Madison Street neighbor Linda Winchester recently posed an interesting question about a bit of King William history. She was told by an old friend of her father’s that he remembered living in the 100 block of Madison Street as a child. He also remembered that his mother walked him across the street to a French private girls’ school, which he was allowed to attend until he was six years old.
The man’s childhood home no longer exists, but Maria Pfeiffer identified the school as Bonn-Avon School at 117 Madison. She says that the school was named after the birthplaces of Beethoven and Shakespeare.
According to Mary Burkholder’s 1977 book, The King William Area: A History and Guide to the Houses, 117 Madison was a wedding gift to Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Mc- Daniel from the bride’s father, Colonel Gibbs. The property included several deep lots extending all the way from Madison to King William Street. The bride and groom moved into their grand house in 1896.
After his wife died in the 1920s, Dr. Mc- Daniel converted the carriage house into a duplex and moved into one of the apartments, where he lived until 1931. The duplex was later renumbered as 132 King William Street, extensively remodeled over the years, and is the current home of the San Antonio Art Museum.
In 1929, the Bonn-Avon School moved to 117 Madison Street. Julia Catherine Hall, a St. Mary’s Hall science teacher, had founded the school in 1904 on Avenue C, where it began as an all-girls school. After Hall’s death in 1914, one of the teachers, Carrie Jo Estes, became head of the school.
According to Express-News columnist Paula Allen, newspaper and city directory advertisements through the 1910s say the school offered boarding and day students courses in history, English, singing and violin, as well as “special advantages in music, art expression and dancing.”
Among the school’s 1908 graduates was Mary Milby Giles, daughter of famed architect Alfred Giles. In 1915, Mary Giles married Adolph Guenther Beckmann, grandson of the Pioneer Flour Mill founder.
After studying art in New York City, Eleanor Onderdonk, sister of the more famous Julian, returned to San Antonio in 1915 to teach at Bonn-Avon School.
Allen quotes Camille Sweeney Rosengren, a 1930s alumna, as saying that Bonn- Avon’s heyday as a prestigious girl’s school probably was in the 1910s and early 1920s. After the school moved to the King William neighborhood, it became co-ed and shifted to a more progressive curriculum to include interpretive movement, conversational French, current events, geography and history. Literature classes were held in the library, “lined with books that nobody kept track of,” says Rosengren. “You just took what you wanted and brought the book back when you were finished.” Bonn-Avon students performed Shakespeare’s plays and played baseball in the yard where the school kept chickens.
After almost 20 years on Madison Street, Estes sold the property in 1948 and moved her school to 427 E. Guenther where it continued to operate into the 1950s. Meanwhile, Florence McDermott, the new owner of 117 Madison, turned the house into a nursing home that operated for the next several years. When George and Daigue Gilligan bought the house from Ed Hartman in 1981, it had been used as apartments for about 25 years. It continued as apartments until the Gilligans moved into the house in 1994 and began its restoration.