Looking Back: The many faces of Barnum

Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 6, 2021

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BIRMINGHAM — With great facilities comes great responsibility.

When Barnum Junior High School got a new cafeteria as a part of the 1954 addition to the building, students were delighted. Moving meals out of the gym meant that there were more physical education classes available and a more pleasant environment for eating lunch.

To ensure that mealtimes ran efficiently and students kept the new space clean and tidy, they enlisted help from the student population to serve as hosts. This yearbook photo shows the volunteers for first-hour lunch in1958.

This wasn’t the first or last time an addition was built onto the school. In 1912 the building opened with only eight rooms to house first through sixth graders of the booming Birmingham Public Schools district. A growing population of families necessitated additions built in the 1930s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. These additions not only provided more breathing room for the students but also increased academic amenities. For example, a new science wing was added in the early 1960s and gave students access to chemistry labs, and welding and industrial arts equipment.

In 1942, Barnum became the district’s junior high and remained a junior high/middle school until it was retired by the BPS Board of Education in 1976.

Next, it became the Birmingham Center for Continuing Education until 1981. Then the space was shared between the district, Beaumont hospital and the city of Birmingham. Residents of Birmingham pushed hard to get it back exclusively into city hands and turn it into something that would benefit the whole community.

In 2008, the building was demolished by the city, and residents successfully pushed to establish a park in its place. Several elements of the old building, including the entryway and smokestack, remain in the park, and the school’s Flint Faience Tile Co. storybook fireplace has been preserved in the Birmingham Museum.


— Caitlin Donnelly, museum specialist at the Birmingham Museum

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