History of Ridgefield Park High School

by George Fosdick, RPHS '59

The High School Department in the Ridgefield Park Public School system, (then officially designated Overpeck Township Public Schools), was established in 1904 in School No. 1, later known as Washington Irving School, at Hobart Street and Euclid Avenue.  Earlier public education in the Village had begun in 1880, with elementary school classes being conducted on the upper floor of Shiel’s Store, Lincoln Avenue and Park Street, a building which still stands.  In 1886, School No. 1 was constructed and with an addition provided in 1904, space was provided on the third floor for the High School Department.  The cornerstone for this 1904 addition is today located in the High School Monument in Fellowship Park on Hobart Street.

From 1904 to 1912, high school classes were conducted in School No. 1.  From 1912 to January, 1918, high school classes took place in School No. 2, a wooden structure at Hackensack Avenue and Eighth Street, across from what is now Lincoln School.

In January, 1918, students entered Washington High School and although the name Washington High School was chiseled into the stone at the top of the rotunda entrance at Bergen Avenue and Hobart Street, the name ‘Washington’ which earlier had been selected by the students in a popular vote, never really gained acceptance and the building quickly was known as Ridgefield Park High School and, most commonly as R.P.H.S.

In 1927, the boys’ gym and auditorium/science wings were added and the building was connected to Washington Irving School, which continued to function as an elementary school. 

With the opening of R.P.H.S. in 1918, a full range of academic, athletic, and activity offerings were part of the curriculum and RPHS quickly earned the reputation as one of the finest schools in the area.  Many of the faculty who began their tenure with the opening of the building continued teaching into the 1950’s and 60’s. 

Graduates of RPHS have achieved distinction in many areas.  Among those who rose to national prominence are Ozzie Nelson ‘23, a radio and television performer who often mentioned his RPHS experiences on his radio and television programs.  Bud Lewis ‘37 was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay Aircraft which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, leading to the end of World War II, a war in which over 1,000 RPHS graduates served.  Many years later, when questioned about his role in WWII, Lewis commented, “I would rather be remembered for being a member of RPHS’ Championship Football Team than for being the co-pilot of that plane.” 

In September, 1953, students from Little Ferry began attending RPHS, an association which continues to this day. 

By the 1960’s, RPHS was in need of new facilities and the building was over-crowded.  Indeed, overcrowding resulted in high school classes returning to Washington Irving School, where they had last been in 1912.  Following approval by the voters in 1965, the present facility was opened for education in September, 1967.  Students from the 7th and 8th Grades became part of the student body in 1989, and the building became known as Ridgefield Park Junior/Senior High School. 

Since high school classes began 100 years ago, over 15,000 students have graduated RPHS.  The Alumni Association was formed in 1985 in connection with the observance of the Village’s Tercentennial.  RPHS graduates are in all parts of the world, and are involved in various endeavors.  Affection for RPHS remains strong.