Thursday, January 2, 2014

A One-Room Schoolhouse Gets a Second Chance

A few years ago Bill Youngs and I took a ride through the countryside south of Spokane and Cheney, looking for lost and forgotten historic sites. I turned the day's explorations into a blog post at the time. By far the most evocative thing we found was this decaying one-room on a hill top near the town of Waverly:

The school was tucked back in some Cottonwoods

The bell long gone

Inside we could see the school was stoutly built
It had a stage!
Roof? What roof?
As you can see the school was pretty far gone in 2007, with massive holes in the roof and rotting floors. Its remote location however, tucked behind some trees off a dirt country road, had preserved it from serious vandalism. One could tell that it had been an unusually well-built school, with clapboards (rather than plaster) inside and out, a bell tower and even a stage. Bill and I agreed that it would take a miracle to save the place.

Fast forward to today and the school has in fact been saved. An article in today's Spokesman Review, Prairie View School gets new life in Waverly, details the efforts of local historian Glenn Leitz to save the building. (Leitz is also the author of quite a good book about the history of the northern Palouse region.) It has been moved from its lonely hilltop and rebuilt in the town of Waverly where it will be "reused for historic displays, a tourist attraction and possibly as a museum or venue for community events," according to the Spokesman. Here is the school today:

I have long had a fascination with these schools. Only a handful survive today in Spokane County, but a hundred years ago when the countryside was filled with small farms and large families, there was a one-room school every few miles. A few years ago one of my students, James Dupey, located all the schools in a 1927 atlas of the county and put them into a Google Map:

When James finished the above map I got quite excited, and went on a number of Sunday drives with smart phone close at hand, investigating the sites of these schools. I found a lot of empty fields! Sometimes there would be a pile of rubble or a cottonwood tree to mark where the school had stood, but mostly there was nothing at all.

If someone is looking for a research project, the one-room schools of Spokane County (or maybe any other rural county) would be a good one. At the Eastern Region Branch of the Washington State Archives we have the attendance books for most of the schools on the map above, going back to the 1800s. We also have some maps, architectural drawings for a few of the schools, and even a set of job applications for the position of one-room schoolhouse teacher for Adams county around 1900. And I suspect that once you started digging, the tiny historical societies that exist in every town would have a goldmine of additional information.

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