JP Stevens: A Biography

By MATT LEE, senior

John P. Stevens High School first opened in the autumn of 1964. At the time, it was commissioned because Edison’s population was growing too fast for Edison High School. The town had changed its name from Raritan just ten years before, after a public vote chose the name “Edison” over “Nixon.”

Despite walking through JP’s hallways every day, most students hardly know anything about the history of this school. Some of us might be able to tell stories about the years when our football team won States. Yet even that story, from less than twelve years ago, seems like a distant memory.

In fact, most students have no idea why the school was built or who the elusive John P. Stevens really was. I have often heard teachers talk about how Mr. Stevens was a rich businessman who donated land to the school and that the Edison Board of Education
named the school after him as a token of gratitude. But, then again, I have also heard that there is a pool on the third floor (hey freshmen, it really does exist!).

In my search for the truth, I asked the Edison BOE to provide me with exact documentation. If the school had been given land by the wealthy John P. Stevens there would be a record of the property transaction. Meeting minutes from 1961, however, made no mention of this donation; the first mention of the land was as “a site on Grove Avenue for a Senior High School,” but the property was negotiated from township land and bought from private property, not donated.

In fact, there was never a mention of any donation. The New York Times published an  obituary after John P. Stevens’ death honoring his many accomplishments, but never once mentioned that he gave land to the Edison Township. In a BOE resolution, Mr. Stevens was
also thanked for his many deeds for the township, but the donation of land for our school was not one of them. Although Mr. Stevens was a famous figure, there is no evidence that he ever, as we all believed, donated land to our high school.

On January 14, 1964, the Board of Education received a letter from the contractor of the building asking for the name of the school. At first, the school was going to be named after the recently assassinated president, John F. Kennedy.This notion, however, was turned down after the board pointed out that a nearby school in Iselin was to have that name. Another suggestion was to name the school after the John P. Stevens. Unanimously agreed upon, the resolution passed the same day. 

The members probably didn’t realize that the school they had just named would later see one of its students go space, play in the the NFL, or put a writer in TIME Magazine.They probably also didn’t imagine that the school would thrive almost fifty years later with one of the best music programs in the state, one of the best Model UN teams in the nation, and academic talents that rival those of chartered private schools. But on that January board meeting almost half a century ago, the members of the Edison BOE wrote a letter back to the building contractor with a new name. And with that letter, our high school’s history began.

Next Edition: Who Was John P. Stevens?

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