School Histories


The history of education in Walla Walla county spans a long period of time and also a much larger territory than the present Walla Walla county we know today. At one time, Walla Walla county embraced all the territory south of the snake river and had for its boundaries, the Snake, Columbia and northern state line of Oregon.

It comprised what is now Asotin, Garfield, Columbia, and Walla Walla counties. At one time, there were in excess of 240 school districts in this territory; Columbia had over 100 alone.

I would like to express appreciation to the school principals for their help in giving me material for this paper and also John Thrasher from the county office for allowing me to go through the original records and papers which they have preserved.

I sincerely hope that these valuable papers will be preserved in one of our libraries.

The first schools in Oregon or Washington Territory started at Waiilatpu. Dr. And Mrs. Marcus Whitman were constantly active in maintaining a school at Waiilatpu, not only as a missionary enterprise for the indians but as time went on, for the children of the immigrants who gradually formed a little group around the mission.

After a long period of indian wars and the establishment of a U.S. garrison in Walla Walla, there was a provision made for teaching children of the garrison together with a few children of the community. This first school in Walla Walla was taught by Harry Friedman of Troop "E", First Dragoons. This was the name given to the cavalry troops at Fort Walla Walla. This school was officially organized in 1857. As near as we can tell from a recorded description, this school was located very close to the present Book Nook building (note: old Die Brucke building, now housing Book & Game). The description says that the school was located at a spot near the crossing of Mill Creek on Main Street.

The first private school was taught in the winter of 1861 and 1862 in a private home at Alder and Palouse. Then the school was held in a building where the old Columbia Hotel was located, at the southeast corner of Main and Third, the present location of Montgomery Ward’s (note: no longer there). The teacher was Mrs. A. J. Miner. There are three spellings for this lady’s name: Minor, Miner, Meiner – take your choice.

Mrs. Miner was employed to teach in the first public school that was formed after 1862. J. F. Wood was chosen superintendent in 1862. He was actually elected superintendent prior to any official schools or school districts being organized in the territory. He granted Mrs. Miner a certificate and her school was changed into a public one at this time.

Early teachers were paid $45-$65 a month. A teamster was paid $60-$80. When labor of all kinds was receiving good wages, it was hardly to be expected that good skilled teachers could be secured for such miserly salaries. A few years show a vast improvement in this respect.

Shortly after Mr. Wood’s election, school district #1 was organized and this remained the name of our present school district until Lowden school consolidated and the number was changed to #110. When Berney, Prospect Point, Maxon, and Braden consolidated with School District #110, the number was changed to #140.

District #1 was bounded as follows: Commencing at a point about one mile north of Mill Creek on a line between Russell’s and Simpson’s ranches, thence running west to the east line of township #7, range 35 east, thence south of Yellowhawk Creek or the branch of Mill Creek upon which is Simpson’s Mill, thence following the creek to the line between Russell’s and Simpson’s ranches, thence north to a place of beginning. This was the legal description of District #1.

There were very few written communications during J. F. Wood’s term as superintendent. I did find two reports in which superintendent Wood had reported to the county commissioners on October 9, 1863, stating there were 12 School Districts and 2 schoolhouses in the county. In 1864, there were 7 schoolhouses, either completed or in the process of being erected.

In the fall of 1864, the directors of District #1 were instructed to obtain money for a schoolhouse by subscription. At that time there were 203 children in the district, of whom 93 were enrolled. On December 12, it was decided to levy a tax of 2½ mills to raise school money. A block of ground bounded by Cheery and Palouse, Spokane and Sumach Streets was purchased for $200, and on it was erected the first public school building, a 30' x 60' structure. This building would accommodate but 200 children, and by the time the building was constructed, there were 250 in the city.

Efforts to enlarge the district failed and as one would expect, petitions were circulated and a new district was organized, District #34. This District did not have a school building, so operated out of a Catholic parish until a new school was opened at 8th and Willow in 1871. There was a lot of bitterness over this school situation and finally the state legislature passed a law forbidding more than one district within a city. This forced District #1 and #34 to consolidate.

Cushing Eels was superintendent from 1867 to 1869. Father Cushing Eels in 1859 vowed that the educational needs of the boys and girls of the new era was to be of first importance. The first aim had been purely missionary, of course, but over the period of time, Cushing Eels took this vow: Standing on the little hill at Waiilatpu and viewing the seemingly forsaken grave where Whitman and his associates had been hurriedly interred 12 years before, Father Eels made a vow to himself and his God, feeling as he afterwards said, "the spirit of the Lord upon hi," to found a school of higher learning for both sexes, a memorial he was sure the martyrs of Waiilatpu, if they could speak, would prefer to any other. That vow was the germination of Whitman Seminary which grew into Whitman College.

You can appreciate some of the problems the early pioneers and particularly the school directors had in establishing school districts and keeping the schools functioning throughout the county. Better than 50% of all the original papers at the county office have to do with petitions. The law was such that any five families could sign a petition and request that a new school district be formed or a school district dissolved – and some mighty interesting things took place!

At the same time that public education was developing in this community, private and parochial education was also being developed. The early catholic education in Walla Walla dates back to 1863. At that time, the very reverend Jesuit Priest, B. A. Brouillet, the same spelling of our current state superintendent of schools, requested the Sisters of Providence to open a school in Walla Walla.

The Sisters had been in Vancouver, Washington, since 1856. The five original nuns came from Montreal. So eloquent was Father Brouillet’s plea for Walla Walla’s cause that the Superior Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart gave her promise to write to Montreal for recruits. In the meantime, in the company of Sister Catherine, she came to Walla Walla to select a school site.

This trip was an arduous one for the two nuns, who were forced to travel by stage with overnight stops at camps. They left Vancouver August 23 and arrived towards the end of the first week in September.

The Walla Walla they found was a frontier village of about 50 families. They were welcomed royally; they found among their benefactors Mr. And Mrs. George T. Thomas and Edwin Barron, pioneer banker, the latter being the donor of the grounds still occupied by both the academy and the hospital. The Sisters returned to Vancouver toward the end of September resolved to open the school as soon as teachers arrived from Montreal.

In the meantime, Father Brouillet began construction of the first two-story building in Walla Walla, a 45' x 24' structure at the corner of 5th and Poplar.

The Sisters arrived from Montreal at the beginning of the year 1864. They were Sister Nativity, Sister Columbian and Sister Paul Miki. They opened school on February 18 with an enrollment of 80 boys and girls. In 1865, two more Sisters arrived from Montreal; one of them became a music teacher at St. Vincent’s Academy and the other served as a church organist. These sisters not only did teaching but they became interested in doing missionary work and also working with the sick. They actually were responsible for the building of the first hospital in 1879.

In 1865, St. Vincent’s Academy for Boys became St. Patrick’s for Boys and Girls, but with a man in charge. St. Patrick’s and Desales along with Assumption comprise the Catholic school system in Walla Walla today.

After the consolidation of School District #1 and #34, the growth of schools in the city of Walla Walla was rather orderly. Willow school was in use until 1879, an elementary school was constructed at Park Street close to the present location of the old Community College building. This building was constructed at a cost of $2,000. At this time, there were 39 teachers in Walla Walla county schools, of which 30 were males, 9 were females.

When District #1 and #34 consolidated, the following school board members were elected: H. E. Johnson, D. M. Jessee, B. L. Sharpstein, N. T. Caton, William O’Donnell, F. W. Paine; and E. B. Whitman was clerk.

In 1882, a much more ambitious plan of building was adopted, one commensurate with the progress of the community. A tax of $17,000 was levied for the purpose of erecting a brick building. This building was built on land donated by D.S. Baker, hence the name Baker School. Many of the present citizens of Walla Walla attended Baker school, and it was used in the District until 1955. The building was sold at a public auction. Many of you will recall the long, hard, hot board meetings involved in the closing of Baker School. On several occasions, the board had to move from the board room to the cafeteria of the old high school to take care of the crowd.

In 1898, male teachers were paid $56.57 per month, female teachers $39.54, average length of term 6.5 months. By 1900, male teachers were earning $62.50; female teachers had made some progress and were being paid $52.40 per month. There seemed to be a brighter future for the conscientious teacher. Rigid examinations lessened the competition from those who entered the work only because they had not other employment. The Districts were able to hold longer terms and pay larger salaries.

In 1900, the minimum salary for a beginner was $40 per month. Salaries ranged from (for experienced teachers) $55-$100 per month. Average length of term at this time was 7.75 months.

A brief chronological history of buildings in the Walla Walla area: The Park Street school was constructed in 1881 and used until 1898. This property was sold and later re-purchased when the present gym was completed in the early 30's. Paine School – 1883. It was changed to Lincoln School in 1902 and condemned in 1926, and the present Paine School was constructed at that time.

Sharpstein – 1898; and in 1904, an addition was added. Washington School – 1901. The first building of the high school located on Park Street was in 1902. Green Park – 1905; Jefferson – 1916; Edison – 1938; Pioneer Junior High – 1949; Garrison – 1954; Walla Walla High School (new) – 1962-63. Lowden became part of School District #140 in 1948; Berney, Prospect Point and Maxson consolidated in 1958.

In studying the minute books, one comes across interesting information concerning all of the schools. Unfortunately, in some instances the minute books were destroyed by fire. It would be impossible to go into detail about all of the schools, so we have picked out some of the interesting incidents involving a few of the schools you are all familiar with.

The history of Berney School is perhaps one of petition after petition. Citizens were either trying to withdraw from the Berney District or to become part of the Berney District, and this continued up until the time that their new building was constructed in 1904.

The old Berney School, or Seeber School as it was called, was located at Bryant and School avenues, and this building was in use until early 1904. At one time, all of the Prospect Point District was included in the Berney District.

When the Berney Building was constructed in 1904, many of the parents and citizens were fearful for the safety of their children since they were using a new sand block, and particularly when some of the blocks cracked slightly. Some of these cracks are still in the blocks. As the building neared completion, one of the painters upset his tar kettle in the belfry, catching the roof afire. The Fire Department was called and was able to extinguish the blaze. However, just as the blaze was under control, the water pump failed as the well had been pumped dry.

The school was half built before anyone thought of a name. Petitions, naturally, were circulated, and it was decided that it should be named for Ulysses H. Berney, who had devoted many years as District #5 Board Chairman. In appreciation for this honor, Mr. Berney gave the school its bell and land for an athletic field. Mr. Berney was Chairman of the former Walla Walla County School District for more than 25 years.

Ulysses H. Berney gave the dedication address for the new school. The present old Berney School stayed as it was until 1950 when additional classroom and gym facilities were constructed. There have been additional rooms constructed in 1955 and also in 1963.

The history of Green Park is a little more sketchy than that of Berney. At the time this building was constructed, Gilbert Hunt was President of the Board, Vice President was C. B. Stewart. Other board members were H.A. Gardner, H. E. Blalock, and W. R. Crifield. The Board purchased block 19 in the Green Park Addition for $3500 and authorized the construction of a 12-room school, to be built of stone from grade lime and the balance of Weston brick, with the finishing of pressed brick. Weston brick was the name given to the brick that was purchased at the brick kiln located at Weston, Oregon. Many of the brick buildings constructed at Walla Walla used Weston brick.

According to the minute book, the Board purchased 55,000 brick and then later on, 200,000 additional brick were purchased. There is no way to tell if these were all for Green Park or if part of them were for the old high school gym that was constructed later.

Things were not so complicated in those days; the Board let a contract for $36,000 to the Habler and Burroughs Construction Company of Walla Walla. The architect was a Mr. Dohlman who had his offices located in the Baker Building. The Board also purchased materials separately which were used in the building and were not part of the original contract, so it is difficult to come up with an accurate cost for Green Park School.

The May 1907 minutes show that the Principal was a Miss Nellie M. Galbraith, whose salary was $1,050, and the eight other teachers were all women whose salaries ranged from $750-$800. Miss Galbraith was elected Principal of St. Paul’s, and under her able administration assisted by Miss Mary E. Atkinson as Vice-Principal, the school grew rapidly year by year until in 1918, it was the largest and perhaps the oldest school for girls in the State of Washington and probably in the entire northwest. Kindergarten, primary, intermediate, grammar, grade, academic and music departments, and also special post graduate, business and finishing courses were trademarks of the school.

Washington school opened for classes in the fall of 1902. It housed ten classrooms and a principal’s office. The first Principal was R. E. Stafford, who taught 8th grade. Mr. Stafford lived a few miles out of town and he was allowed to drive his horse and buggy to school each year, and a barn was constructed on the playground to take care of the horses and buggies. Mr. Stafford had eight women on his staff; he was the only man.

During the period from 1916-17 to 1940-41, some significant changes occurred at Washington School. R. E. Stafford retired, and Irma Rounds became Principal. She served until 1932, when Amy Harris was selected as the Principal.

Mrs. Harris served in this position until 1953. Washington school was without a man teacher form 1917 until 1936. Erwin Beard was employed in 1936 to teach 8th grade. He also coached sports and organized the first elementary school band in Walla walla. Mr. Beard received a salary of $1,200.

It was during this period that strong school-community relationships had their beginning. Much credit should be given to Irma Rounds and particularly Amy Harris. P.T.A. at Washington School was one of the most active in the state. It was through the school that the city park was established adjacent to Washington. A branch of the Public Library was started and maintained for many years with P.T.A. mothers staffing the library.

Mrs. Harris was very active in extra-curricular activities, and many of the present businessmen in Walla Walla recall her adeptness as a baseball and football coach.

Over the years, Mrs. Harris taught every subject offered in the school curriculum, including boys’ and girls’ shop and home economics. Mrs. Harris was honored as one of the outstanding women in the community and selected for the Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year Award.

Jefferson School was constructed in 1916. Jefferson has a unique history, that it is the only elementary school in Walla Walla that has not had a woman principal. It is also unique because it has had more minority students throughout the years than any of our other elementary schools.

Originally, Jefferson had mainly German, Russian and Italian youngsters; later on, black- and Mexican-American youngsters became part of the student body at Jefferson.

Jefferson School remained pretty much as it was constructed until 1960, when some special education rooms and a gym were constructed. Jefferson has one of the largest elementary school libraries.

The first Principal of Jefferson was John Woods. He remained Principal until 1926. H. C. Hayes, who had the title Professor, remained until the early 30's. Earl Blake became Principal of Jefferson, then Clarence Rogers and Doug Gwinn; and the current Principal (at the time of this writing) is Norman "Dick" Frank.

Edison School was one of Walla Walla’s newest and most modern elementary schools until Prospect Point was built in 1970. Edison’s history is a little colorful; in fact, this school was built during the time the community was trying to recover from the Great Depression.

On November 19, 1935, a delegation from the Chamber of Commerce appeared before the school board to request the building of a new grade school in the east end of the city. A resolution was adopted requesting U.S. Government aid from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works for a grant to construct a 6-room grade school and a high school gymnasium.

Board members were Dr. Wallace M. Pratt, M. P. Cassidy, Val Jensen, Dr. A. Campbell and Herbert Ringhoffer. During the time that this building was under consideration, two board members resigned; the Board fired the first architect; the building was finally authorized on January 15, 1936, largely through the efforts of George Drennan, the school was named the Edison Elementary School. It opened on September 8, 1936, with a total student body of 73 pupils; with three teachers, Blanche Fisher, Alma Langehaug, and Dora Kolars. In its opening year, the students were enrolled in grades 1-4, and the first teaching Principal, Dora Kolars, was appointed and served as Principal until 1951.

At the time of construction, the school was placed on district-owned property which was not much larger than what was actually needed for the building itself. There was no space for playground purposes. During this period of time, the Walla Walla Rotary Club was very active in supporting and supervising athletic activities in our elementary schools, primarily because of the lack of men teachers. Football, basketball, baseball and track programs were sponsored and conducted by their members. According to the Rotary records of April 7, 1939, under the leadership of F. D. Applegate, W. L. Stirling, Cameron Sherwood, Sherm Mitchell and others, a motion was passed to purchase seven lots east of Edison for $175. On May 22, 1939, at a sheriff’s sale, this property was purchased and given to the school district for $177.10.

Edison school building was not the only building in Walla Walla to be constructed by federal funds. The gymnasium on Park Street was constructed with a federal grant, local money and a state grant. It’s interesting to note that when bids were received, the district was short $10,000. B. F. Huntington and another board member made a special trip to Olympia, contacted Governor Martin, and were able to receive a grant of $10,000 to complete this structure.

Going through the minutes, the only real difficulty the board had was securing the property where the gym was to be located. This property was owned by F. M. Pauley and Mrs. Keeler Smith. You will recall earlier that the board owned this property when they established the Park Elementary School and then turned around and sold the property. This structure was considered to be one of the finest gymnasiums in southeastern Washington for a number of years.

Pioneer Junior High School was constructed in 1949 for $550,000. Originally, it had enrollment of just 7th and 8th graders. The only real controversy that came up during the construction of Pioneer Junior High School was the criticism that the board received for paying such a large sum of money for an asparagus patch – it was more land than they needed. The board has doubled the original site since then, however.

Garrison Junior High School was constructed in 1955, and for the first time, 7th, 8th and 9th graders were housed in Junior Highs in Walla Walla. The district had passed a bond issue for approximately $990,000. When bids were received, they were in excess of $1,200,000. In a matter of a very short time, approximately $200,000 was cut from construction costs.

Some people were concerned as to the location of Garrison. The board received such comments tht it was too close to the fairgrounds, they were concerned about flies and the odor from the fairgrounds. Actually, the location has proven to be very satisfactory for Walla Walla.

I am not going into the building of the new high school, as that really is a subject of a paper of its own. I will say that this was perhaps as bitter a battle as ever occurred in Walla Walla school construction.

You can go back and check the records and see that originally a bond issue was passed to build a second high school, then the board changed their minds and decided they would have only one high school.

After many petitions had come to the Board, and citizens suing the District, and the District’s lawyer representing citizens that were suing the District, and the failure of a bond issue, and the establishment of a large citizens’ committee, a second successful bond issue was passed to allow the Board to complete construction for a new high school.

This building will never be a complete unit until we have additional vocational classrooms and additional gymnasium and auditorium facilities.

Prospect Point is our newest elementary school. Most of you are familiar with this building. Many of you have visited the plant and have had youngsters in attendance. This is a fine elementary school plant, one that we can all be proud of.

It is interesting to think that the things that we do now are modern and new. When one reviews the building specifications of Paine, Washington and Jefferson, we find that these buildings were all constructed with folding doors, open space, very similar to what one finds at Prospect Point today. For some reason, they did not stand the test of time. These folding doors became solid walls and, in some of the buildings, they were taken out completely. It will be interesting to see what takes place with Prospect Point in the next 50 years.

We hear a lot about early childhood education today, and we sometimes are prone to think that this issue is new and modern. In the early 1860's, 70's, 80's and 90's, most all of our schools enrolled youngsters from the ages of 4 to 21.

I would like to close with the comment that our early pioneers are to be commended for the high priority that they established for education in this community. With all of their differences and petty quarrels, they never lost sight of the fact that providing education for the youngsters in this community was one of their prime responsibilities. We should all be grateful to them.

 Franklin "Pete" Hansen