March 14, 2003
It used to be that when a new public building (like a school) was being constructed, a corner stone was provided. The hollow stone usually contained documents of interest relating to the era of that event, like a time capsule. It was intended that someday in the future, when the building was being dismantled the corner stone would be opened and folks could read about matters pertaining to the original construction period. When an old building was demolished, one of the essential ceremonial steps was the removal of artifacts from the corner stone, assuming there was one.
We don't have too many occasions like that in Perry. For one thing, our city and state are new enough that only a few of the "early day" buildings are ready for replacement. Cornerstones just aren't too fashionable here right now. The treasures stored in those corner stone's are permitted to ripen until another time when they can be retrieved from their dark, quiet resting places and spread before our eager eyes. But when it happens, people interested in history are often rewarded by what they find in the corner stones. Those, items normally are mementos left to us by earlier generations of the area. Ah, what treasures they often yield to bring about a clearer understanding of what our friends and families of other eras read about, talked about and used in their daily living.
In 1911 a multi-level high school building was built in northwest Perry near the site of the present Elementary School. It included a corner stone containing historic memorabilia of that time. The corner stone was set in place by the Perry Masonic lodge. As you will see, an impressive ceremony was held at the school construction site on that day. Historic, records show that this building apparently was constructed with financing from a $30,000 bond issue. It was known as Central High School. That building was demolished in 1924 when a new brick three-story Perry High School was built facing Elm Street, between Eighth and Ninth Streets. That structure was replaced in the 1960s when the present high school was built on the south side of Fir Avenue, spanning an area that once was part of Ninth Street. The street was closed to make room for the school. If all these dates seem confusing, don't fret. An authentic, chronological listing of Perry school construction work, dating back to the earliest days of this community, would be most welcome. Richard Postelwait, secretary of the local Masonic lodge, and I have been trying to clarify some of those dates but I cannot guarantee that they are correct. Different written accounts do not always agree with one another.
The corner stone referred to in this column apparently came from the old Central High School building when it was demolished. Since the Masons placed the original corner stone in that building, they were given possession of the tin box. For years it was stored in the lodge’s archives. It came to light again when the Masons moved to their new home on the west side of town. Contents of the old structure's corner stone were carefully retrieved and spread out for examination. The corner stone was a compact, vault-like space in a corner of the ground floor level of the old building. The corner stone had been placed there in a formal ceremony conducted by the Perry Masonic lodge when the old high school building was nearing completion in the summer of 1911. Clifton Franklin, the current Worshipful Master of the local order, made it available to me, and I thank him for doing so. More about all this will follow in a subsequent column.