HUNTINGTON -- Union Gen. John Hunt Oley was elected recorder and treasurer in the new city of Huntington's first election. As recorder, he was in charge of the city's schools and is considered the father of public education in Huntington.
A native of New York, Oley enlisted as a private in the New York State Militia. In the fall of 1861, by now a major, he was posted to duty in what would become the new state of West Virginia. He fought with distinction at the Battle of Droop Mountain in 1863 and in 1865 was appointed Brevet Brigadier-General. After the war, Oley stayed on in Charleston.
In 1871, Oley moved to the fledgling community of Huntington, where Collis P. Huntington employed him as an agent for his Central Land Co.
In 1888, the city erected a modern brick school building at 5th Avenue and 13th Street. Because Gen. Oley died as the building was nearing completion, it was decided to name it in his honor. This sketch shows the building as it appeared in the 1890s.
Later, the city's first high school building was constructed just east of the elementary school and ultimately the two structures were connected. When the new Huntington High School was built on 8th Street in 1916, the first high school was designated Oley Junior High School.
Both Oley Elementary and Oley Junior High were much altered over the years. They both closed in 1977 and were demolished two years later. (A modern gym at the junior high, built in the 1950s, is still standing.) Initially the vacant, block-long property was acquired by nearby River Park Hospital. Later, it was purchased by St. Joseph Catholic High School.
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