Thursday, September 6, 2018

Benton County Schools

It's September—back to school time!  I wondered what schools were like in the circa 1920 (1914-15 to 1924-5) period covered by the Benton County Museum's current exhibition.  I consulted the museum's archives and Marlene McDonald's book, When School Bells Rang.  I was surprised to find how many school districts there were in the county (as many as 66 at one time) and how many of them were served by a single school, often with only one room for grades 1 to 8.  In rural areas, schools such as that at Aldergrove, three miles north of Hoskins, a single room school served the 10 to 30 students that lived close enough to walk or ride a horse. 

Aldergrove school, 1915
In addition to transportation issues, the cities encompassed a much smaller area circa 1920 so schools that today we might think of as in a city, were then part of separate school districts.  Examples of districts outside the Corvallis city limits of the times include Sunnyside (school near 9th and Elks Drive), Witham (school on Witham Hill beyond the cemetery), and Lincoln (in what is now south Corvallis).
Witham School, Benton County, Oregon
What also surprised me was how many students of the circa 1920 era attended school in relatively new buildings.   The districts with schools built  in 1910 to 1925 include Alpine, Auxiliary, Beaver Creek, Bellfountain, Fairplay, Fern Ridge, Fir Grove, Greenberry, Hazel Glen, Hoskins, Independent, Irish Bend, Lincoln, Monroe, Mountain View, Pleasant Valley, Roy Rickard, Devitt, Sunnyside.  In addition to building a high school in 1909, the Corvallis district added three new elementary buildings:  the 8 room South or Roosevelt School (1912), Washington or East School (now the Benton Center) in 1923-24 and Harding or West School in that same year. The Central School then became the junior high school. Philomath added the four-classroom West School in 1900 and a high school in 1911.
Philomath Public School, Benton County, Oregon
What were these schools like on the inside?
The museum's archives contain a manuscript written by Warren King that describes his time at Sunnyside School. “I started school at Sunnyside, District 45, Benton County, sometime in early September of the year 1918....It was a one room, eight class school.  As I remember, there were four rows of desks and about eight to a row with most of the smaller desks in front....The room was heated by a wood-burning heating stove.  I believe the teacher received five dollars extra a month for coming early and building the fire. The students split most of the kindling and cleaned blackboards and erasers....The restrooms were outhouses—a new one was built about 1920, but it didn't do the boys much good as the teacher assigned it to the girls and herself...”
Sunnyside School, Benton County, Oregon
City schools were somewhat different.  The archives contain several manuscripts describing Corvallis's North or Franklin School.  The school was originally built on Sixth Street in 1903 to relieve congestion at the Central School.  It was cut in half and moved to a lot across from the current Franklin School in 1909 to make room for the high school.

North School, Corvallis, Oregon
In North-Franklin School 1919-1926, Doris Wiese Thomas Dreger says “Our rooms were conducive for learning. We were comfortable from many radiators of steam heat in each room.  The furnace in the basement burned large slab wood and was fired by the janitor....Black blackboards lined two walls and part of a third.....Above the blackboards was a cork strip for posting pupils' good work, pictures, the alphabet and numbers in the lower grades, etc...Below the blackboards was beautiful wood paneling....The floors were wooden. The janitor soaked them in oil about every week to keep down the dust...I think the desks were fastened to thick boards so they could be moved for floor cleanup and for adding and re-arranging the desks.”  She also noted that there was “a wonderful large playshed” available for the children to play in on rainy days. Doris lived on a farm somewhat over a mile north of the city limits and was actually in the Witham School District.  But to get there when the roads were impassable (“about seven months of the year”) required a much longer round-about route, so her parents paid sixty dollars for their three children to attend Corvallis schools.
Alice Anderson Herrick Jensen Teeter also attended North-Franklin School and writes “at the south side of the building on the second floor they put in a slide for fire drills.  I think that came when I was in the sixth grade (1924).”  She also notes that “we had regular inside toilets in the basement—one for girls and a separate one for boys....In the room we had a pencil sharpener, world globe, some books, and sometimes decorations on the windows....I believe there were charts that either pulled down like a shade or flipped over.”
The 1915 photograph below shows of one of the 4 classrooms in the 2-story Alsea School of 1909.
Alsea School, Benton County, Oregon
By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

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