History of the Mepham High School Building

In the early 1930s the population of Long Island was expanding near the stations of the Long Island Railroad. Merrick and Bellmore had a number of stores along their main streets (Merrick Avenue and Bedford Avenue) and each had one public elementary school. North Merrick and North Bellmore were smaller communities with one or two grocery stores and gas stations, and a public elementary school in each. Each community had its own school district.

Residents of the four communities would do their major shopping in the nearby larger communities such as Freeport, Amityville, or Hempstead.

Since none of the four communities had a high school, the students received their high school eduction in neighboring school districts of Freeport, Baldwin, Rockville Centre, and Hempstead. As the population was growing those districts' high schools were reaching capacity and they started refusing the acceptance of outside students.

Mr. Mepham
Wellington C. Mepham
At various times prior to 1934 leading citizens of those communities held discussions on solving the problem by creating a central high school district. The leader in these discussions, and the one most enthusiastic for such a district, was Wellington C. Mepham, District Superintendent of Schools of the First District of the County of Nassau.

Creation of the Central School District
After considerable investigation and discussion among the boards of education of the four school districts, it was definitely agreed to create a central high school district and and on September 25th 1934 by a 712 to 67 vote of the residents of the four elementary districts approved its creation. For a history of the founding of the new central school district click here.

On November 1, 1934 the state approved the new district, a new high school Board of Education was created, and over the next year the process of building design, state approvals, voter approvals, building contracts, etc. went forward until the official ground breaking took place on Jan. 8, 1935.

A name for the new high school was a problem for the Board and it was finally agreed that the students in the elementary schools of the district should be requested to submit a name and a prize was to be offered to the student who submitted the accepted name. The Board approved the submissions of an overwhelming number of students and teachers who suggested the school be named in honor of Mr. Mepham. The question of school colors was left to the student body and they decided on garnet and gray.

The Old School
Orginal Teachers

Classes Start in Old Schoolhouse
Meanwhile, the students needed to start high school and a small wooden, six-room school building with an old-fashioned school bell was no longer in use on Bedford Avenue in Bellmore, and the Bellmore district made it available.

On July 4, 1935, Mr. Sandford H. Calhoun, who had been principal of Sag Harbor High School, was selected as the first member of the high school faculty.

When school started, there were 150 students and only six teachers and the principal. They were: (in photo) Mr. John Carr, Mr. Herman Tennant, Mr. William Jaatinen, Miss Felice Gunther, Mr. Sanford H. Calhoun, principal, Miss Agnes Berwind, and (not in photo) Miss Doris Moyle. The only subjects that were taught that first year were English, Latin, elementary algebra, general science, civics, and economic citizenship.

Construction Starts
While classes were ongoing at the old school building, construction of the new building started on 21 acres of farm land that were purchased for $49,800. Although the surrounding area was mostly farm land there were a few local residents who liked to watch the construction, as did Drucilla Munnich (at the age of 4) who later graduated from the school in 1950. The building cost $810,200.

A local newspaper, in a biography of the architecht Philip Wiedersum, described the (then) modern design of Mepham High School:

First Classes in New Building
Then came September 1937! Camp Avenue, North Bellmore, N.Y. A modern, red brick building on a spacious campus-- this is Mepham High School grown up. With an increased faculty, student body and janitorial staff, three classes of students entered the new structure in the year of '37. What a change for the entire group! An almost unbelievable metamorphosis had taken place, and an entire school had to readjust itself. The process was, however, quick and easy.

The school had a name and school colors, and all that remained for its identity was a school theme. After much discussion the Pirate theme was adopted, in honor of the time when some pirates were believed to have been here. The first isssue of the newly-named The Buccaneer was published in September 1937.

The pupils of the new Wellington C. Mepham High School marched to the auditorium for the first time, on the occasion of the student dedication held Friday morning, September 24, with Mr. Sanford H. Calhoun, Supervising Principal, presiding. See a description of the Dedication Assembly from the autumn 1937 issues of The Buccaneer.

By 1939 the student body had grown from 150 to 1100, the faculty from 6 to 45, the janitorial staff from 1 to 10, the classrooms from 6 to 43. Mepham had put itself on the map in sports, it led the state in wrestling, and had challenging football, basketball, baseball, and track teams. All sorts of clubs had been formed including dramatics, debating, commercial, and camera groups. A school newspaper, "The Buccaneer," had been established and a chapter of the National Senior Honor Society had been organized.

After World War II the growth of suburbia, as often associated with our neighboring Levittown, came also to the Bellmore-Merrick area. The farms around the school, and in all four communities, were sold and Long Island's growth came to our area. The wetlands of Merrick and Bellmore were filled and more families came. The "baby boomers" were predicted to arrive, and they did. In the late 1950s, when a new high school would be needed, one was built in North Merrick and named after Mepham's first Supervising Principal, Sanford H. Calhoun. The first graduating class at Calhoun High School was in 1960.

The boom was predicted to continue for some time so, in 1962, more space demand was met by adding to the size of Mepham. The original school which, as seen from the air, was a "U" was now changed to enclose the open area in the rear. The addition had a second gym (for girls), more classrooms, a room for vocal music, and new cafeterias (which provided new classrooms in the old cafeteria area).

Later, a third high school was built in the southern part of Bellmore and dedicated to the late President John F. Kennedy.

Parts of this page have been exerpted from a 1937 edition of the Buccaneer and a report prepared by James F. Mulcahy, attorney for the Central High School District No. 3, and submitted to the Board of Education on August 29, 1936.