Former Central High School celebrates 100 years
The fate of the aging Central High School building remained undetermined when the final bell signaled the end of the last day of classes and the start of the school’s vacancy in 1995.
Goodhue County intended to level the site for a new judicial center, but others hoped to repurpose the historic building for a new use. After the Red Wing Historic Preservation Commission denied a request to demolish the building, a 1998 reuse study revealed that the school could be converted into apartments.
Today, the building is known as Central Park Condominiums and houses 21 units within walking distance of shops and restaurants downtown as well as the Mississippi River.
Residents who call the former school home celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the building’s completion in May. Jane Donkers, who served on the Red Wing School Board during Central High School’s operations, now calls the building home and serves on its Centennial Anniversary Committee. Historic architecture such as the former Central High School, she says, have helped preserve the city’s reputation as “Pretty Red Wing.”
“Red Wing is nice because of these old buildings,” she said. “That’s part of the charm of small towns is the fact that there is history in the buildings.”
Hope in WWI
With construction of the building completed in 1916, its first school year started in the fall of 1917— a time when news of World War I dominated the front pages of newspapers. While the U.S. involvement with the war was emerging as a grim reality, the new school signaled hope for the future.
“When they made the decision to build the school, that was a real major step forward for the community,” said Marlene deBoef, chairperson for the Anniversary Committee and current resident. “They had the war looming over them, but they still went forward and said, ‘yes, we’re going to build it.’ It’s kind of a monumental kind of building. It’s not just concrete slabs with the basics to house a school; in a way, it was maybe a statement that the community was prosperous at the time.”
‘Participating in Red Wing’
Resident Lois Hesford, a self-identified history buff who previously lived in North Dakota, was enticed not only by the building’s historical significance, but by the unique qualities each unit offered. When she and her husband, John, purchased their unit in 2009, the interior had been “gutted,” which allowed them oversight in the design before they moved in four years later.
“Because developers allowed folks to individualize their units, it’s not cookie-cutter at all,” she said. “You go into everybody’s units and it’s very different.”
For Donkers, an avid volunteer in the city’s arts community, the building’s centralized location offers easy access to the community’s wealth of cultural assets, including galleries, the library, the bandshell and the Sheldon Theatre.
“It’s a wonderful location for participating in Red Wing,” she said.
In the years that she’s lived in Central Park Condominiums, deBoef said the appreciation of the building’s history hasn’t been limited to residents. Though the building’s classrooms have been replaced by apartment units, preservation efforts have helped maintain fond memories from Central High School alumni.
Because of the lives and memories tied to old buildings, deBoef said the preservation of historical locations help us to acknowledge our roots.
“It’s part of our identity— you need to know where you come from,” she said. “We just enjoyed having an electrician who came to do something for us who was just reminiscing about being in class here. It is part of our heritage, and if we lose it, it’s gone.”