The opening of James Ford Rhodes six-year high school at the beginning of the school term, February, 1932 marked a big step in South Brooklyn’s progress. The first senior high school built in South Brooklyn was a modern adaptation of Italian Renaissance architecture. The site for the new school was originally purchased on September 16th, 1920, with an additional purchase to the site made on November 25, 1935. Both purchases were made from the Lutheran Cemetery. The total cost of the purchases and construction of the school was $79,640.00. After much consideration, it was recommended by the Cleveland Board of Education on June 23, 1930, that the school would be named James Ford Rhodes High School in honor of the Cleveland industrialist and historian. Rhodes High is located approximately seven miles southwest of downtown Cleveland in the area known as Old South Brooklyn.The first faculty members at James Ford Rhodes High School were experienced teachers who were transferred from Lincoln, Glenville, West Technical, Brooklyn Heights, Thomas Edison, john Marshall, East, and Brownell High Schools as well as from Patrick Henry, Nathan Hale, Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Audubon Junior High Schools. Teachers were also transferred from Dawning William Rainey, Harper, Benjamin Franklin, and Harvard Elementary Schools. The first principal of James Ford Rhodes was Neil C. Matthews, who actually served twice as principal of the school. In 1979 Rhodes had its first female principal in Frances Nugent. Ms. Nugent was not just the first female principal at Rhodes, but the first female principal of any senior high in the Cleveland Public School System.Rhodes High School first opened with a student population of 1,466. For the first year, Rhodes was a combination junior and senior high school, but on February 1, 1933, it was changed to a four year senior high school. The seventh and eighth graders were moved to Benjamin Franklin and William Rainey Harper Elementary Schools. It was also in 1933 that grass and trees were planted, and the outside flanks of the school were leveled, graded, graveled, and turned into a playground.
The football and athletic field, with a cylinder running track surrounding it was dedicated in September, 1933. The first football game held at the new Rhodes Field was played on September 23, 1933, with an audience of 4,000 spectators. The Rhodes Rams (so named after the nationally famous Cleveland Rams football team) were playing against the Lincoln High Presidents. Unfortunately, Rhodes lost by a score of 7 to 3.In the spring of 1936, the auditorium was started as a result of the Federal Works Progress Administration, which was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program. The auditorium was completed in January 1937, and it was dedicated to the memory of former principal, Albert G. Eldredge. At that time, three new rooms were also added to the original building giving the school a total of forty-six rooms.Jesse Owens liked to work-out on the Rhodes track, and after winning the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, he was presented three oak trees by the German government under Adolf Hitler. During a football game in 1936, Jesse Owens dedicated one of the trees from the Black Forest of Germany to Rhodes High School. The tree still stands in the courtyard in back of the south football stands.
One of the most gratifying projects at Rhodes was the underground track. In 1936, this area was filled with dirt with only a crawl space between the ceiling and the ground. In 1936, 1937, and 1938, the track team and other volunteers, many of them paid thirty cents an hour by the Youth Administration of the Federal Government, started to dig the dirt out of the basement. E.J. Holden, the track coach, spent many Saturdays working to build this track. Another person who supported this project and saw it through to completion was the assistant principal, Mr. William Bryan. Mr. Bryan had boys take two wheelbarrows of dirt out for every detention they received. In 1938, the Works Progress Administration of the “New Deal” came in and did the cement work. The track was opened for the first underground track meet in 1939.
Another addition to the original building was made in 1947, when the Girls’ Gym was constructed. It was opened on January 5, 1948, for the girls’ physical education classes.
In 1964, the ninth grade was moved to Charles A. Mooney Junior High, and Rhodes became a three year high school. Between 1965 and 1967, the school was remodeled. This remodeling was seen in the various offices and the exterior entrances, as well as in the classrooms. The remodeling included the installation of three boilers, a meter house, an incinerator, lockers, office counters and files, blackboards and tackboards, steel shelving, modernized lighting and electrical work.
With enrollment increasing in the sixties, a new gymnasium was constructed in 1971, at the west end of the building. The gymnasium addition included a faculty parking lot underneath. The old gymnasium became three classrooms: an auto shop, electricity shop, and a business machines laboratory.
In February, 1973, the new Media Center was completed and dedicated to J.J. Stillinger, a former principal. The old library was made into two classrooms and an office complex. In 1975 cement bleachers and locker rooms were added to the south side of Rhodes Field and two tennis courts were installed.In May of 2016, the Cleveland Browns announced the installation of a synthetic turn football field in James F. Rhodes Stadium. The stadium was one of five CMSD sites to receive the upgrade courtesy of Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the Cleveland Browns. On September 28, 2016, Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr., Defensive Back Don Jones, and Cleveland Browns mascot Chomps joined CMSD CEO Eric Gordon, City of Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelly, Ward 13 Cleveland Muny Football League teams, as well as coaches and representatives of James F. Rhodes High School, for a short dedication ceremony.In December 2016, it was announced that two small schools will share James Ford Rhodes High School. One of the Rhodes schools will center on environmental studies; offer course and fieldwork experiences in life sciences, social sciences and business; and partner with institutions such as the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. A community team will recommend a theme for the other school based on labor market trends, potential community partnerships and student demand and needs.