From the earliest settlers who called Southport home in 1823 to the present-day city and the high school named after it, the book “Hail, Hail Our Southport!” by Rick Shaffer, takes an interesting and historical look at the city and school.
Shaffer, a 1970 graduate of Southport, teamed with former classmates Barry Browning and Jay Danner in an exhaustive research project to track down historical information. They envisioned the book, whose title comes from a lyric in the school fight song, being an update of “A Century of Pride of Progress,” which was published in 1994 and covered the school’s first 100 years. But shortly into the endeavor, Shaffer realized his book would take a different approach, a perspective with which Browning and Danner wholeheartedly agreed.
Shaffer, who does cite material from “A Century of Pride and Progress,” begins by mentioning that Jacob and Mary Smock were among the first settlers in Perry Township, which had been platted in 1822 and named after U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The Smock’s farm was located on the north side of what is now Southport Road. Jacob’s brother-in-law, Samuel Brewer, soon settled in the area and started a blacksmith shop.
As the small community grew, the need for religious worship and education were met via a log building – the “Mud School” – believed to have been built in 1825 on the Smock farm, now home to Southport Cemetery.
The Golden Guernsey Dairy Farm was started by the McFarland family after they settled in the area in 1825. Sections of a stone wall fence along the south side of Southport Road just east of McFarland Road indicate where the farm was.
By 1840 the township had seven one-room schools. Because most children helped their parents run farms, the school year was restricted to basically the winter months.
Thanks to a railroad track that was laid through Southport in 1847, the town continued to grow.
Southport became a high school in 1891 at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and Southport Road in a two-story brick building that had replaced a wooden structure destroyed by a tornado eight years earlier. The first graduates – there were five in 1894 – only had to complete three years of high school, per state guidelines, which were soon changed to require four years.
The town was really “moving up” when the Southport Masons built a three-story “skyscraper” in 1899 – it’s still standing at the corner of Southport and Church Street.
Another sign of prosperity were businesses such as a post office, a bank and a doctor’s office. Gas streetlights needed to be manually turned on and off every day. And just a little north of town, Indiana Central University was founded in 1902.
Having outgrown the high school that was constructed in 1891, a larger one was erected behind it in 1912. And with the new school came changes in the curriculum: Latin was no longer a required subject, and agriculture, manual training and domestic science were offered. It was during this time that horse-drawn school buses were first used to transport students. Motorized buses were introduced in 1922.
Readers will note that the athletic programs get a significant amount of coverage, leading some to believe that other important items have been omitted or overlooked.
“There simply isn’t enough space to deal with everything that has taken place in 125 years (at Southport),” Shaffer wrote in the introduction. “I hope I will be granted some understanding for some of my decisions, but it has a lot to do with the time in which I was growing up. For baby boomers, the numerous sporting contests involving SHS teams were a primary source of entertainment.”
World War II also merits special attention because 540 former students participated in the battle, 34 having made the ultimate sacrifice.
The first Marion County boys basketball tournament in 1920 was won by Southport, which added championships in ’22 and ’25 and won their first sectional title in 1926. The school’s newspaper and yearbook debuted in 1922 and 1925, respectfully, and the Cardinal mascot was introduced during the 1927-28 school year.
A new school at the corner of Orinoco Avenue and Banta Road opened its doors for the 1930-31 school year and served in such a capacity for almost 30 years before subsequently serving the township in various capacities, including its present role as the Educational Center.
Roosevelt Stadium, now known as Perry Stadium and built as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration, opened in 1936; most of the outer walls still stand.
The school moved into its present home at the corner of Banta and Shelby Street for the 1958-59 year. The facility was originally constructed for the township’s junior high, but the burgeoning high school enrollment necessitated the switch, which resulted in a building project that included legendary Southport Fieldhouse, pool, auto shop and a laboratory for chemistry classes.
The book, edited by Sara Harrell, includes a number of other historic gems, including baseball player Chuck Klein, who is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.; Diane Hunt, a 1958 graduate who was the 1961 Indianapolis 500 Festival queen; and Louie Dampier, a collegiate All-American and all-time leading scorer in the American Basketball Association. In addition, there is a listing of all the school’s principals, Alumni of the Year, individual state champions and teams and Wall of Fame members.
There is also input from Perry Township Schools Superintendent Thomas J. Little and Southport Principal Barbara Brouwer, both of whom offer perspectives on the school’s future.
The book can be purchased for $25 at The Southsider Voice, 6025 Madison Ave., Suite B, or by calling 432-6255. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Southport Alumni Association Scholarship Fund and the Southport Historical Society.
Signings will be scheduled, but the dates have not been ironed out.
About the author
Shaffer, a Greenwood resident, is a 1974 graduate of Butler who earned a degree in journalism, He authored “Autocourse Official History: CART: The First 20 Years, 1979-1998” and co-authored the “Autocourse Official Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500” with Donald Davidson.
Currently a researcher for NBC Sports Network, he also wrote the foreword for “Racing Can Be Murder.”