilby High School finally peaked in 1933 at two thousand sixteen pupils. Overall, a declining birth rate, the effect of the restrictive Immigration Act of 1923 and the onset of the Great Depression were chiefly responsible for interrupting the unprecedented, thirty-five-year growth of Waterbury's school-age population, a record which frequently achieved national status as a pace-setter.

The occurrence of the Tudor Gothic style among the buildings of Waterbury's school system are rare, and except for Wilby High School, as the sole example in a secondary school building, is confined to several smaller elementary schools. Overall, there were thirty four buildings in the Waterbury consolidated district school system representing a broad variety of nineteenth and early twentieth-century architectural styles.

Louis A. Walsh was a prominent Waterbury architect during the second and third decades of the twentieth century. Two of his other school commissions include Clark School and the gymnasium addition to Webster School.

The innovative design of Wilby High School included the latest use of fireproof materials and safety equipment in its construction. The "hollow-square" plan was considered both an improvement in operating efficiency as well as safety. After 1915, all new schools constructed in Waterbury were required to be sprinklered, and stairways built of fireproof construction, usually steel with stone treads. In addition to these features, Wilby High School contained terrazzo floors, considered an improvement in sanitation as well as fireproofing, glazed fire screens at the ends of the corridors, and standpipes on each floor. Interior bearing wall partitions were constructed of hollow terra cotta tile and covered with plaster. The use of wood was kept to an absolute minimum and corridors were entirely finished with non-flammable materials. This building was the first new high school in Waterbury to be built with the "hollow-square" design. The building, which was designed for twelve hundred students, later seated as many as fifteen hundred before the high school age population peaked. The building cost nine hundred eighty-five thousand dollars and was the largest amount appropriated for a school building in Waterbury up to that time.

Building Description

Wilby High School is a Tudor Gothic-style former secondary educational institution located in a residential neighborhood between Pine and Grove Streets, Waterbury, Connecticut on a site characterized by a steeply sloping southern elevation and a plateau on the north, The principal entrance to the building, off Grove Street, is monumental in scale and setback and is articulated by a system of stairs and inclined planes that traverse the steep southern slope. Halfway up the slope, the walks intersect at a plaza that is furnished with six stone settees and a steel flagpole set in a granite base. The axis of the symmetrical landscape plan, the plaza, and stair system are composed of grey, rock-faced granite while the settees have a vermiculated finish. Twin stairways and flanking ramps proceed upward to the elevation of the building where they terminate at the center entry pavilion and the corners. The circulation plan is carried around the building on the east and west elevations by means of concrete walks. On the east the contour of the grassy site slopes abruptly upward to the property line, which borders Haydon Homestead Park, owned by the City of Waterbury. On the west, a concrete surfaced apron, which also forms the roof of the boiler room and coal bunker below, serves as a walk and is extended to the property line. The property line is delineated with a wrought iron picket fence whose primary purpose is to prevent accidental falls over the steep precipice. The setback of the structure along Pine Street (north elevation) is much closer and the balance of the site area is paved for parking. A long retaining wall of granite defines the property line and repeats the design of that found along Grove Street. At the northwest corner of the site a brick wall is superimposed above the granite structure, forming the exterior surface of the (former) coal bunker. The wall is articulated with simple square and rectangular panels, two of which were apparently used for coal delivery but have now been filled in with brick. These panels each have a small rectangular ventilator near the top.

Wilby High School was executed in the Tudor Gothic style, a popular architectural vocabulary of school buildings between 1910 - 1930. Louis A. Walsh, the architect, described plans for the building in 1918:

"The Wilby High School is a twelve hundred pupil building, based on thirty pupils per classroom. The outside dimensions are 190 feet by 196 feet, and there are three stories and a high basement. The contract was let June 19th, 1917. There was so much preliminary work in preparing the site, however, that actual construction work was not started until September 1st. It is expected that the building will be finished about June 1st, 1919 …

As to the general finish of the building; The exterior design provides a building in the Tudor Gothic style built of red, rough tapestry brick with Indiana Lime Stone Trim, the ornamentation being concentrated about the main front entrance and the two Pine Street entrances …

As the slope of Pine Street brought the sidewalk at the left end of the lot so low that a high retaining wall would be required, it was decided to put the power plant there. The coal bunker will be adjacent to the street so that coal can be put in conveniently. Provision is made for 320 tons of coal."

There are actually five entrances to the building; the main entrance on Grove Street; two entrances on Pine Street; and a single entrance on both the east and west elevations. The building is nine bays by five bays and has a deck-type roof, concealed by a brick parapet wall.

The half-basement is characterized by full-height windows carried around the perimeter of the building capped with a molded water table of granite. The basement walls are of granite ashlar with a semi-polished finish.

On the north elevation, the window openings which formerly illuminated the pool and shower areas have been foreshortened with brick (early 1920s), ostensibly to eliminate formation of algae growth due to excessive light.

Each of the entrances is composed of a short flight of granite stairs flanked by granite consoles with coping. The ornamentation concentrated about the Grove and Pine Street entrances establishes the building's Tudor Gothic architectural signature. The Grove Street entrance consists of a three-and-one-half story central pavilion articulated with engaged paneled pilasters on plinths that flank the entrance on the lower level, and windows and solid limestone panels above. The doorway opening is contained within a compound, pointed segmental arch. There are three pairs of double-leaved paneled wooden doors, each with a Single light, enframed within decorative bronze mullions which are carried into the transom above. There are six vertical transom lights, each having leaded glass windows in the diamond pattern. The paneled pilasters also have compound detailing in the form of inflected or ogee arches.

The transom panel above the arched entrance bears quatrefoil medallions on each side surrounding a decorative medieval cartouche. The projecting cornice above has a pulvinated frieze but is otherwise unadorned. On the second floor are a single group of four, one-over-one patterned sash, which provided light for the original library. Directly above is the building's title block bearing, in Gothic script, the inscription "Wilby High School". On the third floor are eight, solid limestone panels, vertical in form. Above these panels, the building's projecting cornice interrupts the progression of detail but this is resumed in the final element which articulates the line formed by the parapet wall. Eight compound lancet arches formed in limestone and surmounted by a stepped pediment with a compound segmental arch cap the shallow entrance pavilion element. Twining stem moldings adorn the interstices of the lancet arches while the engaged pilasters flanking these are covered with molded caps.

The entrances along Pine Street are clearly subordinate to the former. Identical in plan and emanating from a shallow, relieved pavilion, these openings bear ornamentation only in the first story. Each is flanked by paneled pilasters of limestone with a shallow, stepped pediment bearing a simple cartouche in the form of a shield. The doorway openings also have compound, pointed segmental arches enframing a single pair of double-leaved doors and a transom. Transom lights are plain plate glass with vertical bronze mullions, now deeply tarnished. Exterior door hardware throughout the building is brass and is of a stock variety for the period.

The side entrances to the structure are less detailed and are constructed without transom lights. Located on the east and west elevations near the Grove Street side, these openings each have a single pair of paneled, double-leaved doors and sidelights. These entrances were originally designed by the architect as being intended for separate use by male and female students. The brick walls of the building are medium to deep red in color and are laid in English bond or the English Garden Wall pattern. Decorative masonry is restrained and appears only at the respective four corners of the building on the east and west wall planes. Here, a rectangular tapestry pattern is formed in the brick by the alternate use of stretchers and headers, using limestone blocks to articulate the corners. Each of the four elements bears a limestone sill at the base of the decoration, although no window apertures are known to have occurred in this location. The building was substantially repointed in 1949 and bears mortar joints approximately cream in color.

On the west elevation of the building, there exists a massive brick masonry furnace stack that bears detailing identical to the balance of the building. Octagonal in form, this structure has a granite base and water table and decorative banding of brick delineating each story. The cornice and parapet are also carried around the stack. Above the roof, the stack has been circumscribed with four iron bands for structural stability. The structure has a concrete cap and reflects repairs made in 1949.

The fenestration of Wilby High School is regular and consists of bays with windows grouped in pairs or units of four. Window surrounds are of limestone and are adorned with tabs on the outside of the vertical trim. Window sash, except at the basement level, are uniformly a one-over-one pattern and are "Austral" type windows. Both one-over-one and sash with a pattern of four vertical lights appear at the basement level. All windows have wood frames and are hinged to swing outward at the bottom in the manner of louvers.

The roofline of the building is defined by a decorative limestone cornice which projects moderately and is carried around the entire building. The cornice is adorned with medieval paterae regularly spaced but of varying design. Above this element is the brick parapet which, because of deterioration, was rebuilt in 1949 eliminating -short pediments that existed above the wall mullions. The original parapet was also slightly higher than the present structure. This element is capped with limestone coping as was the original. Upon the surface of the roof, there is a single large penthouse with a glazed roof which serves to provide natural illumination for the auditorium directly below. The roof surface is asphalt/gravel composition and numerous ventilators project at random from this plane. Skylights appoint the corners of the principal structure and introduce natural light into the four stairwells. Adjacent to the penthouse on the east and west elevations are two massive light wells finished in yellow glazed brick, which penetrate to the gymnasium ceiling four floors below. The provision for natural light and ventilation have always been of critical importance in scholastic architectural design. In Wilby High School the solutions found for these concerns contribute significantly to the innovative quality of the building's design.

Wilby High School is designed about the so-called "hollow-square" plan, a popular and advanced concept during the era of multi-story construction of school buildings. Considered to be of fire-proof construction, the interior partitions of the building were constructed of hollow terra cotta tile. The original floor plans for the structure, clearly depict the hollow-square plan and why the efficiency of the design was universally popular. The building is organized vertically, as well as horizontally in respect to the floor plan. The center of the hollow square contains the gymnasium and the auditorium stacked one above the other and as previously mentioned, served by light and fresh air by shafts and wells introduced from the roof. Both these spaces consume two stories of space and it is around these that the main corridors and classrooms form the hollow square.

On the interior, the boiler room, coal bunker, and engineer's quarters are located at the lowest elevation in the building. Housed in a deep sub-basement in the northwest corner near Pine Street are three seventy-two-inch tubular boilers, originally designed to burn coal but now converted for oil. Cast in relief in the massive, round iron face plates of each of these is the inscription "English High School 1918" the designated name of the school during the planning phase and before the death of Stephen W. Wilby, principal of Crosby High School. The boiler plant was manufactured by D.M. Dillon Steam Boiler Works - Fitchburg, MA. Space use on the basement level was principally devoted to the cafeteria, (on the south side), the swimming pool (on the north side), shower and dressing rooms on the east and west sides respectively and occupying the center of the hollow square, the gymnasium. In the cafeteria and the gymnasium, provision was made for folding wall partitions, in order to separate male and female classes.

Wilby High School was designed to accommodate twelve hundred students-in thirty four classrooms, a number which, because of continued overcrowding in the late 1920s, was later enlarged to fifty three. The basic plan of the entire building remains intact however, minor partitioning having been installed in some areas to create more classrooms. On the upper three levels of the building the main corridor circumscribes the entire building, providing access for classrooms on all outside walls. Interior finishes are typical on all floors: the floors of corridors, toilet rooms, lunch room, pool room and locker area are terrazzo, while corridor walls have a wainscotting of pale yellow enameled brick with a marble rail. Classrooms are uniformly plastered and have baseboards and picture moldings of oak with maple floors. There are four stairwells and these are constructed of steel with bluestone treads. Fire screens with metal frames and wire glass doors and transoms effectively seal each end of all four corridors, permitting protected egress from fire in emergencies. Doors to all classrooms and teachers' quarters are oak and have two panels, where they remain extant. To dampen corridor noise, acoustical tiles were installed in most ceilings but are now deteriorated due to the unmaintained conditions in the building since 1978. Lighting in corridors and classrooms is uniformly a contemporary fluorescent design. Architect Walsh described the planned use of space on each level in his description in 1918:

"The central part of the building will be taken up by the upper part of the two gymnasiums and the entrance to the gymnasium balconies will be direct from this floor.
Locker rooms of a size to accommodate all the pupils on this floor are provided; also toilet rooms for both boys and girls. In the basement there are two rooms for manual training, together with a stock room, also a metal working room.
The lunch room with its kitchen is also here, also the gymnasium for boys and girls.
On the first floor is the principal's office and visitors waiting rooms, also a teachers' room and two supply rooms, thirteen reciting rooms, a large study room, a sick room and two sewing rooms.
On the second floor are recitation rooms, the library, men and women teachers' rooms, five large bookkeeping rooms, typewriting and shorthand rooms and a study room. Locker and toilet rooms to accommodate the pupils on this floor are also provided. The Assembly Hall is on this floor and will seat 1229 pupils.
On the third floor are the chemical and physical laboratories with their lecture and store rooms, seven recitation rooms, two drawing rooms, study room, cooking rooms, locker and toilet rooms.
An intercommunicating telephone system and a fire alarm system is to be installed. There will be a master and program clock in the principal's reception room, with secondary clocks in each room in the building."

While the building has been partially vandalized since its closure in 1978, the interior surfaces of the building were designed for hard wear, and there are interior spaces of architectural significance which deserves mention. On the first floor, the main foyer and entrance to the reception space is appointed with grained octagonal columns flanking the marble stairs leading to the gymnasium balcony, which is entered by a group of four glazed, double-leaved doors with a transom light panel above. Ceiling girts with paneled casings reflect the rectangular space from above. Both the principal's office and teachers' lounge are also adjacent to this space. On the second floor the motif is repeated in the lobby area of the hall outside the entrance to the auditorium, which is located directly above the gymnasium. Here, the doors, columns and transoms are repeated and the ceiling girts are also enclosed in paneled casings but in a transverse direction. The auditorium beyond is finished similarly but with ornamentation executed in cast plaster. Wall pilasters and rectangular panels with a classical entablature define this space but are more reminiscent of Federal Revival tastes than Tudor style architectural references. The wainscotting at the rear of the stage however, is dark paneled oak, reflecting the mixture of architectural influences.

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut Basement Floor Plan
Basement Floor Plan

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut First Floor Plan
First Floor Plan

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut Second Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut Third Floor Plan
Third Floor Plan

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut

Wilby High School, Waterbury Connecticut