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One room schools shaped education in Douglas County

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Schools were started in Oregon almost as soon as people settled in the state. Throughout Douglas County, some of the remnants of those early days of education remain visible.

One-room schoolhouses were the norm in the United States from the early 18th century to the middle of the 20th century, and almost half of all American schoolchildren attended such an institution.

In Oregon, a public school system was established in 1849. Most of those were one-room schoolhouses staffed by a single teacher, which offered education up to eighth grade.

The buildings were built for function, often just big enough to hold the expected amount of students and small enough for a teacher’s voice could be heard from anywhere in the classroom. Most were painted white and had wood stoves to provide heat.

Although one-room schoolhouses were widely used, the Oregon State Department of Education in 1914 began pushing reform and encouraging standardization of teacher training, texts and school design. By 1930, school consolidation was accelerated due to consistent pressure by the state and advances in transportation, which led to the closure of many one-room schools.

Currently, there are 18 school buildings in Douglas County that are eligible as Oregon Historic Preservation Sites and 27 buildings that are undetermined, but not all of those historic schools are one-room schoolhouses. The last time the list was updated was 2002, and it is possible that not all buildings are still standing.

Local historian and retired teacher Larry Moulton wrote a historic outline on Douglas County schools in October 2000 and revised it in November of 2003. Moulton did not return phone calls by The News-Review asking for help, but his research offered an in-depth look into one-room schoolhouses.

The records from 2002 included 31 one-room schoolhouses, of which nine were converted into a home, three are used as a grange hall, two as a shed. The remaining properties are either abandoned or have another usage these days.

Here are a few stories about one-room schoolhouses in Douglas County:

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Alex Freadman of Oakland flips through various maps of the world on display at the Upper Olalla Schoolhouse on August 20. Freadman attended classes at the one room school house from first grade through fourth grade.

Upper Olalla School

Alex Freadman said every day, a student would go underneath the Upper Olalla Schoolhouse to light the wood furnace that would heat the building.

On especially cold days, students would sit around the grate inside the building to get as much heat as possible, but when they needed to be able to see their work they’d move close to the windows.

Electricity came to the school in 1949, a year before the school was annexed to the Tenmile district. When the lights were installed, it was the first time Alex Freadman ever held a lightbulb.

Upper Olalla School District was active from 1894 to 1950 and the school building that’s still standing today was built in 1913.

The schoolhouse has the original blackboards, walls and floors, the windows are in the original framework and many of the panes are the original glass. Pictures and maps hanging in the school today were there in the 1940s.

Upper Olalla Ladies Club, which owns the building, hosts two fundraisers a year, an Ice Cream Social in August and a Chili Feed in March, to maintain the schoolhouse.

The club has overhauled the heating system, rewired the electrical system, replaced the hand pump with an electrical pump, refinished the floors, installed water pipes, and repaired termite damage on the front porch. Wolf Creek Job Corps helped install steps and handicapped parking.

In 1993-1994 the schoolhouse underwent major renovations, including a new roof, new skirting, a rebuilt brick chimney and water damaged wood was replaced.

Colene Freadman of the Upper Olalla Ladies Club said the restoration was made possible thanks to a donation by The Ford Foundation.

The school bell from the Lower Olalla Schoolhouse now sits atop the school building and can be rung from inside the school building as Alex Freadman demonstrated in August 2019.

Over the years the club and school alumni have worked to preserve memories of the schoolhouse. Some of those memories were recorded by the Upper Olalla Ladies Club.

This included Barbara Harland Carlson’s memory of doing piano exercised with her teacher, Mrs. Wheelock. Diane Good Carr remembered having to walk through a field with a bull to get to school and having to be very careful.

Alex Freadman said he remembers playing marbles and spin the bottle underneath the schoolhouse. There was a playground behind the school, which has since been extended and converted into a parking lot.

Squirrel Hill Academy

Squirrel Hill Academy, also known as Riversdale Academy or the Curry School, is the only one-room schoolhouse in Douglas County that’s still used as a school.

Patricia Duerfeldt, also known as Miss Barry, transports students back in time by teaching them classes as they would’ve been taught in the early 18th century when the school was in use.

Melrose Elementary School Principal Tammy Rasmussen said, “It’s just magical in how she sets the tone.”

Riversdale Academy was built in 1901 and was in use until the late 1920s when the new Riversdale School was built. While consolidation was often a reason for moving building, at Squirrel Hill it was simply an issue of space.

The school building is 30-by-18 feet and would be used by three to 14 students. The “new” Riversdale School, now the home of Riversdale Church of Christ, had 4,232 square footage in space.

These days, Miss Barry teaches students on a strictly field trip basis and while some opt for classes in the fall, most classes take place in spring. There is no electricity, and therefore no heat or light, in the building.

Duerfeldt taught in the old schoolhouse for the first time during Pioneer Week when she was still a teacher at Melrose in the early 1990s.

South-facing windows in the original school were boarded shut sometime during the years the school was in use. An article by the National Institute of Building Sciences entitled ‘A History of School Design and its Indoor Environmental Standards, 1900 to Today, states that according to scholars at the time light should come over the left shoulder of each pupil, encouraging them to use their right hand for writing. The Upper Olalla Schoolhouse also had light come into the building from just two sides, in line with the standards at the time.

Volunteers and students had a lot to do with the renewed interest in Riversdale Academy at the turn of the 21st century.

In 1993, Girl Scouts Heather Burpee and Taira Curtis worked to move the old schoolhouse from a field off Garden Valley Road to its current location at Melrose Elementary School.

“I have grown up in this area and I went to school at Melrose Elementary, the present site of the Riversdale Schoolhouse,” Curtis wrote in her synopsis of the project for her Girl Scout Gold Award. “The schoolhouse on its new site is accessible to more people now. It will be used as a classroom to teach students history and it will be open to the public for a fee that will be used to maintain the building.”

Other Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, including Heather Campbell and Katrina Curtis, worked to refurbish the building to earn their awards.

The desks inside the school were made by the Roseburg High School shop class from the old football stadium seats.

When the school’s librarian was looking for someone to teach historically accurate classes, Duerfeldt came forward. “I stepped in and it has been my baby ever since,” Duerfeldt said.

“One of the things I love is that the students write with quill pens and they write in their own journal with ink,” Duerfeldt said. “Sometimes they come up to me and tell me they still have that journal.”

Students also get a fingernail and hand check by Miss Barry, and learn spelling, math and play an arithmetic game. Each session lasts about 1 1/2 hours, depending on how many questions students have after their lesson.

“I enjoy teaching them and letting them go,” Duerfeldt said, adding that every year she thinks it will be her last year as Miss Barry.

Rasmussen has worked to make sure the old schoolhouse plays a role in important events at the school, such as outdoor choir concert, fifth-grade graduation and even the Roseburg High School senior walk.

“When I first got here it seemed out of place, but it quickly became to take on a life of its own and become a part of the school,” Rasmussen said. “To see there’s still life around it is so important. We’re bringing life to that space. It’s not just history, but a place to grow new memories.”

Each year, Melrose fifth graders plant roses to line the path to the schoolhouse. When the RHS graduating seniors visit the school for their senior walk, students and lined the path to give high-fives.

“This couldn’t die. It’s just too special,” Duerfeldt said.

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David Kennerly, left, and Mark Fishbaugher walk toward the English Settlement School before work begins to remove two hives on the property last August.

English Settlement School

The school near Mildred Kanipe Park, about 8 miles outside of Oakland, is the only in Douglas County to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The school was built in the farming area known as English Settlement. The community never established itself as a town, but it did operate its own school district until 1934.

Friends of Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park would like to restore the school and open it up to classroom field trips.

“Our vision is to make it available for kids to go to school here half a day,” said Stephen Kennerly, a Friends of Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park board member in charge of historical preservation. He mused that the other half of the day, students could spend in the park.

While the Douglas County Historic Building Inventory lists the building construction as the 1870s, local historian Larry Moulton wrote that’s the original school building. Oregon State Historic Preservation Office staff concluded that this schoolhouse was built around 1910.

Mildred and Leah Kanipe used to attend the school, and Leah Kanipe taught at the school for two years after graduating from Oakland High School.

Like other small districts in Douglas County, the English Settlement school district continued to be a small rural school district with a single one-room schoolhouse and teacher through the early twentieth century.

English Settlement Schools physically demonstrate the ideologies that shaped American education. The building is a rectangular, one-story, wood-frame, front-gabled, one-room schoolhouse that’s 22-by-36 feet supported by its original system of wood girders and floor joists set on hand-placed field stones.

Inside the building has a small entry vestibule and two cloak rooms, one for boys and one for girls, placed on the east end of the building.

Electricity was added to the building at some point, but it has not been used as a school since 1930.

Animals, both domestic and wild, used it as a shelter and home until 2005 when the Friends of Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park Association cleaned it out and secured the building with a lock.

When the school was closed, Mildred Kanipe started using the building for her sheep.

“We shoveled about an inch-and-a-half of sheep manure out of there,” Kennerly said.

Brush around the schoolhouse was cleared between 2006 and 2008, and the schoolhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

A fence was installed around the perimeter in 2009 and since then the schoolhouse was pressure washed and painted, placed on a new foundation, the windows restored and new roof installed. Additionally, the Donna P. Woolley Trust donated 37 school desks from Sunnydale School near Drain.

Planning and funding has started for the interior of the schoolhouse, which includes fixing the ceiling, repairing the floors and painting.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com.

or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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Education Reporter

Sanne Godfrey is the education reporter for The News-Review.

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