Liz Holler grew up in Chatham and is the "go to" person when it comes to Chatham's history. The Chatham Historical Society asked Liz to write a story about the 1911 graduating class, the first class to graduate from the newly accredited Chatham High School, in honor of the 100th class of 2011.
The year was 1911. Six Chatham young people stared solemnly into the camera. The boys were decked out in their dress suits with high starched collars. The girls wore long lacey dresses. These six teens were the first graduates of the newly accredited Chatham High School. Their names were: Grover Cleveland McCullough (Class President), Olland Sampson Lees, Harriet Peloubet, Hilda Monteith, Jennie Smith, and Fredrick Pihlman.
The Chatham these graduates grew up in was vastly different from the Chatham we know in 2011. Horse and buggies and carriages traveled through the town. The train tracks were flat. A number of greenhouses, scattered throughout town, were in full operation. Instead of King’s Supermarket or ShopRite, residents did their grocery shopping at N. Kelley & Son on Main Street or Hatton’s Market on So. Passaic Ave. One of the controversial issues in town was whether trolley cars should be allowed to run down Main Street. Eventually they did.
Baseball and football were popular sports at Chatham High in the early 1900s. Swimming, tobogganing, canoeing, skating, sledding, and even boxing were some of the other past-times enjoyed by local youth.
Chatham residents were very proud of their lovely newly constructed school where the high school students attended classes. Today we know this building as the Chatham Borough Municipal Building at 54 Fairmount Avenue. Many of us baby-boomers remember this building as Fairmount Ave. School.
Graduation Week 1911, mid-June, began with the six graduates-to-be gathering in the school and marching in unison up to Stanley Congregational Church for their Baccalaureate Service. The Rev. Charles Hesselgrave delivered a sermon to the young people and their families.
Class Day was the next event of the week. This gathering was held in the school auditorium (a portion of this auditorium is now the Borough Council Chambers). The Class History was present by Hilda Monteith. Fred Pihlman read the Class Prophecy. The graduates sang the class song and school song.
The “crowning day” of the week – graduation day was held on June 23, 1911 in the school auditorium. Tickets for the attendees were required. Class President Grover McCullough gave the Salutation and an essay on William Tell. His fellow graduate Olland Lees read a paper he had written about the Panama Canal. Harriet Peloubet delivered the Valedictorian Speech (you go girl!)
Dr. Willis Fletcher, an editorial writer of the NY Tribune and a member of the State Civil Service Commission, delivered a well-received address to the graduates and their guests. In his talk, Dr. Fletcher “condemned the accentuation of the materialistic”. He also spoke about “the defacement of nature’s handiwork with commercial signboards”. Yes, signage is still an issue today in Chatham.
Supervising Principal Charles A. Philhower formally presented the Class of 1911 to J.H. Macintyre, President of the Board of Education. Mr. Macintyre, in turn, presented each of the graduates with their diploma. The School Chorus concluded the ceremony with a song “Solider of Peace”.
The Class of 1911 was to meet one more time that week. The newly formed Alumni Association held its first meeting at the school and enjoyed a final dance before the graduates went their separate ways.
Like the CHS graduates of 2011, the 1911 graduates watched as an uncertain and dicey world events unfolded before them. A major world conflict was fast approaching. One of the 1911 graduates, Fred Pihlman, was to lose his life as a solider fighting in France in World War I.
We believe that all Chatham graduates whether 1911 or 2011, armed with their solid Chatham education, have helped, or will help, make this world a safer and saner place.
--Liz Holler, CHS graduate, 1971