Home News Local News RECALLING THE DAYS OF ONE-ROOM SCHOOLS
RECALLING THE DAYS OF ONE-ROOM SCHOOLS
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
The one-room schoolhouse was an American icon, a Norman Rockwell portrait waiting to be placed on canvass.
Today it has all but vanished from America's landscape. Union County had at least 50 as late as 1940. Today there are none, but the legacy of the one-room school in the county still lives.
Another chapter of its story was added on Saturday by the annual reunion of students who attended one-room schools in the Imbler-Summerville area.
About two dozen former students met to recall their days at Dry Creek, Summerville, Pleasant Grove, Willow Creek and Pumpkin Ridge schools.
They talked of a time and way of life that is foreign to baby- boomers. They laughed while recalling the strict discipline and spankings they sometimes received.
One man recalled that a boy wore "three or four pairs of overalls'' to school to buffer the impact of their teacher's paddle.
The strict discipline molded character, said Clifton Slack of Perry. He believes there would be less crime today if such discipline was still used by teachers.
Some at the reunion said they walked or rode horses up to four or five miles to school each day, even in winter. Most agree Northeast Oregon's winters were harsher in the first half of the 1900s than they are today.
"We had real snow in those days,'' Slack said.
It was so deep that it was often easier to walk than ride a horse to school. A child could walk over the thick crust that formed on the top deep snow. Horses, however, fell through the crust.
"It was a great old life in those days, but people didn't think anything of it,'' Slack said. "They didn't know anything else.''
The one-room schools had no plumbing, so water had to be carried in each morning. At Summerville, students would get the water from an outdoor pump that often was frozen in the winter, said Berry Trump of Elgin.
Trump would bring out water heated in a tea kettle in her school to thaw the pump.
Trump and Elba Hoffman of La Grande also recalled that students had to carry firewood each morning to heat their school.
In the early days of Union County, school apparently was not conducted in the winter because of severe weather. Emery Oliver, 90, of Summerville, said records indicate school was held only in the fall and spring at Dry Creek during the 1870s.
Oliver, who attended Dry Creek, did not hesitate when asked to name his most memorable moment in grade school. It was the day that Dry Creek School beat Summerville School in a baseball game. The game was played on a rocky baseball field outside Dry Creek's schoolhouse.
After completing eighth grade, students at the five one-room schools went on to Imbler High School. Many stayed with families in Imbler during the winter because traveling to and from the town was difficult.
Students would usually be given potatoes, apples, eggs and other food by parents before they went to Imbler. Often this was all they had to give, especially during the depression of the 1930s.
"There was not any money in those days,'' said Lyle Sanderson of La Grande.
Sanderson said that families would sometimes move to Imbler to make it easier for their children to attend high school.
Those who attended Saturday's reunion believe that the education they received in one-room schools provided them with a solid foundation for success.
Oliver said when he was in the Navy he was asked to teach his fellow enlistees because his commanders realized that he was familiar with academic concepts that many others are not.
"We received a pretty decent education,'' Oliver said.