Schools of the North Fork John Day Valley

MayDeEtte Hinton works at her school desk during a celebrated career in education in Grant County. Contributed photo

From Kimberly to Hamilton, as the valley became settled, one-room schoolhouses were built to accommodate the families. During the late 1880s, schools were established at Kimberly, Rudio, Cupper Creek, Top (Fern Creek School), Hamilton, Courtrock/Cottonwood, most school sections in the area boasted the one-room schoolhouse, and each served grades one through eight with one teacher and as many as 10-12 students. Monument became the high school, as did Spray and Long Creek. Both students and teachers made it to school on foot or horseback, and the small schools across the river from the road could only be open for classes when the teacher could ride across the river on her horse.

In 1928, 5-year-old Van Richards attended the old schoolhouse at Kimberly. In 1929, the new schoolhouse was built and the Cork family moved the old building across the river and made it into one of their homes. When Van finished eighth grade, he went to high school in Spray, mostly because the road was better than the existing river road to Monument. The Kimberly School was closed about 1937.

By the 1930s as these schools were closing, the children were driven to Monument for their education. The school at Cupper Creek, known as the Sunnyside School, served the Neal family along with many others. Today, the fourth generation of that family catch the school bus at the same stop as great-grandfather Manny Neal did when he went to high school. And great-grandmother MayDeEtte Throop Hinton has many a tale to tell of her teaching days at the Top School.

MayDeEtte grew up in Vernonia and came to Monument fresh out of Oregon Normal School at Monmouth, used to the amenities of the Willamette Valley. She was hired to teach on the mountain at Top School. The year was 1934, the salary was $50 per month, the Musgrave family provided room and board for $30 per month. Her duties included cutting the firewood, building the fire each day, doing all the cleaning and teaching six students. It was a mile walk to school - rain, shine or snow. Mail came up the mountain on horseback, the telephone rang into the store in Monument and there was no electricity. Her first students included Cora Scott Stubblefield and Myrtle Cork Shockley in the seventh grade; Lillian Cox, Helen Smith and Betty Cork Robbins in the sixth grade; and Cora's brother, Robert Scott, in the fourth grade. Today, MayDeEtte and Cora are close friends and delight in reliving those special school days.

Recess was playtime, and often MayDeEtte was out in the field with the students and having every bit as much fun. Soup was bubbling on the stove for a hot noon meal each day, with the students bringing the ingredients. Agriculture was a required subject, and she feels she learned more from the students than they did from her. Often she would go home for the weekend with one of the students, riding double on the horse. Her work was appreciated and in her second year she got a raise to $75 per month.

Two young buckaroos of that day, Carl Cox and Kenny Depew were acting up one day and smeared limburger cheese on the wood stove, creating quite a mess. No school was held that day - the clean-up was quite a task. And as punishment, the two young men had to keep the schoolhouse wood supply ready at all times.

At the end of her second teaching year, MayDeEtte came down to Monument and the Top School closed soon after. At this time, most of the students were still coming to school on horseback, and for many that continued into the 1940s, although according to Gus Peterson busing began in 1940, the year after he graduated.

By the time she retired from teaching, MayDeEtte had taught three generations of Stubblefields. Cora and her husband, George, sent five children to school in Monument, and three of their grandchildren all benefited from MayDeEtte's knowledge and expertise. Many other local families had at least two generations in her classes.

The old one-room schoolhouses are all gone with the exception of the Top School which is still visible along the Top Road. But many of the students who gained a first-class education are still with us and their stories are a wonderful part of local history.

Joan Silver lives near Kimberly in northern Grant County.

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