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1349 Arcade Street
St. Paul


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School History

A History of Johnson Senior High and the Surrounding Community

Johnson High School is located on the East Side of Saint Paul. It has served this part of the city as a high school since 1897. The present building is this school's third site and was constructed in 1963. The first building burned to the ground and was replaced by a building that is still in use by the district. The first name of the school was Grover Cleveland High School. Later the name was changed to John A. Johnson High School to honor a popular, Swedish, Minnesota governor who died in office just as the second building was under construction.

As part of the celebration of Johnson’s 100th graduating class, a time line has been provided for our readers. We gratefully acknowledge the help of Roger Hallman, a local resident and volunteer at Johnson, and Paul Campbell, a member of the parent advisory committee. Both men are active in the Governor’s Club, which is the official name of the Johnson Alumni Association, and have been researching the school’s history.





Cleveland School, an eight-room school house located at Jenks Avenue and Walsh Street, is overcrowded and requires an addition.


More space is needed for high school students because Central, the only high school in the area, is crowded. Cleveland is chosen to add those classes, thus forming Cleveland High School.


Cleveland, with its school colors of pink and olive green, graduates its first class of 25 students.


Again, overcrowding is a problem and plans are made for an entirely new building combining four area high schools. The cornerstone for the building is laid on March 10.


Despite student protest, the new building is renamed Johnson High School, after the recently deceased Minnesota Governor John Albert Johnson. Classes meet for the first time in the new Johnson High School. Johnson hires its first full-time coach, Ralph Cole.


The first Johnson publication is printed. The Gleam is a literary magazine costing 40 cents and is produced entirely by students.


The first senior annual is published by graduating seniors. Johnson wins its first city sports championship in baseball. It’s also the first time the school pays for the sports equipment for the team. The team attains that same title again in 1914 and 1920.


Johnson’s first teacher, Jennie Ickler, dies on April 17. She had been with students since the early days of the Cleveland School.


It’s WWI and Johnson is the first school in St. Paul to organize as a Junior Red Cross unit, with students and faculty working for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) overseas.


Johnson is the first and only state high school to have a fencing team. That team Defeats the U of M fencing team in 1924.


Johnson students print their first school paper, The Courier. It has very few photos and costs 25 cents for five issues. In November, the first chapter meeting of the Parent-Teacher Association is held. The PTA sponsors the first homecoming celebration. The girls swim team is the first water sport to organize at Johnson. The boys form a team shortly thereafter.


The first Johnson student council is elected and the first student-supervised open dance is held. The first 12-member golf team organizes at Phalen Park to represent Johnson. Cross-country track is added to the athletic agenda.


The girls fencing club meets for the first time.


Because of overcrowding, remodeling occurs at Johnson. The cafeteria is expanded, more classrooms, bathrooms, locker rooms and a new gymnasium are added.


The principal and faculty elect the first members to the National Honor Society, Based on scholarship and character. The first electric clock in the state is installed at Johnson. For the first time a machine rings the bells, not a human.


Thanks to Principal Guise, the first 17-member high school band organizes. Annual concerts become a regular activity after that.


The hockey team disbands from a lack of money. It wouldn’t form again until 1937.


The boys’ gymnastics team organizes. Johnson’s first principal, John M. Guise, dies on November 25.


Cleveland burns down and classes are held at Johnson until the building is rebuilt. Cleveland reopens in 1937.


Johnson senior Robert G. Wick formed the Eighteen Club. All 18-year-old Members donated blood to help with the war effort. It became nationally recognized and spread throughout the country. Later in life, Wick became the vice president of the American National Red Cross.


The football team accepts the first female cheerleaders in its cheering squad. Carolyne Linnsooth and Doris Sontag. The last male squad member appears in 1948.


Preliminary training courses for the armed forces are added to Johnson’s curriculum.


The Johnson hockey team wins the state championship, and becomes the first St.Paul high school to capture the title. The team repeats in 1952,1953 and 1963.


Wendell Anderson, who goes on to become governor of Minnesota, graduates from Johnson.


Johnson receives national attention for hosting the National Student Council convention. Students throughout the United States attend the convention.


St. Paul voters pass a $23.5 million bond issue on November 3 to build four new high schools, improve existing ones and expand elementary schools throughout the city. Johnson is slated to be rebuilt.


Construction on the new high school begins on a 17 acre plot of land west of Arcade Street between Hyacinth and Cottage avenues. It will hold 2,000 students and will be 218,000 square feet. The National Honor Society is revived. The first debate team in year’s forms. For the first time at any St. Paul school, wrestling becomes an interscholastic sport.


The new Johnson building opens in September.


The student council begins the Johnson Hal of Fame to stimulate and encourage school interest by showing the achievements of past graduates.


An eight period day starts as a way to alleviate overcrowding. Staggered starting times of 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. begin for students.


Soccer is added as an interscholastic sport in St. Paul.


The National Honor Society sponsors a tutoring program with Mississippi Elementary school, where high school students tutor. Two portable classrooms are installed to help with overcrowding.


For the first time, co-ed sports teams are allowed. The track, tennis and swim teams are the first to go co-ed. The first computer terminal is installed in the math department. The breakfast program starts in January. Students can purchase fruit, milk and a choice of sweet roll for 10 cents. Gayle Nelson (swim team) is the first female to letter on a co-ed team.


Four Johnson students and teacher William Lynch, attend a "Close-Up" program in Washington D.C. to meet government officials.


Competitive skiing begins in St. Paul, with the Johnson team finishing in second place during its first year.


The school board passes the plans to build two new hockey arenas, one beside Johnson and the other adjacent to Harding High School. Johnson’s arena opens in 1975.


Chief Justice Warren Burger writes to the school newspaper staff recalling his days as a Courier editor.


The Johnson volleyball team wins the state AA championship at the Met Sports Center.


The basketball team wins the city championship title, but loses in the regional finals to Woodbury.


The volleyball team wins third place in the state championship. The hockey team qualifies for the state tournament for the first time in 13 years.


Johnson wins the city hockey title for the 25th time in 50 years.


Johnson is only the second school in the state to adopt the four-period day to help with overcrowding.


Johnson student Shawn Pogreba is named St. Paul’s Male Athlete of the Year.


Johnson receives its own "Hip-Hop Snoopy".


Johnson receives its own "East Side Pride" Charlie Brown.

Reprinted with permission from the East Side Review.
Originally published in 1997.