Today’s students have it pretty easy.
For most, the biggest concern is waking up early enough to make a mad dash to the car or bus stop on time, dressed and with school supplies in tow. Even those who walk probably have a short trek and can push their morning routine with minutes to spare.
But for students trying to get an education a century or more ago, the school day started long before they entered the classroom door — and ended long after. Chances are, those stories from your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents about trudging many miles to school in the “olden days” are true. You can be sure, however, that they didn’t make the trek “uphill both ways.”
After the gold rush in the 1860s, families followed miners into Grant County and other parts of Eastern Oregon, populating the area. More people arriving into the 1900s meant more children needing an education — at least as far as the eighth-grade level. As a result, small one-room schoolhouses popped up by the dozen across the land. However, without modern paved roads and bus transportation, the journey to school was still often an arduous and lengthy one — on foot or animal powered, and in all types of inclement weather.
Many of the schools served ranch families in that area, each having its own teacher. According to a Jan. 27, 2003, Eagle article by Nadia Turner Schultz of Prairie City, “Early teachers, who received little pay and usually boarded at the pupil’s home, were responsible for making sure drinking water and a dipper were available, and a fire was going before the students arrived and that wood for the heating stove was carried in and ready for use. The teachers usually were young people who finished school through the eighth or ninth grade, or one or two grades of high school.”
And there were no cafeterias serving breakfast and lunch in those days. Students carried homemade lunches in tin pails or whatever container they had available. Lessons were done on chalkboards, and often the students had their own small ones at their desk. No laptops or smart boards in those days.
By the mid-19th century, good roads and busing helped students travel farther and easier. The abundance of small schoolhouses that dotted the landscape were no longer needed, while schools in towns were expanded to accommodate larger enrollments.
In 1947, opening day at Mt. Vernon School was delayed a few weeks due to additions being completed for a new gym and two “modern” classrooms “to accommodate the pupils who last year filled the old building to overflowing,” according to the Sept. 5, 1947, edition of the Eagle.
The next year, Canyon City schools had what was at that time the largest enrollment on record — 79 compared to 60 the year before. Remodeling work was finishing up as classes began the new school year.
In fact, schools throughout Grant County were bursting at the seams in 1948. Seneca, with more housing opportunities, saw a jump from 110 to 137 over the course of a year. Monument School saw its largest enrollment ever with 81 students in all grades, according to the Sept. 17, 1948, edition of the Eagle issue.
In 1963, extensive additions were made to Prairie City and Humbolt schools. In 1978, Long Creek School gained a new football field — with goal posts.
A few of the old school buildings are still standing, though abandoned, like the Cummingsville School, on the north side of Highway 26, 11.5 miles east of Dayville, and the Bates School, which is now on the Prairie City School property. Some have been transformed into new lives. The Riverside School, southeast of Prairie City is a bed and breakfast, and the Silvies Valley School, 10 miles south of Seneca on Highway 395, became a wayside historic picnic area in 2014.
However, standing or abandoned, those old schoolhouses hold endless memories for those who passed through their doors, for those who taught and were taught in days gone by.
Here’s a list of some of the small schoolhouses that, at one time or another, were scattered across Grant County:
• Old Rebel School, 1864 — On Rebel Hill in Canyon City
• Moon Creek School, 1876 — Between Mt. Vernon and Dayville
• Brownlee School, 1880
• Marysville School, 1880 — On French Charlie Hill (now Dog Creek Road)
• Indian Creek School, 1887 — On Indian Creek Road
• Winegar School, 1890 — In Winegar Gulch, south of the Alfred Coombs Ranch, later moved to where the Riverside School stands today
• Meador School, 1890s — Three miles above Prairie City
• Strawberry Creek School, 1893 — West of the Roger Kent Ranch
• Silvies School, 1898
• Bear Valley Lodge 1 School (District 37), 1900s — Served Seneca and Camp 1
• Bates School, 1900s
• Round Basin School, 1900s — Near Monument
• Junction School, 1910 — Kimberly
• Cottonwood Creek School, 1900s
• Cammingville School, 1900s — On Dry Creek near Moon Creek
• Izee School, 1900s — In Walker Gulch, later moved to the old McCoffery home
• Cant Ranch, 1917 — School held on the third floor of the Cant family home
• Dixie Creek School — Near the Ernie Ricco Ranch
• Lofton School — Fox Valley, log schoolhouse located in the Fox Cemetery, one of four one-room schools in Fox
• Andy Thompson School — Below Blue Mountain Springs on the Thompson homestead
• Lone Rock School — In the Cross Hollow District
• Carter School — Three miles east of Long Creek
• Cummingsville School — Halfway between Dayville and Mt. Vernon
• Logdell School — Bear Valley
• Ritter, Range and Three-Mile schools — In the Ritter area