History of Central

  •  Exterior of Central High School 


    Central teachers and students occasionally encounter visitors to the building who have wandered in to explore what they believe to be Nebraska's first territorial capital. Despite Central's imposing exterior, though, it was never the territorial capital but, instead, is the site of the first capitol.

    Central traces its beginning to Omaha's first all-grade public school, opened in 1859 by the Superintendent of Education, Howard Kennedy. But it was another twelve years before the fledgling school district actually constructed a separate high school. In 1869, the Nebraska Legislature donated the old capitol building to 21st and Capitol to Omaha on the condition that it be used for a high school. That building never knew service as a school building, however. It was declared unsafe and was torn down in 1870 to make way for the new high school, which began in the fall of 1870 and was completed in 1871. 

    This red brick building faced east and consisted of the main structure with north and south wings and a 150-foot spire that dominated the horizon. The school had four stories and a basement. This Omaha High School, destined to become known as Central High School, was a source of much pride to Omahans. Important visitors to the city were certain to be given a tour of the school. That included President William Howard Taft in 1911, who, according to reports, climbed the tower for a better view of the city.  From its vantage point on the hill, Central High School, even then, was at the center of the growing city's activity. On July 4th, 1876, for example, electrical engineers wired the school's tower to give Omaha its first demonstration of electric lights. Before the comfort of air conditioning, local residents were known to sleep out on the Central lawn for relief from the heat on oppressive summer nights.

    By 1897, overcrowding and inadequate ventilation became serious problems for the school, and the board of education approved the construction of a new, larger building. The cornerstone for that building, the present-day Central High School, was laid on November 16th, 1900. The builders began with the east side of the new school, and from 1900 to 1912, the school grew, one side at a time, each section constructed around the original tower building. Finally, that tower building itself was demolished and removed before the fourth side (the north side) was added. Kate McHugh, principal at the time, insisted on the removal of the old building's heating and ventilating plant to create a courtyard at the center of the square structure.

    Central's grounds received extensive revamping in 1920. Prompted by complaints from Omaha motorists about the steep incline of Dodge Street, city officials initiated plans to lower the grade of the busy street. The work closed traffic for more than a year and left Central on a cliff with a 20-foot drop. New terraces and flights of stairs provided the campus with its present look.

    The school board approved the addition of a gym and auditorium wing to the north side of the building in 1925. Prior to that time, the basketball teams played their games in a gym on the fourth floor, where the cafeteria was located at that time, and thespians performed on stage in a tiny auditorium that has since been transformed into a classroom (room 145) behind the Wall of Fame. In 1981-82, a large renovation project was completed while school was in session. Part of this renovation included workers using a helicopter to lower supports in place for a translucent dome that would cover the courtyard (as it is today).

    Central High had another renovation in 2005 that saw the addition of air conditioning, a new gym, gym lobby, and the football and track stadium that overlooks downtown Omaha, proudly recognized Seeman Stadium. The most recent and recognizable change to Central High is the addition of the arts wing on the east side of the building, looking down Capitol Street; this vast addition was added in 2019 to include a new library, vocal and instrumental classrooms, art classrooms, and the black box theater.


Central's Principals

    • Dionne Kirksey, 2021-present
    • Ed Bennett, 2013-2021
    • Keith Bigsby, 2010-2013
    • Gregory Emmel, 2006–2010
    • Jerry F. Bexten, 2002–2006
    • Gary L. Thompson, 1995–2002
    • Gaylord “Doc” Moller, 1968–1995
    • J. Arthur Nelson, 1944–1968
    • Fred Hill, 1939–1944
    • Joseph G. Masters, 1915–1939
    • Clayton Reed, 1914–1915
    • Kate McHugh, 1911–1914
    • E. U. Graff, 1908–1911
    • A. H. Waterhouse, 1899–1908
    • Irwen Leviston, 1896–1899
    • Homer Lewis, 1882–1896
    • Charles Hine, 1881–1882
    • C. H. Crawford, 1877–1881
    • W. H. Merritt, 1875–1877
    • John Kellom, 1870–1875