William B. Lipscomb was sitting in a church pew, singing the final hymn, when a man pulled out a gun and shot him in the side. 

The highly respected educator was rushed from the Bryan Street church to a local hospital. He lingered for two days before dying of peritonitis, a bacterial infection now cured with penicillin. 

The educational community was heartbroken. In 1920, when the Dallas ISD school board approved the construction of a new school in Junius Heights, educators petitioned board members to name the building in Lipscomb’s honor.  

One hundred years later, the legacy of the Lipscomb family will be commemorated in a series of events leading to the centennial celebration of the William Lipscomb Elementary School in May 2021.

A centennial committee made of students, parents, alumni and community members invites neighbors to join them in celebrating the past, present and future of Lipscomb Elementary.

“When you have so many new families in the neighborhood, they may not have a strong connection to the community,” says Brennan Greef Blair, chair of the Lipscomb PTA centennial committee. “It’s important to document this so new folks can appreciate it. It’s an important reminder that there are regular old neighborhood schools that are doing great and thriving. So many schools are new, so we have a unique place in Dallas history.”

Lipscomb is the neighborhood school for three Old East Dallas historic districts — Junius Heights, Swiss Avenue and Munger Place. In recent years, few families sent their children to the school. It wasn’t until Lipscomb introduced the International Baccalaureate and dual-language programs that the school started to rebuild and become a desirable place for parents to send their kids.

“I think the centennial is a good way to look back and see how Lipscomb started,” says historian Teresa Gibson, who attended Lipscomb from 1965-1972. “It’s a good way to have pride in the community and the accomplishments of the school.”

When Lipscomb was built in 1920 at the corner of Worth and Lowell streets to relieve crowding at other district schools, it angered some in Munger Place who wanted a school within walking distance of the neighborhood. But land in Junius Heights was cheaper and closer to the streetcar line, making it a convenient location for students to arrive by trolley. 

The district pulled off quite the coup when it snagged notable architect Herbert M. Greene, who also completed the Dallas Morning News, Neiman Marcus and Titche–Goettinger buildings in the early 20th century. He built Lipscomb as a three-story structure with a stone façade trimmed with quoins. Gothic-style stone tablets adorn the two front entrances and display the school’s name. The $200,000 building had 20 classrooms, a large auditorium and a basement that served as the lunchroom. 

“I love that Lipscomb is in the middle of a neighborhood and not on a big highway,” Greef Blair says. “It’s tucked away in a beautiful historic community that feels like family. It’s so small that you don’t get lost like you do in bigger schools.”

William’s widow, Virginia Lipscomb, was chosen as the first principal. Both prominent educators in Tennessee, the Lipscombs married in 1883 and moved to Dallas in 1894 after Dallas ISD Superintendent J.L. Long recruited William to be the principal at Central High School. 

He worked there for five years before he was shot. His killer, J.T. Carlisle, was a janitor at the school and blamed William when Dallas ISD officials fired him. Carlisle was sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he later died. 

Virginia presided over 150 students when the school opened. Over the years, enrollment reflected the rapid urbanization of the neighborhood. With a school zone that stretched east to White Rock Lake, west to Fitzhugh Avenue, north to the Katy railroad tracks and south to the Santa Fe railroad tracks, the school grew to more than 1,000 students from first to seventh grade. 

Lipscomb quickly became an important neighborhood space where community groups used the auditorium for after-school meetings. Virginia also organized neighborhood carnivals with food, games and a cakewalk that benefited underprivileged children in Dallas schools. 

In the ’50s and ’60s, the community came together for a square dance festival in which music was played over the loudspeaker, and children of all ages performed on the blacktop for their parents and neighbors. 

Neighbors hope to capitalize on Lipscomb’s history of community involvement in the year leading to the centennial. The PTA and the site-based decision-making committee are working together to collect oral histories, old photographs and other items to preserve. In April, the school will have its annual auction with a 1920s twist to raise money for capital improvements.

Additional donations can be made through the Woodrow Wilson High School Community Foundation, a nonprofit founded to support Woodrow and the schools in its feeder pattern. The Swiss Avenue Historic District donated an initial gift of $13,500 for building projects that the district won’t pay for. 

A welcome center to improve security is at the top of the school’s wish list, says Alex Enriquez, president of the site-based decision-making committee. Lipscomb has two front doors that visitors must enter, then walk upstairs to the office. A welcome center would allow administrators to lock the front doors and monitor who comes in and out of the building.  

School officials also hope to build shade structures, remodel the basketball courts, create a drainage system for the outdoor play spaces and tear down awnings from the 1980s that led to portable classrooms, which are no longer in use. 

“The centennial is a big appreciation of what the community has done to keep Lipscomb going,” Gibson says. “The kids are lucky to go to such a dedicated school like Lipscomb.”

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