With the coming of the I&GN Railway in 1872, the need grew and the demand for public free schools was voiced. The issue became a warm one. Large numbers of even leading citizens, opposed free schools on the ground of unfairness to tax payers who had no children. The election to decide whether Palestine should assume control of the schools within its limits and "establish and carry on a system of public free schools," was held March 5, 1881. Defeat by thirteen votes, resulted. The advocates for the measure, however were not dismayed. Another election was called for May 13, same year, when the tables were turned-172 votes cast for the measure, fifty-four against, assured the victory for the free schools.
The Palestine Female College property was transferred to the Board of Trustees of the public schools, and Prof. W. C. Coleman employed as the first Superintendent of the Palestine Public Schools which opened their first session in the fall of 1881. Prof. McGuire was Superintendent 1884-5. Prof. J. E. Rogers succeeded him in 1885, serving till 1889. The school had grown so that a larger building was necessary.
In 1887, Mayor Lacy appointed a committee composed of A. W. Gregg, J. N. Link, C. A. Sterne to investigate matter. On November 4, 1887, this committee reported that City Council had agreed on the erection of a new school building to cost $25,000. The old minutes recording this news were signed: H. C. Swanson, President, and C. A. Sterne, *Secretary. The building was constructed by Geo. A. Wright, contractor, and was ready for use in 1888. The dedication was delivered by Dr. Oscar H. Cooper, State Superintendent Public Instruction. Palestine Lodge A. F. and A. M. laid the corner stone. The building was the same which the Junior High has replaced. Marble slabs taken from the building, bear following inscriptions:
Board of Trustees: A. W. Gregg, President; C. A. Sterne, Secretary; N. R. Royall, Treasurer; A. Teah, J. F. Pells, V. H. Swift, W. M. Lacy, J. N. Link.
Original Building Committee: W. M. Lacy, Mayor; S. A. McMeans, City Attorney; Dan Egbert, Secretary;' G. M. Dilley, J. Amson, P. J. Anderson, Aldermen; L. G. Allred, Superintendent Building.
These slabs are today preserved in the wall of the library of the Junior High School building.
The school enrollment for 1888-9 was: whites, 523; colored, 175; total 698. Average annual salary of teachers was $495.00.
Superintendents of schools:
W. C. Coleman 1881-4
Prof. McGuire 1884-5
J. E. Rogers 1885-9
L. S. Hayes 1889-90
P. S. Halleck, May to June 1890
E. M. Pace 1890-3
P. V. Pennybacker 1893-9
C. H. Davenport, Feb. to June 1899
D. C. Lake 1899-1902
W. B. Galloway, clerk, March to June 1902
W. F. Wilson 1902-5
Walker King 1905-13
Bonner Frizzell 1913