Memories of North Side, South Side schools

By Robert Houk, Senior Reporter

North Side and South Side elementary schools have long and proud histories in Johnson City that date back to the early 20th century.

As a result, generations of area students have been educated in the classrooms of the two schools.

Both schools have earned top honors in the state for academics. And while their physical structures have changed over the years — renovated, demolished and rebuilt — the core mission of North Side and South Side schools has remained the same.

North Side, located at 1000 N. Roan St., was first built in in 1922 near East Eighth and East Chilhowie avenues. At the time it was the city’s most modern school, and would soon set the standard for other Johnson City schools.

Writing in his “Yesteryear” column for the Press on Oct. 8, 2012, Bob Cox noted a story from the Johnson City Chronicle in 1928 that featured a tour of the grammar school.

“North Side School, which was only 6 years old at the time, received a glowing report. One comment stated, ‘Wherefore, let us give thanks that in our corporate midst on city-owned acreage there stands a public school building that appears to be well-suited to most of the crying needs of the day. It is modern in type and construction and ample of accommodation.’ ”

North Side School

Cox also noted that the school was described in the newspaper as “cheery, well lighted and properly ventilated, with wide airy corridors whose ground floor doorway entrances had no ice-coated steps to navigate to enter the building.”

Nearly 78 years later, North Side was still receiving high marks for its special programs in math, science and technology by becoming a “signature school.” The older of North Side’s classroom wings also received a facelift at the time totaling more than $300,000.

Today, the school describes its mission as: “Through a strong focus on math, science, and technology, North Side Elementary will provide an educational program which supports students’ abilities to perform at or above grade level and to become productive members of society.”

South Side was founded in 1917, and according to the school’s website, “has a rich heritage of serving the children of Johnson City. Since the days of trolley cars rolling up Southwest Avenue, the school has been located in the quaint Tree Streets neighborhood.”

South Side School

It was the residents in that historic neighborhood that helped save the school, located at the corner of Southwest Avenue and Boyd Street, from being closed in the early 1990s. The old school was demolished and a new 83,000-square-foot facility was constructed on the reconfigured site in 1996.

The school now has an enrollment of 450 students, and offers classes for pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. South Side has been fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools since 1981. It has also been named as one of the top performing schools in Tennessee.

As Cox has noted on several occasions in his “Yesteryear” column, many current and former Johnson City residents have fond memories of South Side. One was Joe Goodpasture, who in 2017 shared his recollections with Cox of growing up in the Tree Streets and attending South Side.

Goodpasture said: “There were no school buses in the 1940s, so nearly all the Tree Streets kids walked to South Side Elementary School. There was a lively procession, almost a parade, through the neighborhood as students made their way to and from school.

“A hot lunch was served in the combination auditorium/cafeteria, but more than half of the students either went home for lunch or brown-bagged it. You could wolf down your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a half-pint container of milk, which cost a nickel.”

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