In September of 1873, the City of Newport opened its first 'higher' school with a classical course which met the requirements of liberal arts colleges, a science curriculum and a general set of studies "open to persons of either sex".
The school was temporarily located on Clarke Street while the finishing touches were put on a new building located on Church Street. Funding for the school was provide by William Sanford Rogers. Mr. Rogers bequeathed $90,000 "to be appropriated solely to the support of teachers of the higher qualifications" and $10,000 to be applied toward a new building and purchase of land for that building.
The first Rogers High School was designed by George C. Mason & Son in the "Venetian Gothic" style. William C. Irish and Nathan Barker were the builders.
The school housed an observatory tower with a four-inch The first headmaster Frederick W. Tilton had been superintendent of schools in Newport and taught briefly at the famous Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He received a salary of $3,500 to open and preside over the new high school. Another teacher from Phillips Academy, Mr. Frank Edgar Thompson, had been recruited to be submaster at Rogers. Mr. Thompson succeeded Mr. Tilton in 1890 and served as headmaster for 32 years.
The capacity of Rogers High School on Church Street was 100 students. By 1896 classrooms bulged with 50 to 60 students apiece and academic failures were frequent. In 1905 the school had 360 pupils but graduated only 29, evidence that "dropouts" were a serious problem. It was decided something had to be done to give Rogers High School a new life.
By the end of the 19th century a move to a new location on Broadway was in the works. Another dedicated Newporter, Miss Ellen Townsend had died in 1886 and left her estate on Broadway to the city. The voters appropriated $38,000 to build a new industrial school on Miss Townsend's land.
The Townsend Industrial School was opened in 1894 to young people not destined for a "classical" or scientific education at Rogers. There was room in the building for commercial classes to move over from the high school on Church Street.
With the aid of a $68,000 endowment from Mrs. Elizabeth U. Coles, the School Committee in 1903 opened the Coles Science Laboratory near the Townsend building. Laboratory equipment, rivaling that in any college, was bought with the gifts from Professor Alexander Agassiz. The high school established a large library after receiving a gift of $10,000 from George H. Norman.
The Church Street school remained in operation until December 1905 when all students began classes at the Broadway location. The Church street school became a grammar school. It was renamed Thayer School after the Reverend Dr. Thayer a friend and former school committeeman who was said to have been instrumental in Mr. Rogers education bequest.
From 1914 to 1920, upper classmen at Rogers were required to take military training. They formed the historic corps of Rogers Cadets, predating the Reserve Officers Training Corps junior unit that was established by the army in 1935.
On March 15, 1920 fire wrecked the interior of the new Rogers building. Students were forced to shift their classes to Townsend and to the John Clarke School on Mary Street. The interior or Rogers was rebuilt and its pupils were able to return the following February.
Enrollment now, 850, forced the citizens of Newport to consider an additional building of Rogers. A proposal for a new building was passed on a second try. Construction began in April 1921. The "new building" - it kept that name for years- had the city's largest auditorium, in which the first group of seniors held graduation exercises in 1922.
The Townsend building was open day and night, holidays included for nearly two years at the beginning of World War II. Classes were held around the clock to train 3,000 persons for jobs at the Torpedo Station on Goat Island. During 1942 undergraduates made parts and tools for the Torpedo Station.
A postwar decision was made that another new home was needed for Rogers High School. A building commission, headed by Dr. Samuel Adelson was formed. It took five years to pick a site and plan the third new Rogers. A 40-acre rocky tract off Wickham Road which was the "Battery O'Shea" of an anti-aircraft unit during World War II was chosen. A New York architectural firm, Kelly & Gruzen designed a high school unlike any New England had ever seen. Instead of an orthodox brick pile intended to look colonial, Rogers High School No. 3 was to sweep boldly over the slope in a connected series of glass and porcelain-steel facades, splashed with bright colors. The largest high school basketball arena in the state and an auditorium with tilted concrete dome were two of the many features that set Newport buzzing.
Ground was broken on April 5, 1955, and school was opened in September, 1957, for 1, 216 pupils although construction continued. Seven years later five new classrooms were built to fill in the space beneath the business education wing. In 1968 a new shop building was completed at a cost of $875,000 in state funds to help accommodate the Newport Area Vocational Technical Program that was established in 1966.
Text Edited from the Rogers High School Centennial Year Program article written by James T. Kaull, Class of 1938