The Rosenberg Free School

 The Rosenberg Free School
Henry Rosenberg poses with a group in front of the Henry Rosenberg Free School (second from left). This original ca. 1889 photograph was a recent gift of Shirley Convirs [Rosenberg Library Galveston and Texas History Center Collection].

On February 15, 1889, more than 8,000 people gathered to celebrate the opening of a new public elementary in Galveston’s East End. Through an agreement with the Board of School Trustees, local businessman Henry Rosenberg donated funds to construct a school for children in his neighborhood in 1888. Named the Rosenberg Free School, the impressive structure stood for nearly 80 years before being demolished in 1966.

During the month of February, Rosenberg Library exhibited a collection of items related to the history of the Rosenberg Free School.

“A Magnificent Gift”

After learning that the Galveston School Board of Trustees was facing financial difficulties in the spring of 1888, Henry Rosenberg wrote a letter to the group offering $40,000 for the construction of a new school to be located on 11th Street between Avenues G & H. The offer was quickly accepted, and the building’s cornerstone was laid in a Masonic ceremony on June 30, 1888.

Rosenberg selected Galveston architect Nathaniel Tobey to design the building, and the two men worked closely in planning the project. Rosenberg personally selected and purchased the building materials, hired the contractors, and oversaw the construction. In the end, he contributed more than $75,000 to cover the cost of the project — the equivalent of $2 million today.

 The Rosenberg Free School

Much fanfare surrounded the formal dedication of the eagerly anticipated school building. Despite inclement weather, The Galveston Daily News reported that at least 8,500 people visited and toured the new school at its unveiling on the evening of February 15, 1899. Members of the school board and city council as well as local politicians and prominent citizens attended the ceremony. A live orchestra provided music and attorney Thomas J. Ballinger gave the dedicatory address.

The massive two-story building measured 203 feet from north to south, and 90 feet east to west at its center. It was built on piers above a finished basement. “The Henry Rosenberg Free School” was inscribed prominently above its front and rear entrances. Two broad staircases connect the first and second floors, and there were a total of 5 exits to the building to “diminish very much any danger…in case of fire.” (Galveston Daily News, February 16, 1889.)

The first floor included 8 classrooms which could hold 50 – 60 students each, as well a library and the principal’s office. The second floor included an additional 8 classrooms and a large assembly hall. Every classroom featured a large blackboard, a cloak room, and a wash basin. The building was well-lit with gas fixtures, and the walls were finished in soapstone.

For many years, the Rosenberg School had the largest enrollment of all of Galveston’s elementary schools. It served as a refuge for residents seeking shelter during the 1900 Storm, and although it was badly damaged, the building was repaired and reopened. In February 1959, the school celebrated its 70th anniversary, with former principals, teachers, and students in attendance.

A Modern Replacement

Just a few years after its 70th anniversary, Galveston voters approved a bond issue to demolish the historic structure and to replace it with a modern school facility which could accommodate up to 1,000 students. During the summer of 1966, the original school was razed. The new Rosenberg Elementary School was a modern, single-story edifice constructed of brick and concrete. It was fully air-conditioned and carpeted and contained 30 classrooms, a large cafetorium, a library, and a special education department.

In 2009, the KIPP Coastal Village charter school began operating out of the second Rosenberg School building. Currently the building houses Coastal Village Elementary School which is part of Galveston Independent School District.

Past Treasures