It is much to be regretted that all records of matters pertaining to public schools during the first years of the settlement of the county, have been lost. All that can be done now is to record such matters as may be remembered by those who were engaged in school affairs in those days, as teachers or otherwise.
As stated elsewhere, Mrs. Packwood taught the first school in the county, at Auburn, in the fall of 1862. Soon after her arrival she engaged in the work of raising money for the purpose of building a schoolhouse, and in a short time obtained sufficient sum, the house was built and school commenced with about fifty pupils in attendance. The children came with such books as they had brought with them across the plains, McGuffey’s readers, Sander’s readers, etc., making it necessary to have more classes than would be required in a school of ten times the number of pupils if provided with a uniform series of text books.
W. H. Packwood was the first county school superintendent and issued the first teacher’s certificate to Mrs. Stafford, at Auburn. Mrs. Packwood’s was a subscription school, so Mrs. Stafford taught the first public school in the county.
Mr. Packwood divided the territory of the county, then including Grande Ronde Valley, into five districts and gave certificates to four teachers in the first year of his service.
Mrs. Stafford taught an excellent and successful school. She was an estimable lady and an accomplished teacher and her loss was deeply mourned by the people of Auburn.
Other schools were taught of which no account has been preserved.
The report of Thomas Smith, clerk of District No. 1, Auburn, is the first record of school business now in the office of the superintendent of common schools. In that report, dated March 8, 1865, the number of legal voters was stated to be 233; No. of pupils 85; No. attending school 37; Number of terms taught 3; amount paid teacher by subscription $180; Mrs. C. Calberth teacher.
About the same time, Wm. Chambers, clerk of District No. 2, (Pocahontas) reported 90 legal voters; Number of pupils 115; quarters taught 1; Number attending school 18; amount paid teacher $225; J. Wisdom teacher.
The name of the school superintendent at that, time, March 1865, is not given, but C. M. Foster was attending to the duties of the office April 1st and apportioned the public funds amongst the several districts, Auburn receiving $344.36 and Pocahontas $465.39.
During the year he awarded teachers certificates to Mrs. J. Kilbourn, Mrs. Rachel Vincent, Mrs. Adeline Buchanan, J. H. Johnson and Joseph H Shinn. October 16, 1865, pursuant to a petition of a number of legal voters of Powderville precinct, he established district No. 5 (Baker City).
Joseph H. Shinn was the next school superintendent, and districts No. 7 and 8 were established by him. No. 7, Aug. 11, 1866, and No. 8, April 10, 1867.
Luther B. Ison was superintendent from September 1869, to July 1870. The whole number of persons of school age reported March 1, 1870, was 352. The number of school districts 7. The amount of public funds apportioned amongst the several districts was $1453.69.
In Judy 1870, J. B. Foster succeeded to the office of superintendent and was the first person elected to the office who served the full term for which he was elected. He established school district No. 9, (Rye Valley), granted teachers certificates to 22 persons and sold 14 tracts of school land. March 1, 1872, No of school children reported 399, two districts not reporting. Amount of public money disbursed $1773.44.
C. I. Means was appointed superintendent by the county court in July 1873, and served one year. He established school district No. 10 and awarded 15 teachers certificates. Amount of public funds disbursed $1936.14.
Mr. Means was succeeded in July 1874, by W. F. Payton, who served two years. He established districts 11 and 12, and granted 23 teachers certificates. The public funds disbursed in 1875 amounted to $1279.36.
S. H Small appears as superintendent March 25, 1876, and served two years, succeeded by John A. Payton who held the office for three terms. The records on file are very unsatisfactory as far as the work of obtaining data for a connected history is concerned. The superintendents were not supplied with suitable books in which they might have recorded the business of the office in a concise and comprehensive manner.
From 1874 to 1883, according to the reports of the superintendents, there was a constant and almost regular increase in the number of persons over four and under twenty years of age, but the number of pupils enrolled in the school for the same time varies irregularly, showing sometimes an increase, sometimes a decrease from the previous year. In 1875 there were enrolled 56 more than in 1874, and in 1876 59 less than in 1875. In 1879 there was 191 less than in 1878, and from 1881 to 1882 there was an increase of 225, and from 1882 to 1883 a decrease of 95. District clerks are apt to be more particular and careful to report the full number of persons for whom public money may be drawn, than to report the number enrolled in the schools, and for that reason the reports of the superintendents are not a full and complete statement of school attendance and enrollment.
In 1888 a public school building of three stories and a basement, was built of brick in district No. 5, (Baker City), on a block of ground which was donated to the district by the State. The same block had been donated to the state for a site for an academy by J. M. Boyd in 1870. The first and second stories are divided into six rooms each, and in the third story is a hall 40×86 feet, which can be divided into class rooms, whenever the necessities for the school may demand it. In the basement is ample room for the storage of fuel. The building, outhouses, etc., cost $32,000.
The school is divided into three departments – the primary, grammar and high school. The primary and grammar schools have four grades in each and the grades are subdivided into two classes each, making sixteen classes. A one year course of studies is alloted to each grade, making a complete common school course.
The branches taught in the high school are, for the first year, algebra, physical geography, letter writing, grammar, civil government, physiology, etymology. For the second year, geometry, physics, bookkeeping, general history, botany, commercial law. For the third year, trigonometry, geology, chemistry, rhetoric, higher arithmetic, astronomy, political economy, logic. The study of English literature is continued throughout the course.
Huntington district has a graded school, with about 75 pupils enrolled and two teachers.
Other schools throughout the county are reported to be in flourishing conditions, more care being taken to obtain competent teachers than formerly.
In 1892 the number of persons between the ages of four and twenty years was 2229, and of these 1556 were enrolled in the schools, being nearly 70 percent of all who were of school age, making a better showing in that respect than in former years. This result is to be accounted for partly by increased interest in schools and partly by better work by the district clerks in making their reports to the superintendent. The organization of Malheur County in 1887, also raised the percent of enrollment by cutting off a great part of the sparsely settled portion of the county.
In 1892, there were 34 organized school districts, and the same number of school houses, one brick, two log and thirty-one frame buildings. There were 51 teachers employed at an average monthly salary of $53.38. The total amount of school property in the county was estimated at $55,365.20, and the total school fund for the year amounted to $26,555.63.
The county school superintendent received a salary of $480 per annum, and traveled 400 miles in the performance of his duties of his office.
In 1888, C. H. Whitney was elected school superintendent and when he took charge of the office he found it in a soap box. He succeeded in getting a room in the court building for an office and also suitable books for the use of the superintendent, in which all school statistics and financial accounts are recorded in a minute and comprehensive manner. He also got the boundary lines of all the districts in the county defined, and mapped and platted the same.
Mr. Privett is continuing the same system of bookkeeping, and any person can easily find any item in the affairs of any district in the county since the year 1888.