One Hundred Years of Glory: 1892-1992
By Donald M. Heavrin
Any discussion about the history of du Pont Manual High School must start with a discussion of the history of Louisville Male High School. In 1798 the Kentucky State Legislature authorized the creation of a college for young men to be built in Louisville. In 1816, after 18 years of bureaucratic blundering, the trustees were able to open the Jefferson Seminary.
The school changed its identity on several occasions over the next 40 years until finally, in 1856, the school split into two entities. One was the University of Louisville and the other was Louisville Male High School. At the same time Louisville Male High School acquired its identity (1856), Louisville Female High School (later Girls High School) was created and for the next 36 years all was calm until destiny rolled the dice.
From 1856 until 1912, Male High School conferred Bachelor degrees on its graduates, and in some instances conferred Master degrees on exceptional students. However, by the late 1800s there were rumblings of discontent in the community because Male High School only taught academic courses and there was no place for a student to learn manual skills.
In order to solve this problem, a barracks was built in 1890 in the backyard of Male High School and shop-type courses were taught to students who wanted to learn a trade. However, the barracks did not solve the problem because the demand for admission exceeded the capacity of the school.
At this juncture, Victor du Pont entered the picture. du Pont was a millionaire, a member of the family who started the du Pont Chemical Company, and was considered to be a financial genius. He promoted the Elizabethtown Railroad and founded the Green River Iron and Coal Company which helped develop the Western Kentucky coal fields. He established a horse-drawn rail system in Louisville and was a vice president of First National Bank.
In 1891, du Pont tackled the problem of establishing a separate manual training high school. He contributed $150,000 to enable the school board to buy the southeast corner of Brook and Oak Streets and to build two buildings. As a condition of the gift, he insisted that all of the teachers in the new school be competent. What a revolutionary idea! One year later, in October 1892, the new school opened with an enrollment of 121 students.
In 1892 there was a new game being played on the east coast known as "college football." The blue-collar kids from Manual embraced the game and on December 17, 1892, played a game against the Louisville Athletic Club. As far as this writer knows, this was the first high school football game ever played in the State of Kentucky. The following year, the rivalry against Male High School began, the first game being played on Saturday, November 18, 1893.
During the next 23 years the teams played 33 times and the event became one of the biggest sporting events in the state. With this level of spirit and public interest, the Rivalry looked like a cinch to survive, but there is no force on Earth more powerful than bureaucratic humbling.
In 1915, E.O. Holland, the Superintendent of Education, decided that Louisville would never need more than one high school so he ordered the consolidation of Male and Manual. The two schools became known as Louisville Boys High. The purple and gold and the red and white disappeared from the horizon and new colors, blue and gray, were chosen. Shortly thereafter Holland accepted a job as president of a university and left town, leaving behind the mess he had created...
By 1918 the public realized Holland had erred, and under considerable public pressure, the school board separated the schools at the end of the 1918 school year.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1919, with all of the veteran football players remaining at Male, Manual was beaten 81-0. At the time many people questioned the wisdom of Manual playing against insurmountable odds. Male had more football players than Manual had students, but 12 brave students from Manual elected to play and the rivalry was again underway.
Meanwhile, back at Girls High, a new building was being constructed on the corner of Second and Lee Streets. The structure was named Halleck Hall in honor of Ruben Post Halleck, who ironically was the principal of Louisville Male High School from 1897 to 1912. In 1934, Girls High School moved into Halleck Hall and for the next 16 years prospered mightily, which brings us to A.J. Ries.
Arthur J. Ries was number one in his class at Manual in 1926. After graduating from college, he taught mathematics at Parkland Junior High before transferring to Manual where he was Dean of Boys. After serving three years in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he returned to Manual as an Assistant Principal. When Principal Frank J. Davis died in 1948, Ries became principal. During the next two years he oversaw the move from Brook and Oak to Halleck Hall and the consolidation of du Pont Manual Training High School with Louisville Girls High School to create du Pont Manual High School.
In the 1960s Manual lost its status as a regional school that could accept students from anywhere in the county. Although it was still an excellent school, it had lost its unique identity. In 1984, under the care of Joseph Liedtke, Manual became a Magnet School and has again become Kentucky's finest school.
du Pont Manual High School literally started in Male's backyard, was forced to consolidate with Male in 1915, merged with Louisville Girls High School in 1950, and still occupies the building named for a principal at Male. There must be something to the Manual tradition or it would never have survived the adversities that have fallen upon it during the last century. Perhaps today in our placid, homogenized school system, the current students do not know or care that The Old Rivalry is an interwoven family fight... but maybe the fire of competition still bums.
Congratulations and Best Wishes to all of the students, graduates, principals, and teachers who have perpetuated this tradition for 100 years.