North High History

Read a brief history of North High School and photos of the campus from yesteryear and today.

North High History

The pre-Denver town of Highland (now the North Denver/Highlands neighborhood) was served by a single school, the Ashland school, built in 1872 and located on 15th and Central Street. Responding to a rapidly growing population, Highland started its own high school in 1883. Although Highland was not part of Denver, the high school was part of the Denver Public School system and served Denverites as well as Highlanders. The school met on the second floor of Ashland Elementary and was named Denver North Side High School. North was the first Denver public high school to officially use a directional name.  The school quickly outgrew the first building and was razed in 1888 to make way for a majestic new Ashland located on the grounds of the present Valdez Elementary School.

The original Denver North Side High School boasted a single teacher for all grades. The first Denver North Side class of 6 students graduated in 1886. The class was entirely female, and earned a class average (98%) that has yet to be bested by any following graduating class.

When Highland joined the town of Denver in 1896, the high school saw a large increase in students. The cornerstone was laid in 1909 for a grand, Beaux Arts style building which was completed in 1911 to accommodate the growing school. The school took Denver North High School as its name, dropping the “Side.” The other directional high schools would later follow suit.

The school bordered Highland Park. In 1913 an annex west of the building was added to house various shop and home economics classes. In the 1920s, during Mayor Speer’s “City Beautiful” project, North High School was determined large and beautiful enough that it did not need to be rebuilt during, as East High and other schools were. The North High building is the oldest high school building in Denver and one of oldest school buildings.  In 1957 an east wing for physical education classes, including a pool, was built. In 1980 to 1983 a major interior remodeling and addition was done, including new auditorium, cafeteria, atrium lobby, offices and classrooms. In 2010-11, a $35 million renovation and restoration was completed, including a new library, the largest in DPS. A smaller gymnasium and locker room remodeling project was competed in the fall of 2019.

The North High School building is as striking today in the modern North Denver as it was when it opened its doors well over 130 years ago. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, prominent Denver architects Merrill Hoyt and Burnham Hoyt, Colorado historian Caroline Bancroft and Denver lawyer Steve Farber are among North High School’s notable alumni. The flag of the City and County of Denver was designed by North High student Margaret Overbeck and adopted in 1926.

Did You Know?

The City of Denver flag was designed by North High student Margaret Overbeck. In the early 1920s, the Sons of the American Revolution sponsored a contest to select a Denver flag design by offering a $25 prize for the winning entry. Another $25 was added to the prize amount by the city council to make the total prize $50. The Denver Art Commission, chosen as the judges for the contest, selected Margaret Overbeck’s design out of 150 entries. She was a student at North High School. It was not until 1926 that Denver adopted Overbeck’s flag design as the official Denver flag.

Denver Flag in 1926 designed by Margaret Overbeck

History and Notable Alumni of North High

$35 Million Renovations of the Historic 1911 Building

Watch a video of the July 29, 2011 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $35 million renovations of the historic 1911 Building. You’ll also be able to get a peek inside our beautiful school and watch the dedication of the Ginn Family Library and the Paul Sandoval Lecture Hall.

NHS est. 1883
North High School, Est. 1883. North’s landmark main classroom building was completed in 1911
Ashland Elementary School, 1872-1888
1st Home of North High – 2nd floor of the original Ashland Elementary School, (1872-1888) Denver Public Library History Department
Ashland School, 1888-1976
2nd Ashland School building 1888-1976. 2nd location of North High (until 1911)
NHS historical building
Students in front of NHS
NHS building present day
One of the stunning murals found in the original main entrance. The murals were added in the 1940s and painted by Frank “Pancho” Gates. Well known for painting theater backdrops for the Central City Opera House and Elitch Gardens, Gates began exhibiting his work at the Denver Art Museum in the 1930s. The murals were restored during the 2010-11 $35 million renovation/restoration of North High.
Main lobby
North High Main Lobby
NHS Aquatic Center
North High School Pool
North High School Gymnasium
Speer Blvd. entrance
Speer Blvd. Entrance
North High Library – a brand new facility thanks to the $35 million 2010-11 renovation
North High Library
Astronomy classroom
Astronomy Classroom with unique roof open to the skies above
Science classroom labs
State-of-the-art Science Classroom Labs