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Key West: Education

Key West: The Old and the New


In 1852 Lieutenant Daniel Beltzhoover, a United States army officer, stationed at this post, taught a class at the barracks. Shortly after this Mr. John M. Bethel opened a school on Eaton street, in a building near the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets, adjoining the First Methodist church. Most of the present generation of older men went to school to him. After the Civil War he returned to Nassau, where he held for thirty years the position of secretary of the Colonial Parliament, and on his retirement, he came again to Key West and opened a night school. Two of his pupils are among the prominent men of Key West, Bon. William H. Malone, Jr., and Hon. Charles L. Knowles. He was educated in England, was a teacher of the old school, believed in thoroughly grounding his pupils in the fundamentals, and considered the strap a necessary adjunct to getting knowledge into a boy's brain.

In 1852 Miss Euphemia Lightbourne, the sister-in-law of Judge Winer Bethel, opened a school that became one of the leading institutions of Key West. In 1865 her niece, Miss Mellie Bethel, became her assistant, and on the death of Miss Lightbourne in 1887, Miss Bethel conducted the school alone. It closed its doors permanently in 1911, after sixty years operation, during which time it never missed a term. Its influence will continue during the lives of the present generation.

Other excellent private schools were kept by Miss Ann Elizabeth Browne, and Miss Josephine Ximinez, and many of our most cultured women studied under them.


1870 marks the beginning of the public or free school system in Key West. A school was opened on the first floor of the Masonic Temple on Simonton street. Mr. Eugene 0. Locke, now clerk of the United States district court for the southern district of Florida, a brother of Judge James W. Locke of that court, was the first principal. He was succeeded by Mr. Thomas Savage of Boston, who afterwards became a member of the law firm of Allen, Long and Savage, of which Governor Long of Massachusetts was a member. In 1874 a large three-story building was erected on a lot in the rear of Simonton street, between Fleming and Southard streets, called Sears school. It accommodated about five hundred pupils. Mr. Justin Copeland was principal, with a corps of eight teachers. In 1909 it was abandoned and torn down.

Succeeding principals of Sears school, in the order of service, were Mr. Barnes of Baltimore, Mr. Wyman, Mr. F. J. Cunningbam, Mr. Taylor Lee, Mr. W. J. Cappick, Mr. Adolph Van Delden, Mr. John A. Graham, Mr. Byrne, Mr. Yancy, Mr. B. C. Nichols, Mr. Bonnington and Mr. M. P. Geiger.

A public school for the education of the negro children was opened in 1870, called Douglas school. William M. Artrell, a negro from the Bahamas, was the first principal.

In 1887, under the administration of Dr. R. J. Perry, county superintendent of public instruction, a public school was opened on a lot on Grinnell street, between Division and Virginia streets. It was called "Russell Hall" in honor of Hon. Albert J. Russell, then State superintendent of public instruction, a prominent Mason, a distinguished Confederate officer and a fine orator, who devoted his life to the cause of education.

The first principal of Russell Hall was Mr. Taylor Lee. He served one full term, was reappointed, and in his second year was principal of both Sears school and Russell hall. He died on December 22, 1888.

He was succeeded as principal by Miss Lovie Turner, who held that position continuously until the close of the term, of 1911, when she resigned. She made a fine record and was loved and respected by the pupils and patrons of the school.

In 1900 Russell Hall was moved from Grinnell street to a lot on the corner of White and Division streets, and remodelled into a commodious colonial structure.

In 1909 a handsome concrete building was erected on the corner of Southard and Margaret streets called Harris high school. It took the place of Sears school in Monroe county educational work. The site cost sixteen thousand dollars and the building forty-two thousand dollars. On the completion, Sears school house was torn down, and its name abandoned.

Harris high school was dedicated on July 4th, 1909, and addresses were delivered by Mr. Jefferson B. Browne, Mr.. W. Hunt Harris, Mr. William H. Malone, Mr. Charles L. Knowles, Mr. Virgil S. Lowe, Mr. J. V ining Harris, Dr. J. N. Fogarty, Major Hunter, United States army, and Commodore W. 14. Beehler, United States navy.

In 1868 the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, a Canadian organization, came to Key West and opened a school for white girls in a large frame building on the corner of Whitehead and Division streets, which had been occupied as a barracks during the Civil War, where they taught for over ten years.

In 1878 they laid the foundation for a new convent to be erected on a part of tract twelve of the original survey of Key West, extending about six hundred feet along Division street, conta i ning about eight and a half acres. The building is of native coral rock quarried on the island, the main part of which cost thirty-five thousand dollars. In 1904 it was enlarged to nearly twice its original size by the addition on the northeast end, at a cost of twenty-two thousand dollars. It is the handsomest educational building in the State of Florida, and a monument to the devotion and heroism of the good women who founded and maintained it.

Many of the sisters died at their post of duty of yellow fever, and only once has it closed its doors-in 1898 when the holy sisters placed the convent, two school buildings and their personal services as nurses at the disposition of the naval authoritits for hospital purposes.

Among the first to receive the loving care of the nuns was Father Chadwick, chaplain of the Maine. On his recovery he celebrated mass in the convent chapel, using the chalice given him by the crew of the Maine, and which had then just been recovered.

Of all the good women who gave their services for the success of this institution, one sister, by reason of her great ability and long service, deserves special mention-Sister Mary Theophile, who spent forty years in the educational field of Key West.

The convent conducted by sisters of the Catholic church is a religious institution, but non-sectarian in its teachings, and is liberally patronized by families of Protestants, and the great majority of our highly educated and accomplished women received their education at the convent of Mary Immaculate. Its influence on the morals and character of the women of Key West is infinite.

The same community of sisters in 1881 established St. Joseph's College for white boys. The college building, on the corner of Simonton and Catherine streets, stands on a lot which extends along Catherine to Duval street, owned by the Catholic church.

In 1869 a parochial school for white boys was established, conducted by a lay teacher, Mr. W. J. Cappick, under the supervision of the resident priest.

In 1870 St. Francis Xavier's School for the education of negro children was opened.

A Jesuit college for the higher education of boys was established in 1904, and is conducted by the Jesuit priests.


In 1898 Bishop Warren E. Candler of Atlanta, Ga., of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, representing the Woman's Board of Home Missions, came to Key West, and interested a number of gentlemen in a proposition to establish a seminary of learning here.

He appointed a committee on ways and means, consisting of Dr. Cornelius F. Kemp, Messrs. George L. Bartlum, Charles R. Pierce, Alfred Bates Curry and Jefferson B. Browne. Several meetings were held by them at the residence of Rev. J. P. DePass, where plans for raising money, securing a lot and founding the institution were worked out.

The seminary began in a modest way in 1899 in a rented building formerly the residence of Mr. Martin L. Hellings, near the light-house. The next year it was moved to the Gato residence on Division street, near the North Beach.

The first building erected on the property purchased for the seminary on United street, was completed in 1901. It was a large colonial frame building, with recitation rooms, dormitories and living quarters for the faculty.

Its first principal was Miss Mary Bruce, to whose indomitable will and energy the success in launching this institution is mainly due. She was succeeded in 1905 by Miss Emily J. Reid who resigned in 1908, since which time the institution has been under the management of Professor Arthur W. Mohn. Under him the institution has thrived , and ranks as one of the first in the State.

In 1910 a principal's residence was erected, and in 1911 an administration building called Bruce Hall was completed. It is built of artificial stone, and contains twelve recitation rooms, two music rooms, a chemical and physical laboratory, a library room, the principal's office and a chapel or auditorium with a seating capacity of over six hundred, the largest in the city. Its large roof garden, where open air entertainments can be held, is one of the most attractive features, and in this climate one of the most useful.

The colonial building has been recently remodelled, and named Ruth Hargrove Hall. It is now used mainly as a dormitory and has accommodations for fifty teachers and students. An attractive kindergarten cottage stands at the rear of the lot.

Additional land was purchased in 1910 and in 1911, and the school tract now contains three acres.

The institution was first called Ruth Hargrove Seminary, but in 1910 the name was changed to Hargrove Institute.

Excerpt from "Key West: The Old and the New" by Jefferson B. Browne. Published 1912.


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