History of Monroe High School

  • John D. Hodges founded the first Monroe High School in 1875. It was a private co-educational school located on Lancaster Avenue. It was somewhat revolutionary in that it was co-educational. Around the turn of the century, this building burned down.

    The Monroe City Schools were originally chartered by the N.C. Sate Legislature on February 25, 1897. In 1900 the City of Monroe built a new two-story structure that was later to be known as John D. Hodges School. Monroe was conducted at this location until 1914 when it was moved into the old county home property on Lancaster Avenue where Walter Bickett is presently located. This time period was referred to as "the poor house era" of the Monroe High School.

    In 1921 the present Walter Bickett School was constructed. It was later named in honor of the Union County native who was the Governor of North Carolina from 1917-1921. It was first occupied on March 27, 1922, and W. Foster Starnes was principal. In 1925 sixty-five students, who attended the new four year school, graduated. Ray Armstrong was the principal. The oldest documents that could be located on state accreditation showed Monroe High School received state accreditation by the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States in 1926-27.

    As early as 1916 girls' and boys' basketball as well as boys' baseball were played at Monroe. Football was first played as an interscholastic sport at Monroe in 1919-20. It was one of the first schools in the state to play the gridiron sport. The second season team of 1920-21 produced one of the best teams of this early period. They beat Greensboro and became the Western Regionals Champs.

    A much-loved principal of Monroe High School from 1932 to 1944 was Mr. Ray House. He had a reputation for being omnipotent since he always caught students who snuck to the cellar to smoke. Many years later he revealed that the pipes in his office came up from the cellar and allowed him to smell smoke and hear many interesting conversations. He is also remembered for his highly successful bands.

    There were a series of principals at Monroe High School from 1944 to 1960. During World War II, Ms. Annie Lee served as the only female principal from 1944-1948. Bob Gettys, Jim Williams, Ray Modlin, Harry James, and Ken Tilley followed her. During this period in 1952, The football uniforms had to be replaced, and the school changed its colors and mascot. The school changed from the purple and gold Purple Pythons to the red and grey Monroe Rebels.

    A new modern high school was complete and opened on 36 acres of land purchased from the R.V. Lockhart estate on Franklin Street. It consisted of grades 10 - 12, and Oscar W. Broome was the first principal. Mr. Broome served one year and then became the superintendent of Monroe City Schools.

    In 1961 I. B. Shive became principal, and he served as principal until 1976 when he retired. Under Mr. Shive Monroe High School established a reputation for academic excellence. He oversaw the addition of the ninth grade in 1963, the building of the gym and the North Building in 1967, and the Middle School addition in 1970. He felt that the most memorable event of his tenure was the smooth total integration in 1967-68. Monroe's faculty and student body became the first totally integrated in the state due to the Winchester fire. He fondly recalled an outstanding football team under Danny Williams and Charlie Sanders.

    Dr. Robert Bellamy served as principal from 1976-1985. He oversaw the installation of computers at Monroe to be used for handling student information. Monroe had a series of powerhouse tennis teams under Bill Cooper in 2A-4A competition during the Bellamy years. Also during this period, the 1980 basketball team won the N. C. State Championship with Jamie "Luke" Collins as coach.

    In 1985 William Lloyd Ratliff, a highly respected principal at Walter Bickett Elementary School, agreed to come to Monroe High. He remained until his retirement in the winter of 1987. He is remembered for his interaction and positive approach with the student body and for improving the school grounds. Monroe won the girls' Cross-Country State Championship in 1986 and the boys' Cross-Country State Championship in 1987 under Tom Harris. William R. Underwood, a dedicated assistant principal, became the principal until the end of the 1988 school year.

    Dr. D. John Morris , a Michigan native, served as principal from 1989-1992. He was responsible for the establishing of the academic letter at Monroe to reward academic achievement. In 1980 Monroe High received the highly coveted Wachovia Cup for athletic excellence in N. C. The 1989 football team under Coach Tad Baucom won the Western Regional Championship, the 1989-90 basketball team under Jamie Collins won the Western Regional Championship, the golf team under Coach Tim McBride tied in the State Finals for second place, the track team under Coaches Tom Harris, Johnny Sowell, and Roger Lane won the N. C. State 1A-2A Championship to help secure this award.

    In October of 1992 Jamie "Luke" Collins, former teacher and assistant principal who coached boy's basketball for 19 years at Monroe, became principal. Mr. Collins is a very personable and capable administrator who enjoyed the support of the student body, faculty, and the local community.

    This history is based on primary documents, newspaper articles, and oral history and is as accurate as possible under the circumstances.

    November 23, 1992

    Donna H. Sell/ Bill Cooper