Trenton's Abandoned Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School
There’s surprisingly little information available online about the abandoned Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Trenton aside from news of the tragic conclusion to its story. It originally opened in 1916 as Trenton Junior High No. 1, and was the first junior high school on the east coast of the United States. Construction had taken two years and cost approximately $260,000. The school was intended to serve 120 students and help relieve overcrowding in the city’s other schools. According to one source the opening was delayed due to a polio outbreak. Collegiate Gothic, a popular architectural style in schools and colleges ranging from Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania and draws influences from Gothic and Tudor buildings, was selected to highlight the new junior high’s proud academic ambitions.
Sadly, this is where accessible information about its history seems to dead end. It was renamed the Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in 1990, and the only other item about is a notice about an investigation into the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation dumping construction materials between the middle school and its neighbor, the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, without proper care to ensure that dust didn’t enter the schools. The materials, which contained concrete aggregate, pesticides, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), were dumped from May 2004 to February 2005, during several months where classes were in session. PAHs are created from burning coal, gas, wood, or other materials, and exposure increases rates of lung, bladder, and skin cancers. PCBs have been used in a wide range of products including dyes, insulation, paints, plastic, and rubbers, and were banned in 1979. They’re considered probable carcinogens, and studies have indicated that they cause a wide range of health issues in humans and a much broader and more frightening range in animals although studies are still ongoing whether they have the same effects on humans. Regardless, none of these are materials you would particularly want your children exposed to, either by attending a school on a property that was filled with them or by the careless procedures that placed them there.
Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School was closed shortly afterwards in 2007, and while plans were proposed to turn it into senior housing, it sat vacant until May 15, 2023, when it burned. The suspected cause was arson, and five teenagers were seen running out of the building shortly before the flames were noticed by neighbors. The five-alarm fire took over 60 firefighters nearly 24 hours to fully extinguish and damaged homes of residents nearby. During the blaze the roof and third floor collapsed. The fate of the building, now nearly gutted, remains uncertain, but it is likely that it will be considered unsalvageable and demolished. It’s a waste of an historic and beautiful building, but not entirely surprising given the fate of so many other abandoned schools, and echoes the sad story of Philadelphia’s former Thomas Edison High School, another significant public investment that was left to rot until arson destroyed it and it was ultimately razed.
Matthew Christopher NJ Ewing Township Aug 17, 2023 Abandoned Places History
Location: Ewing Township, NJ
Matthew Christopher Aug 17, 2023
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