In 1913 the Board of Education purchased 27 acres at the junction of Erie and Madison Roads from the estate of Andrew Erkenbrecher, the founder of the Cincinnati Zoo. At that time the site was a small farm with a few scattered buildings and a pasture for grazing cattle. The site had been selected by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Randall Condon, and the President of the School Board, Dr. John Withrow, for the new East High School.
After two years of planning, ground was broken in December 1915, but construction was delayed because of the supply needs of World War I. At one point there were plans to use the main buildings as a hospital for wounded soldiers, but the war ended before that occurred. However, the pipes for the operating room remained in room 534, covered by a desk, until the renovation in 1989.
When the school was completed in 1919, it presented an imposing appearance. The architecture was a departure from the customary school type, being a combination of northern and southern colonial in a campus setting. The low red brick building with its pilloried portico, the lofty tower, and graceful bridge are reminiscent of Revolutionary days. On the tower and buildings are engraved quotations from Ruskin, the Psalms, and Superintendent Randall Condon. The Hyde Park Business Club donated a handsome Rookwood fountain fashioned of varicolored tiles and bearing the signs of the zodiac. The Women’s Garden Club presented the flagstones that surrounded the fountain and added greenery to the campus.
In September 1919, the school opened with an enrollment of 1300 students and 65 teachers but not everything was completed. Electric lights, class bells, and parts of the laboratory equipment were lacking. Two buglers served as the announcers of class periods. The lunchroom was opened, but so incomplete that the students had to bring their own tableware. The stadium was still under construction, and the back athletic field was still a woods. Football players walked a mile to and from practice from a nearby field and had no lockers or showers. Games were played under the colors of orange and black, a choice of the Senior and Junior classes of 1919.
When school reopened in September of 1920, several changes had taken place. The corridors had lockers instead of holes in the walls, two gyms and two swimming pools were ready for use, and the football stadium, with a capacity of 8,000 was ready. A magnificent pipe organ was donated by Mr. Richard K. LeBlond, whose company was located at Edwards and Madison Roads. The “Tower News” was organized in 1921 as a biweekly paper supported entirely by subscriptions.
In 1924 the Board of High Schools decided to honor the retiring President of the Board of Education, Dr. John Withrow, by changing the name of East High School to Withrow High School. In 1925 Withrow had an enrollment of 2100 and a faculty of 90.
While the campus and its buildings are impressive, it is the clock tower that symbolizes Withrow. Standing 114 feet high, it is the center of the entire school plan. Inside the tower are 110 steps leading to windows above the clock, where, on a clear day, one can see for miles. A clarion that taps the Westminster chimes was added in 1969. When active it plays chimes every quarter hour and tunes at 3:00 p.m. This feature has not been used for several years due to neighbor complaints. The base of the tower bears an inscription from the book of Psalms, “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” The Alumni provided $52,000 to restore the inner workings and facings of the clock and repair the roof and interior stairs.
The outside appearance of Withrow changed very little over the years until the completion of the vocational building in 1974 which was torn down in the summer of 2007. City engineers condemned the bridge as unsafe in 1980, but the Friends of Withrow coordinated the effort to raise $150,000 for its restoration. The restored bridge was rededicated in 1982 in honor of Nora Mae Nolan, a former English teacher. A second restoration of the bridge was completed in 2011 at a cost of $130,000 with $50,000 being provided by the Alumni.
The pools were closed in the 1990’s because they did not meet required health standards and filled in the school year 2005-2006. In the fall and winter of 2006-2007 the Junior High School and the boiler room were removed to provide extended parking.
A new Gym was completed in 2006 with the first Withrow home basketball games held on campus since 1976. The facility holds 1,500 people. A new synthetic football field was donated by the Cincinnati Bengals ($250,000). There is a new score board, new lights and new track (also available for community use). The baseball fields and tennis courts are still in the back and are rented to the Cincinnati Recreation Commission at $1 per year. Withrow uses them for practices. The Cincinnati Recreation Commission uses the fields during non-school hours/functions and they maintain them.
In the school year of 2002-2003, Withrow opened with three schools. The University School for Freshmen only, The International School for all four years and the Traditional School for 10 through 12 grades. Each subsequent year, the University School added a class and the Traditional School lost a class. In the school year of 2011-2012 the remaining two schools were combined and named Withrow University High School. After an absence of forty plus years, the 2013-14 school year will once again see the presence of 7 and 8 graders on the Withrow campus.
Vince Stitzel (1959)