Thursday, July 2, 2020

With New High School, Big Central School was Moved in 1906

The School Board has been in the news, and some of the reasons stretch way back to the start of our public school system.

Central School from the Barrick Funeral Home postcards
Salem Library Historic Photos (note the updated website!)
You might remember that Lucy Rose Mallory was a teacher and the Bush House and Museum was going to do more research on the first schools, especially Little Central School. From the Oregon Encyclopedia:
School-age children in Salem in the 1850s had only one public school to attend: the Old Log Schoolhouse on the corner of Marion and Commercial Streets. The school required tuition of from four to five dollars per child each term (from late September to March) to pay for maintenance. Black students were not allowed to attend....

African American artist William P. Johnson had offered in 1861 a scholarship of $500 to one of the schools to allow his daughter-in-law to enroll, but his offer had been rejected. By March 1867, he had collected enough funds from friends and other black families in Salem to open a school with about eight students and possibly some young adults. With $430.75 in hand, he rented a room for $10 a month and engaged a teacher to conduct classes....

The Colored School had completed one six-month term when in 1868 the Salem School District opened Little Central School, a $1,500, one-story, two-room structure at the southeast corner of High and Marion Streets. The school was designated for the education of African American students and was adjacent to the larger Central School, where white students attended. The first recorded teachers at Little Central were Lucy Mallory and Marie E. Smith. The Colored School remained at this location until the end of the 1871 school year, when the school was discontinued.

Little Central School probably
(OSL - but their photo site is broken - via Salem Reporter)
It's good Bush House will be doing more research, because the existing materials are not very detailed or always very certain.

The earliest Sanborn maps are from a generation later, and Salem would have been built up a good deal by then. Still, it's hard to line up an angle and point-of-view for these images and small details seem a little funny. In particular, on the map footprints the one story building looks wider than the two story building is deep, but both of them in the photos have five window openings, suggesting a more equivalent dimension. There might not be a strong reason to doubt the photo identifications, but they are also hard to embrace with great confidence.

One building, likely Little Central,
was an SDA Church in 1888 (Library of Congress)

But in 1895 it's labeled a school (Library of Congress)
In 1906 the School District had replaced the two Central Schools with a modern, brick High School.

January 1st, 1906

The school, at the site of Macy's today,
demolished for Meier & Frank
(Salem Library Historic Photos,
and see this just before demolition in 1953)
There is very little on Little Central, but Big Central appears to have been moved rather than demolished. In February of 1905 they were moved to the side on the lot to make room for construction, and starting December 19th the School District advertised they would open sealed bids for both buildings on January 6th, 1906.

Apparently there was a winner, at least for Big Central. The Grand Army of the Republic made it their local Post headquarters, though they described as "the new Commercial Hall." In 1912 the window openings also don't line up quite right. Again, the evidence does not align seamlessly. There's no great reason to doubt it - but it meets a "preponderance of the evidence," not "beyond reasonable doubt" standard, as it were.

Commercial Hall, formerly Central School,
Now on the corner of Commercial & Center
September 2nd, 1912
In 1915, an old-timer in one of those "Did you know?" columns says Big Central was a junk shop, and the GAR seems to have moved out. In 1931 Steinbock's was using it, but in 1915 they were at a different site.

A junk shop, April 3rd, 1915
There are many loose ends, many lines for further research here. It would be especially interesting to find out more about the disposition of Little Central, whether it was demolished, or moved and reused like Big Central.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

R. R. Ryan, who was active in the GAR, purchased the building in 1906. He was a Socialist and ran for Governor in 1902. More on that history in this post.