It was a full house at Locke Hill Elementary as friends from far and near, past and present, recently gathered to commemorate the school’s 150th anniversary.
The celebration honored both Locke Hill’s status as one of Bexar County’s oldest existing public schools and its importance to the founding of the Northside Independent School District, now Texas’ fourth-largest.
During the ceremony, greetings from NISD Superintendent Brian Woods were shared, several songs were performed by the school choir, and a host of students relayed their favorite memories.
“Imagine 150 years ago,” Woods said during the ceremony. “We make a big deal of 20-year anniversaries, but this school is 150 years old.”
Pictures and artifacts from the school’s history complemented the anniversary party. Many members of the Locke Hill Elementary School Alumni Association talked about how much life has changed in just the last 50 years.
“Teaching today is so quick. It was so slow back then,” said Susan Salzman, who attended Locke Hill from 1960-1966, when the school housed grades one through six. “The teachers were good back then, there was no bullying, we had a diverse population— rich and poor kids— but we were all together.”
The school’s history started when William Jackson Locke, his wife, Mary, and their two young children traveled from Illinois to San Antonio in 1850, according to a campus history on the NISD website at www.nisd.net.
Eventually, Locke and a relative named Louis Lacy purchased land about 12 miles from San Antonio near Fredericksburg Road. It became known as Locke Hill. Locke and Lacy founded a supply depot to take advantage of the trade between San Antonio and Fredericksburg. A small community eventually grew around the depot.
As the settlement blossomed, the growing number of children needed a school. Judith Locke, the daughter of the original settlers, became the first teacher when it opened in 1868.
“Our parents rode their horses to school,” said Norma Simmons, who was the third generation of her family to attend Locke Hill as a student from 1961-1966. “In my time, we all lived in rural communities. Everyone rode the bus. No one walked to school.”
Before 1900, the school was housed in a one-room building near Locke-Hill Cemetery. The building has since been demolished.
In 1948, Locke Hill was one of 12 school buildings in a huge swath of northwestern Bexar County, which was mainly ranch and farmland. They combined to form the Northside Consolidated School District, which in turn became NISD.
The land Locke donated for a school housed an active campus on what is now Interstate 10 from 1900 until 1975, making that location the longest-used spot in Locke Hill’s history, according to an NISD spokeswoman.
The site is now home to the Northside Alternative Middle School, the spokeswoman added. Other locations for the school prior to 1900 included a shed at the rear of the supply depot, the old Flathouse home (location unknown), and the corner of Fredericksburg and Huebner roads near the Locke Hill Cemetery, officials said.
Rebecca Tumlinson said the styles and customs were so different when she was a student that most modern pupils would find it hard to believe.
“Everything we said was, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ or ‘No, ma’am,’ and girls wore dresses to school. We weren’t allowed to wear pants,” Tumlinson said. “We played outside a lot. We had real swings, merry-go-rounds, and seesaws— I don’t even think they have those on the playgrounds anymore.”
The current Locke Hill Elementary was opened in 1976 at 5050 De Zavala Road.
Many of the attendees said residents both today and in the past have continuously supported the school, including through bond issues.
“Back then, the citizenry supported this school and made it what it was. Come forward 150 years, and things haven’t changed much. Citizens still support schools through bonds,” Woods said.
On May 5, NISD voters approved an $848.9 million bond package aimed at renovations and upgrades to all the district’s campuses, as well as the construction of four new schools — one high school, one middle school and two elementaries.
The district reported enrollment this academic year of about 106,000 students.