Following the Civil War, it was determined that the need existed for a public school system in Frankfort. An act of the state legislature established the Frankfort City Schools on Feb 27, 1867. The new school was built with $29, 800 from the Lottery Fund established some 25 years earlier. Property was purchased from Judge Drane on Second Street and the new school opened Oct. 8, 1868 with an enrollment of 171 students. Professor S.P. Browder served as the first superintendent.
In 1882, Prof. Browder saw a need to educate the African-American children in Frankfort and he established the Clinton Street School (image courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society). The original Second Street building burned on Dec 7, 1885. The new building opened in 1886. The new building was constructed large enough to accommodate a high school and in Jan of 1889, Frankfort High School began. The first graduating class from Frankfort High was in 1892. That first graduating class consisted of Sarah Walcutt Grant, Georgia Payne, Virginia Newton, Bonnie Hockensmith, Florence French, Ada Belle Rupe, and Annie Belle Magill. Also in 1892, the Frankfort City Schools became the first school in Kentucky to offer kindergarten. A new building was added on the Second Street property to house kindergarten thru 4th grade. This building closed when the new high school was built on Shelby St. in 1925.
In 1929, Mayo-Underwood School replaced Clinton Street School as the school for African-American students. Mayo-Underwood produced many outstanding students and athletes until it closed fully in 1963.
For many years there were multiple elementary schools in the district. Besides Second Street, there were elementary schools in Bellepoint, Wilkinson Street, Murray Street and Holmes Street. Bellepoint Elementary operated from 1900 until 1972. Wilkinson Street Elementary was in existence from 1900 until 1970. Holmes Street Elementary operated from 1912 to 1972. Murray Street School was in use from 1912 until 1971.
The new FHS building was built in 1925 at a cost of nearly $114,000. Up until the current FHS building was constructed, graduation exercises were held at the Opera House.
The Frankfort City Schools operated free much state oversight until 1918 when J.W. Ireland became superintendent. They kept very few records and destroyed minutes of meetings when they were deemed unnecessary.
In 1905, a commercial department was added to the FHS curriculum. This business school operated as a school within a school at the high school. In 1909 a full 4 year curriculum was added to FHS.
No history of the Frankfort City Schools is complete without mentioning the three "grand old men", Harry McChesney, Thomas Rogers and Fred Sutterlin. These 3 legends served a total of 94 years on the Frankfort Schools Board of Education. These 3 men served the Frankfort City Schools from the early years until nearly 1960. The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair saw Frankfort High School named one of the top schools in America.
Desegregation came to the Frankfort Schools in 1956. Kermit Williams became the first African-American athlete to take the field as a Panther football player. LIFE magazine covered the event as Kermit scored 2 touchdowns to lead the team to a win over Mt. Sterling as a cross burned on the hill over Bellepoint. 1956 saw the opening of the new gym on Ewing St. The new gym was one of the best in the state. The first game in the new gym was not a Panther game though. The first game was an exhibition by the Harlem Globetrotters. In order to sell tickets, seat numbers were painted on the bleachers. Those numbers are still there today. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held a rally in the FHS gym following his historic march on the Capitol in 1964.
Cassius Clay visited FHS following his gold medal win in the 1960 Olympics.
FHS has had over 10 National Merit Scholarship winners.
Twice in the last 7 years, FHS has been named a Silver Medal school by U.S. News and World Report.
In 2018, the Southern Regional Education Board named FHS one of the top 6 schools in the country for innovation.
In 2016, FHS became the first high school in the country to implement the Summit Learning System on a school wide basis. Districts from across the Commonwealth have visited FHS to learn more about the cutting edge platform has changed how students become empowered to learn on their terms.