Originally created 12/16/00

'Spooky' school will close Tuesday



Amber Cobern was a little nervous about attending Houghton Elementary School this year.

She'd heard the stories.

"They said Mr. Houghton pushed kids down the steps," said the fourth-grader, referring to the school's late namesake.

John W. Houghton, after whom the Greene Street school was named, died in 1851 and is entombed in the school's foyer.

Needless to say, with a dead man on campus, ghost stories run rampant.

"When you close a door, it sounds like five," said Amber, who admits to running down the hallways frightened on more than one occasion.

Margaret Whaley, however, is a skeptic.

"I've heard tales of his ghost walking around, but I've never seen him," said the fifth-grade teacher, who has been at the school since 1983.

Ghost or not, the halls at Houghton Elementary will be a lot quieter next week. The 84-year-old school will close its doors forever Tuesday as the pupil populations of Craig and Houghton elementary schools merge under the roof of the newly constructed Craig-Houghton Elementary School on Fourth Street.

The public is invited to take a final tour of the old school from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

In his will, Mr. Houghton bequeathed $4,000 to the Augusta City Council to start a free school for poor children. Houghton Institute opened in 1851 but was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1916, along with more than 700 downtown buildings.

The second school, designed by noted Augusta architect Lloyd Preacher, was constructed the same year. Mr. Houghton's remains were moved from his Gracewood farm and reinterred beneath the tile floor of the foyer beyond the wrought iron gates. On the wall above the site is a plaque dedicated to his memory.

The school's tall ceilings, echoing hallways and creaking hardwood floors add to its mystique and probably spawned a few of the spooky tales.

Principal William Holmes said he makes sure the doors are locked on the weekends if he's in the school, as it can get a little spooky when there are no pupils around.

"In old buildings, you hear everything - the floors creaking," he said.

The school board doesn't have any plans for the old building yet, Mr. Holmes said. While the school has seen some wear and tear, including some water damage, Mr. Holmes said the building is structurally sound, and he hopes some use can be found for the building.

"All it needs is a roof," he said. "With a new roof on it, that building is good to go from now on."

As for Mr. Houghton's final resting place, it will remain the same for now.

To move the body would require the school board to find any heirs of Mr. Houghton and seek their permission, said Donald Porter, the school board's spokesman.

If you go

A final tour of John W. Houghton Elementary School will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The school will close Tuesday.

Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at (803) 441-6927.