History of Portland Oregon Educational Institutions

The first school of any kind in Portland was opened in the fall of 1847, by Dr. Ralph Wilcox, one of the very first settlers of the city, whose connections with the pioneer days has elsewhere been referred to. His school was conducted in a house erected by Mr. McNemee at the foot of Taylor street. It had a very brief existence, but several who are still living in Portland were pupils in this primitive hall of learning.

In February, 1848, Thomas Carter and family reached Portland. In April or May of that year Miss Julia Carter (Mrs. Joseph S. Smith), opened a school in a log cabin on the corner of Second and Stark streets. She taught but one quarter, and most of her pupils had previously attended Dr. Wilcox’s school.

In the winter of 1848 and ’49, Aaron J. Hyde taught a school in what was for years known as the ” Cooper Shop.” This cooper shop was the only public hall in the town for some time. It was located on the west side of First street, between Morrison and Yamhill streets, on a lot which it was commonly reported a former owner had bought for the consideration of ” two pups.” Mr. Hyde served in the Mexican war; came to California in the. spring of 1847, thence to Oregon; married a Miss Whitley, of Polk County, settled on a donation land claim about four miles southwest of Linn County, where he died in 1859.

Previous to the passage of the act organizing the Territory of Oregon, August 13, 1848, Congress had reserved the sixteenth section of each township for educational purposes. In framing the act for the creation of Oregon Territory, Hon. J, Quinn Thornton added the thirty-sixth section. This departure from the precedent in this regard provoked much opposition in Congress, but by the persistent labors of Mr. Thornton, and other liberal minded legislators, this munificent addition to our educational resources was secured. Not only have the public schools of Oregon received the benefits of this wise enactment, but those of every State and Territory since organized have been thus endowed.

Rev. George H. Atkinson was among the first to agitate the subject of free schools in Oregon after the establishment of the territorial government, and to him our city and county schools are greatly indebted. He came to Oregon especially charged with the educational interest of the Territory, arriving in Portland in June, 1848. He brought with him a quantity of school books of the latest and best authors, and afterwards imported a large supply. For many years a resident of Portland he was ever active in behalf of her educational interests, and in recognition of his services, it has recently been decided to bestow his name on one of the public schools.

Rev. Horace Lyman, late of the Pacific University, followed Mr. Hyde as a school teacher in Portland. He opened a school late in December, 1849, in a frame structure built by Col. Wm. King for church and school purposes. It was located on the west side of First street, second door north of Oak.. On this building was placed a bell which now hangs in the steeple of the Taylor Street M. E. Church. Dr. Lyman taught three months and had about forty scholars.

In April, 1850, Cyrus A. Reed opened a school in the “school house.” He taught for three months and had an average of sixty-two pupils.

The next teacher was Delos Jefferson, now a fanner of Marion county. He began in August, 1850 and continued for three months. Following Mr. Jefferson came Rev. N. Doane, then as now, a minister of the M. E. Church. He taught nine months, beginning about December 1, 1850.

All of the schools so far mentioned, were private, and sustained by tuition fees. Ten dollars per quarter for pupils was the usual rate, with the exception of Mr. Doane’s school. The latter received some pecuniary assistance from the M. E. Missionary Fund.

The establishment of a public free school, had however been discussed. Rev. H. Lyman, Anthony L. Davis, 1 Col. Wm. King and others, made strenuous and continued efforts to organize a school district under the territorial law. In the midst of much opposition on the part of those who had no children of their own to educate, and of others who had personal interests in building up private and denominational schools, success was finally attained, but the precise date when an organization was perfected we have been unable to learn. The first evidence that an organization had been completed, is furnished in the Oregonian of December 6, 1851, when a “Free School” is advertised. The board of directors consisted of Anthony L. Davis, Alonzo Leland and Reuben P. Boise. This board announced that John T, Outhouse would begin a school in the school house, next door to the “City Hotel” on Monday, December 15, 1851. ” Books to be used : Sander’s Reader, Goodrich’s Geography, Thompson’s Arithmetic and Bullion’s Grammar.”

Mr. Outhouse, then about twenty-two years of age, a native of New Brunswick, taught continuously, with the usual vacations, until March, 1853. He is now living at Union, Oregon, and is still engaged in teaching. He began with twenty scholars, and so large had his school become in the fall of 1852, that an assistant was deemed necessary. He was paid, most of the time, at the rate of $100 per month from the county school fund, Portland, at this time, paying two-thirds of his salary.

Among the arrivals in Portland, in September, 1852, was a young woman from Massachusetts-Miss Abigal M. Clark (Mrs. Byron P. Cardwell). Miss Clarke taught a few weeks in the Portland Acadamy and Female Seminary, then in its second year and under the management of a Mr. Buchanan. This engagement was not congenial and she soon after accepted an offer to enter the public schools.

From an editorial in the Oregonian, November 20, 1852, it appears that “at a recent meeting (first Friday of November), the citizens voted $1,600 to support a free school.”

A notice a few days later, signed by Anthony L. Davis, Benj. Stark and A. Leland, announces the opening of a school on Monday, December 6, 1852. Mr. Outhouse is named as teacher in the “school house,” and Miss A. M. Clarke, as teacher of the primary classes on First street, between Taylor and Salmon, where she had an average daily attendance of over ninety pupils.

After Mr. Outhouse closed his work, Miss Clarke continued opening her school in the same house, near Taylor street, March, 1853. She taught until midsummer of the same year, and then accepted a position in an academy at Oregon City, then under the care of E. D. Shattuck, now Circuit Judge and residing at Portland.

With the labors of Miss Clarke, the regular work of the free schools seems to have been for a time discontinued. Private schools were opening and closing every few weeks. The “academy” was flourishing under Rev. C. S. Kingsley. General apathy in reference to public schools prevailed. Over a year elapsed after the closing of Miss Clark’s term before any movement was made toward reviving the free schools. The newspapers made no mention of the regular annual meeting in November, 1853. August 11, 1854, Col. J. M. Keeler, then county superintendent, announces that he is ready to organize school districts.

During the fall of 1854, Thomas Frazar began the agitation of the school question. He had printed, at his own expense, notices for a school meeting. He posted these notices, and after failing five times in succession to secure a quorum to do business, he succeeded in the sixth attempt, and as a result, there appeared in the Oregonian of December 7, 1854, the following “call:”

“We, the undersigned, legal voters of the Portland school district, deeming it important that district officers should be appointed and our public schools re-organized, hereby annex our names to a call for a special meeting of the legal voters in this district to convene at the school house on First street, on Monday evening, December 18, 1854, at half past six o’clock, then and there to elect, 1-A chairman and secretary of said meeting; 2-A board of three school directors; 3-A district clerk; and to transact such other business, etc. Thomas Frazar, Josiah Failing, H. W. Corbett, W. S. Ladd, P. Raleigh, L. Limerick, D. Abrams, T. N. Lakin, A. D. Shelby, Anthony L. Davis.”

At this meeting Thomas Frazar, W. S. Ladd and Shubrick Norris were elected a board of directors.

In December, 1855, Multnomah county was organized, and in January, following, L. Limerick was appointed county school superintendent. Horace Lyman and J. M. Keeler, had previously served as county superintendents when this city was included in Washington county.

It is quite probable that L. Limerick taught the first school under this organization. Prior to this time, it appears that the city had been divided into two districts, with Morrison street as the line-north was district No. 1 and south, district No. 2. The board in the south district consisted of Wm. Patton, Col. Win. King and E. M. Burton. When this organization was effected it is impossible to ascertain. It had, however, a legal existence during the incumbency of L. Limerick as county superintendent, as a description of its metes and bounds is found in Mr. Limerick’s writing. In the fall of 1855, J. M. Keeler, just from Forest Grove-Tualatin Academy-taught the district school in this district, in the two-story house still standing on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Second streets. He continued here for six months and in April, 1856, the district was again merged into No. 1.

July 7, 1855, Messrs. Frazar, Ladd and Norris advertised for a “competent person to take charge of the Public school in District No. 1. A young lawyer, Mr. Sylvester Pennoyer, had lately arrived in Portland. He had gone from New York to Puget Sound to practice law. Becoming discouraged with the prospect, he sold his library and started for home. He saw the advertisement and at once sought an interview with Mr. Frazar. The result was that he was employed and taught for six months in the “School House.” This, we believe, ended Mr. Pennoyer’s career as a pedagogue. He subsequently embarked in business; has been a successful merchant; a prominent figure in politics and at present is Governor of Oregon. For over two years after the close of Mr. Pennoyer’s school, no record has been found that gives any definite information concerning the public schools of the city.. No one seems to have been directly employed by the board to teach until school was opened, May 17, 1858, in the New Central School.

Central School

After the consolidation of the two districts, in 1856, Col. J. M. Keeler became a zealous advocate of the immediate erection of a suitable school building. At a meeting of the taxpayers, May 12, 1856, to discuss this project, J. Failing, H. W. Davis, Wm. Beck, S. Coffin and A. M. Starr were appointed a committee to ascertain the cost of different sites for school grounds. The committee reported in favor of the James Field’s block, No. 179, (where the Portland Hotel now stands), which was purchased at a cost of $1,000. On this site a school house known as Central School was erected, at a cost of about $6,000. Here school was first opened May 17, 1858, with L. L. Terwilliger, principal and Mrs. Mary J. Hensill and Owen Connelly, assistants. Up to July 23d of that year, two hundred and eighty pupils had been enrolled. Of this number but two resided west of Seventh street. Mr. Terwilliger was principal for two and a quarter years; August, 1860, Rev. George C. Chandler, one year; July 22, 1861, G. F. Boynton, nine months; April 30, 1862, O. S. Frambes, one year; March 23, 1863, John McBride, nine months; January 11, 1864, E. P. Bebee, one and a half years; August, 1865, O. S. Frambes, three years; September, 1868, J. W. Johnson, nine months (transferred to High School April 26, 1869); April, 1869, R. K. Warren, two and a quarter years; September, 1871, J. M. Williamson, three years; September, 1874, A. J. Anderson, two years; September, 1876, T. H. Crawford one year; September, 1877, S. W. King, three years; September, 1880, C. W. Roby, five years. In 1883 the board of directors sold the block upon which the Central School stood to the Northern Pacific Terminal Company for $75,000 on the guarantee that a hotel should be built upon the block within a reasonable time. According to the terms of the sale the school building was to remain the property of the district, but was to be removed from the grounds. This was done a short time thereafter, the building being moved to a block immediately north of the old site, owned by Hon. P. A. Marquam, and was here occupied for school purposes until the close of the school year in 1885, when the Park school building was sufficiently enlarged to accommodate all the scholars in the district.

Park School

In 1878 the city had grown to such proportions that an additional school became necessary. At the annual meeting of the taxpayers, Charles Hodge, Lloyd Brooke and Frank Dekum were appointed a committee to select a site. This committee recommended the purchase of block 223, known as the Harker Block, for the sum of $12,000. The report was adopted and the board of directors were authorized to purchase the land and proceed with the erection of a building. It was completed in the fall of 1879, and, including an additional room in the basement for a High School Laboratory, its total cost to date is $31,000. It is a twelve-room, two story wooden building with basement. It was first occupied by the High School and eight classes of the Harrison Street School, which were temporarily accommodated while the new Harrison Street School was being erected.

In September, 1885, the Park School was opened as a regular grammar and primary school, with C. W. Roby as principal. Mr. Roby soon after resigned to accept the position of postmaster of Portland, and was succeeded by Mr. Frank Rigler, who remained until 1889, when T. H. Crawford. became principal. Twelve assistant teachers are employed.Citations:

  1. Anthony L. Davis, one of the earliest and most zealous advocates of Portland’s free school system, came from Fort Leavenworth, Indiana, to Portland, in 1850. He served a term in the State Legislature of Indiana and soon after his arrival in Port-land was elected a Justice of the Peace, serving in that capacity for several years. He was a man of high character and held in much esteem. He died in Portland in 1866.[]

History, School,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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