Cullman High School was founded under the name “Cullman County High School” in 1908. On October 1st of that year, Cullman County High School was organized in a room on the second floor of a building owned by J.R. Griffin, occupied by Messrs. Ponder and Kelley. Later this building became known as the Imbusch Building. On October 8th, the first eight-month session began with the faculty of Mr. J.J. Riley as principal, and Mr. O.W. Hyatt as assistant. A total of forty-five pupils were enrolled that first year, and four years later six students became members of the first graduating class in school history. The original building where students met for the first session is on the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street and still stands today.
The next year, 1909, George H. Parker and C.A. Stiefelmeyer each donated five acres of land to build a new school. Local businessmen raised $10,000, and the school was built where the present middle school is now located at 800 Second Ave NE. Mr. W.A. Schlosser received the contract in the spring and completed it in time for use by the school during the second term. When construction was completed, the total cost of this building was $17,000.
At this time, students often came from long distances. Some students traveled by buggy, automobile, or took the L & N train each day. Others would board with local families in the area in exchange for payment or completing household chores. As the numbers grew, and finding a place to board became difficult, some students lived in army tents set up around the campus by the principal.
By 1920, with an enrollment of 249 students, there was a need for additional space. In 1921-1922, two new buildings were erected on the campus: a large brick building named Dowling Hall after Principal H.G. Dowling and a wooden structure used for vocational purposes. In 1925, the senior class erected a brick bathhouse at a cost of $2,000. The school continued to grow, but problems arose during the 1935-1936 school year when funding was completely lost due to the Great Depression. Principal N.R. Baker told the students the school would have to close on April 1st because of a lack of funds, and the seniors would not be able to graduate. Students were asked to donate $4.00 and, along with the businessmen of the city, came to the rescue raising enough money to keep the school open. In 1936, an auditorium, which is still part of the middle school campus, was constructed by R.C. Patrick. Sometime prior to 1940 an agricultural building was constructed, which is still being used for classes at the middle school.
In 1949, the various schools within the city limits of Cullman were taken over by the city, and the Cullman City School System was officially formed. It was at this time the word “county” was dropped from the name to indicate the school only served students living within the city limits of Cullman. In the early 1950’s, the front façade was removed from the original school building, and a new senior building was built to house the high school. Also, a lunchroom and an addition to the auditorium was added. The original building became known as “Old Main” and along with Dowling Hall became the middle school.
In 1960, the construction of a new high school began on the present-day campus of Cullman High School. It was completed in 1961 by Pearce and Gresham at a cost of $176,000 and opened to students in the Fall. The Class of 1962 became the first class to graduate from the newly constructed, modern campus. Over the years, construction of additional classrooms, a band building, and auxiliary gym were added to accommodate the growth of the school.
In 2014, the outdated 1961 buildings were either torn down or renovated, and a new school building was built at a cost of approximately $22,000,000. Today, Cullman High School features a state-of-the-art facility with modern classrooms, media center, performing arts centers, athletic facilities, administrative offices, and is equipped with current technology. In addition, the athletic facilities have undergone extensive upgrades as well.
Little is known about the origin of the school colors. One can speculate the school colors “Black and Gold” were used in 1910 when the first baseball team was formed; however, the first time they are mentioned is in the 1914 annual. Likewise, little is known about the CHS Alma Mater. It may have originated between 1918-1921; however, 1922 is the first year it is printed in an annual. Consequently, the exact year and author is currently unknown. Also, one fascinating fact worth noting is that freshmen at CHS were referred to as the “Rats” during this time period.
From early on Cullman High School had a variety of clubs, societies, and activities for students. Debates were an important part of school life, and most students participated. Literary societies such as the Calhoun, Clay, and Hilliard were formed as early as 1912, later the Websterian, Jeffersonian, and Washingtonian societies became more popular. These societies served as the debate platforms for students on life, politics, and education. In the early years, clubs such as the Hi Y, Boys Council, Red Hot Circle, Purple Diamond, and Glee Club existed at CHS. Socials were also a frequent activity for students, and several were sponsored by the various clubs throughout the year. Music was equally important and in 1929, the school’s first band was organized under the direction of P.F. Bria.
Athletics were also integral to student life early in school history. In addition to forming a baseball and tennis team in 1910, men’s and women’s basketball teams were organized in 1912. While football had existed to some extent on campus as early as 1912, the fall of 1915 was the first season Cullman High School competed against other schools, participating in three games that year. The year 1916 is believed to be when CHS adopted its beloved mascot, The BEARCAT, although there is no definitive proof. CHS also participated in boxing and various field events as early as 1916. Interestingly, there was also a women’s baseball team formed in 1916, although it only lasted for one year.
Most of our school’s history comes from the annuals created by students. The senior class of 1913 published the school’s first annual called Le Debut. For the next four years an annual was published in 1914 (Strawberries and Cream), 1915 (Le Raconteur), 1916 (Le Raconteur) and 1917 (Echo). Most likely a result of the United States participation in WWI, the classes of 1918-1921 did not deem it worth the time or money to produce one. The CHS annual returned in 1922 when La Renaissance was published by the senior class, as well as in 1923 and 1924. During the years 1925-1929, an annual was not published at CHS. In 1930, the publication of an annual would return to CHS with The Ladder. During the late 1930’s to mid-1940’s the annual became the Panorama and in 1946 became simply, The Annual Review. However, during the years of 1948-1952, the annual is called the Black & Gold. Interestingly, the CHS annual changed names over the years; however, since 1953 the annual has adorned the name the Southerner. Throughout the years it has consistently provided a glimpse into the everyday life of Cullman High School.
Cullman High School proudly acknowledges its history and humbly thanks the benefactors, faculty, staff, and alumni who have been a part of it. At CHS, we strive to consistently communicate and model our mission statement: “Inspiring Students for Lifelong Success through Character, Citizenship, and Scholarship.” In alignment with our predecessors, our goal is to prepare young people to take their place in the community as respectable, contributing citizens who occupy places of leadership and perpetuate the principles of the American way of life.
Written By: Aaron Sparks, Donated by: CHS Southerner Staff (2021), Created and Researched by: Aaron Sparks (Class of ’93), Contributions by: Harper Sparks (Class of ’25), Kim Hall (Class of ’89), CHS English Teachers, Cullman County Museum
Aaron Sparks has spent years doing research to piece the puzzle together and obtain information on the history of Cullman High School. The Alumni Hall in CHS now has pictures mounted to the wall noting every 20 years. Every 20 years from now on there will be another picture hung to remember the past.