La Grande Schools, Union County, Oregon

From 1868 through 1886 a system of three months for a school term was used in the La Grande schools. In the spring of 1868 Mr. J. G. Deardorff assisted by Miss M. Hendershott taught the first term. The second term beginning in October of 1868 and ending in February, 1869 was taught by I. B. Murphy. But for the third term it appeared that there were not sufficient funds available to maintain the school. The problem of school finances evidently plaguing school officials of that day as it does in this. The school bard met to try to find some means of levying a lax to remove the indebtedness of the district and support a school for six months but it was forced to adjourn before this answer to the problem was found. However, the school carried on with L. T. Woodward acting, as teacher, assisted by Miss Nora Simpson, their salaries evidently being paid at least in part by the pupil's parents.


     In the school year beginning with 1 December 1871 the school directors collected about $230 through sub­scription and hired J. T. Outhouse, assisted by Mrs. Outhouse, to teach the school with the understanding that sufficient funds would be collected through the term to pay the sum of $475 for the term's work. It was in this year that the curriculum for the first time included subjects of the high school level. In the whole school in that year 92 pupils (54 boys and 38 girls) were instructed in or­thography, geography, grammar, reading, arithmetic, geometry, writing, history and algebra.

     During the next year 1872 a meeting was called for the purpose of levying sufficient tax to establish a nine-month term of school but when put to a vote seven persons opposed while only six favored the proposal. This indicates that interest in school elections in that day was no higher than at present. It was not until 1886 that the school term was lengthened to eight months, and in 1887 to nine months which has been the length of term up the present time.

Population Grows

     During the years from 1863 to 1886, the school was taught in the two story building near the mouth of Mill Canyon, as the bulk of the population resided near there. But as the railroad carne closer to La Grande the population was growing rapidly and the need for a new building was imperative. On 18 January 1881, a meeting was held to discuss the proposal for a new school building, and a committee was appointed to study the problem and select possible sites. After further meetings, it was decided in 18 October of that year to build a schoolhouse at the corner of Second and K streets at a cost of not  to exceed $10,000, and warrants were issued in that amount to pay for construction.

     When completed the building was truly a fine one for that day and gave almost a metropolitan air to the community. Nevertheless, the new school was not without its troubles. The cost had exceeded by about  $1,000 the amount which had been authorized and there was much dissatisfaction about the way the budding was heated A record of  school board investigations of the furnace in the building states in a tone of disgust not without some humor, “we sere led to believe that the heating arrangements are perfectly safe with regard to fire and from the past experience and reports of the children attending school the past winter we would suspect that a freezing apparatus had been used instead of a heating apparatus.

McIntyre Principal

     During the years l889 through 1888 Mr. C. McIntyre was the principal and the teachers under his supervision were Mrs. Dora B. Scott, Mrs. Carrie P Wellman, Mrs. Nellie J. Watson, Miss Ella Weathers and Miss Nellie Burger. Mr. McIntyre introduced the system of classifying the courses of instruction according to particular levels and designated the divisions as high school, grammar school, intermediate school, and primary school.

     During the administration of Mr. H. S. Strange in 1889 and 1890 the first school budget was drawn up and presented to the patrons of the school for their approval. The school was now using six rooms in the building and during this year courses in oral English, vocal music and natural history were added.

     In 1890, a two-story brick building located at the corner of Second Street and C Avenue was purchased by the school hoard from L. Baer and the La Grande Masonic Lodge for $1,000. School was taught in this building until 1891. The upper floor was rented in the La Grande Social Club in the fall of 1890 for 10 dollars a month. and the lower floor was used for business purposes.

     It was also in 1890 that the "Little Brick" school was built on Fir Street and U Avenue on the north side of railroad tracks, the first school in this section of town. This was operated as a three-room and four-room school depending on the student population and served until Greenwood school was built. It was in 1890 that school was conducted in two buildings and in the following year there were three schools operating, the "White school on Second and K, the brick school at Second and C and the school on Fir Street

Astronomy Offered

     In 1892 and 1893 Mr. C. R Leatherman was principal of the school system and during his administration courses in rhetoric and astronomy were added to the list of subjects offered. In the spring of 1893 the first formal graduation exercises were held, the first graduates being Fannie McWhirter, Ruth E. Chenault, Bessie Collinson, Susan Deal, Lulu M. Hanson and Katherine Weller.

     Shortly after the term in 1894 opened it became apparent that still more school room was needed and to supply it a portion of the Snodgrass building on the present site of Blue Mountain Creamery on Washington Avenue, was rented in November of that year for $12.50 a month. This school known as the Washington Avenue School was taught by Miss Elia Weathers, later Mrs. L H. Russell. This school was operated at the location until 1897 when it was moved to a room in the Gazette building on Sixth Street on the present site of the Observer building.

     The present Central School building was erected on the site of the Blue Mountain University in 1899 and 1900. This was originally a 12-room building planned to accommodate 600 children

High School Fires

     Later school construction included building the La Grande High School which was opened to students in January of 1911. This building was damaged by fire on two different occasions 9 November 1928, and 7 September 1932 both conflagrations being the work of an arsonist. Loss in the two fires was over $112,000. Other school buildings and the dates of their opening were Greenwood in 1906, Riveria in 1913 and Willow 1924.

     One of the best known schools in eastern Oregon was the private school conducted by Mr. O. B. Carper in La Grande from 1892 to 1898. This institution offered a complete curriculum particularly in the high school subjects. It operated of various locations in what is now the business district of La Grande, at different times on Depot Street, on Adams Avenue and on Washington Avenue on the site of the Sacajawea Annex. Many prominent residents of Grande Ronde Valley attended this school and its graduates were accepted in any college or university. Mr. Carper was a graduate of the University of Chicago and the school course was modeled as closely as possible after his alma mater.

     Mr. Carper's school was called Eastern Oregon College and it was a team from this institution which contested La Granite High School in the first football game in Union County, on 30 November 1094. The college won by a score of 30-0. Although only to cents admission was charged to witness this athletic contest, the gate receipts amounted to $20 indicating that there was a lively curiosity among the townspeople to see this relatively new sport. In the event after the game the players of both teams were entertained at a fine Thanksgiving dinner prepared by the young ladies of both institutions.

     Further evidence of the broad interest in education which was characteristic of the early settlers in eastern Oregon was the selection of La Grande as a site for the institution of higher learning known as Blue Mountain University. This college was founded by the Columbia River Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the purpose of promoting higher education in the intermountain region of eastern Oregon, eastern Washington and northern Idaho. The promoters were principally clergy and prominent laymen of the Methodist faith, but as the school was conducted along nondenominational lines, much support was given by members of other religious groups.

     Through a system of subscription scholarships rated at S400 each, the building was constructed, the cor­nerstone being laid on 4 July 1874, with elaborate ceremonies. Reverend H. K. Hines, a pioneer circuit rider who was then presiding elder of the Methodist Church and acting agent of the Board of Trustees of the Con­ference presided over the exercises. Reverend Hines was a brother of Gustavus Mines an early day Methodist missionary of the Indians and contemporary of Marcus Whitman and H. H. Spalding.

     The Blue Mountain University campus occupied two blocks, the site of the present high school and Central School grounds, an land donated by Daniel Chaplin, who was ever willing to contribute to any enterprise that would further the best interests of La Grande. Mr. Chaplin also made a cash donation of $500 to the school. Brick for the building was made locally by George Grimmett, who op­erated a brickyard on the site of the present Hendryx Methodist Episcopal Church on Fir Street. Some of these bricks were used later in the construction of the Central School Building and the cornerstone of the Blue Mountain University was placed in the walls of that building.
     The doors of the Blue Mountain University were not opened to students until 15 December 1875 but for over a year previous to that dale the school was in operation using the building belonging to the La Grande school district located at the mouth of Mill Canon. Preparatory courses below college level were offered.

     When the building was opened 30 men and 33 women were registered in the collegiate course. Mr. J. L. Carter was acting president and professor of natural sciences: Mrs. E. J Hines was preceptress and teacher in the "academical departments" Mrs. Anna M. Stevens was the teacher in the primary department and in­structor in music Charges varied from $6.00 for tuition in the primary department and $9.00 for the common English course to $12.00 for the higher branches and $15.00 for the collegiate course. Extra charges for special subjects were made as follows: Music, including use of the organ. $15.00: commercial course, $12.00 or $3.00 if carried in addition to other courses and French. German and drawing $3.00 each. All students at the grade school level were admitted without tuition charge if they were entitled to attend the La Grande district schools.

     To provide a bell for the University a public entertainment was held on 11 February 1876 at Wilkinson's Hall on C Street and $120 was received. However, even at that time the University was experiencing financial difficulty and the money was channeled away from its intended purpose and used instead to pay the teachers. Contrary to common belief, a bell was never purchased for the Blue Mountain University and no bell ever hung in its belfry.

School Fails

     So serious did the financial plight of the school become that it failed to open its doors in 1878, but to preserve the continuity of the courses until such time as the Conference could make prevision for continuing the school. Mrs. Hines conducted classes in her home. A private school was in operation during part of 1819, a Mr. John Lasure having leased the building for that purpose.

     The Methodist Conference found that the scholarships which had been collected for the purpose of building the University structure were draining the life from the school as a great number of students, were attending under these scholarships and but little money was coming into the treasury of the institution to pay the operating expenses. In 1879 the Conference determined to annul all of the existing scholarships and set up a tuition scale depending on the grade of the student.

     Mr. George E. Ackerman was secured as president of the University and took over the guidance of the school in the fall of 1879.  Mr. Ackerman no kin to, J. H. Ackerman, in whose honor the present training school on the campus of Eastern Oregon College of Education is named was a graduate of North-western University and was 27 years old at the time he came to La Grande. During his tenure he made a valiant effort in keep the school in operation. In the summer of l881 he went east to try to interest influential and wealthy individuals to come to the rescue of the school. Being unsuccessful in his efforts he never returned to La Grande, but remained in Chicago where he served for a number of years at the faculty of the University of Chicago and later became a member of the board of regents of that institution.

First Commencement

     The first regular commencement of the Blue Mountain University was held in 1880 at the Methodist church then standing on B Avenue. In 1881 the first graduates of the college preparatory courses were Joseph F. Baker, Hattie Kuhn, F. L. Eckley, Nellie Porter F. W. Nessley, Neri Axkley, H. T. Williams and A. C. Williams.

     Reverend A. Eads in 1681 became the next president of the University succeeded by Reverend G. M. Irwin in 1882 and Mr. Van Pell in 1884. All of these own struggled against hopeless odds to keep the school in operation, but the required financial support could not be obtained in a region of such sparse population, and in 1886 the school was officially closed. The last class to complete the course offered by the school was graduated in 1884. These graduates, many of whom became well known citizens of La Grande were Jessie Baker (Matott), Carrie Baker, Edith Huntington (Currey), Hattie Proebstel (Eckley), Hattie Hayes (Dort) and Cora Kuhn (Burnell).

Additional La Grande Resources

Contributed by: Jim Reavis


Union County

Latest Content

Oregon Obituary Database

We changed our name, and have expanded!

Contains obituaries for Baker, Crook, Grant, Hood River, Lane, Linn, Malheur, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa Counties.

 Untitled 1
Report broken link

Oregon Host

Member Site

Member Site

Contribute to Oregon Genealogy
If you have information you would like contribute to the website, please use our comment form!! If you find a broken link please let us know!