During the demolition of the Girls’ High School at the corner of 4th and Court Streets in September 1961, Peter Zuk, president of Zuk Lumber & Demolition Co., Inc. of Belvidere, N.J., whose business had been hired to tear down the old school, received a special request.

Zuk received a request to attempt to remove, intact, the cast head of a girl which adorned the central hall on the first floor of the building.

Below: Sculptured Heads Removed From School.

Mrs. Jessie Alexander

In a letter, Dr. R. William Alexander explained that the architect for the building was his grandfather, Alexander Forbes Smith, who had replicas of his oldest daughter’s head used for the decoration. The head was repeated at the top of four pillars supporting the ceiling of the central hall. Actually, there were two different heads on the pillars, apparently of different children, although they could represent the same child in two poses.

As a youth, Dr. Alexander had accompanied his grandfather on many trips around town—the town that the grandfather had helped to build.  Alexander Forbes Smith was the architect of the school building and many other prominent and distinguished buildings throughout the City. Among them, the conversion of the second Boys’ High into the present City Hall building, Northeast, Northwest and Southwest Junior High schools, the Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery, the 1901 addition to Dives, Pomeroy & Stewart Department Store at Sixth and Penn, the B & J Saylor Inc. building, the Baer Building, the bandstand at Reading City Park, and 27 Reading churches.

On one occasion, the grandfather stood in the central hall of the Girls’ High School with his grandson and pointed to the decorative tops of the pillars far above them.

“That is your mother,” Smith told the boy. The grandfather explained how he had supplied the model for the school’s builder, who undoubtedly wanted to symbolize the girl student for whom education was still relatively new. Dr. Alexander’s mother was Mrs. Jessie Forbes Smith Alexander.

Below: The little girl on the left was the model for the image on the right which decorated the top of four pillars. The photograph, taken in the 1890’s, was provided by Mrs. Jessie Alexander.

Mrs. Jessie Alexander

In November 1961, two workers on the demolition of the former 4th and Court streets school building retrieved the child’s heads intact from the tops of the hallway pillars to present them to Dr. R. William Alexander.  The precise composition of the heads, whether stone, cement, or plaster, was unclear.

The Reading School District became a penny richer when the cornerstone of the former Girls’ High School reached the stone in November 9, 1961. A blackened, 1895 Indian head penny rested under two bricks mortared into a recess in the top of the stone. There was no sealed metal box, no message from the school board of 1895, no fragile newspapers, no list of board members. Just the penny.


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