S: History of Vernonia Schools Lynn Shaw 2012
FC: History of Vernonia Schools
1: Many years ago the upper Nehalem Valley was covered with old growth fir trees and the forest teemed with wildlife. There were elk, deer, wolves, cougars, bears, and salmon but no people lived there. Occasionally Native Americans would wander through following game trails to hunt for elk or catch salmon in the river but they didn't stay.
2: In 1873 Clark Parker followed those same trails into the area, trapping beaver. He decided he liked the looks of this fine valley. He went home and fetched his wife, Melissa and their many children. They packed up all their possessions, loaded them on horses and walked into the valley because there were no roads. They came to an area they hoped to farm and found themselves in a battle with the huge evergreens that covered every inch of the land.
3: John Van Blaricom's large family and other homesteaders arrived over the next few years and soon there were enough children to build a school. The first one-room schoolhouse was built in 1876 on land donated by the Parkers. It was called Fern Hill School and was made of hewn logs and measured eighteen feet wide and twenty-four feet long with four windows. The first teachers were cousins from Ohio; Ozias Cherrington and Judson Weed who took turns teaching the short three month terms.
4: In 1877 the town decided it was time to establish a post office so seventeen people gathered in the schoolhouse and agreed to name the town Vernona after teacher Ozias Cherrington's daughter whom he'd left back in Ohio. The application was sent off to Washington D.C. and for some mysterious reason an "i" was added so the name became "Vernonia." David Baker became the first Post Master and mail was delivered by horseback from St. Helens every Saturday.
5: Over the next several years settlers continued to homestead in the Vernonia area arriving on the rough roads built by volunteers. Many one-room schools were built to educate the children and to serve as meeting places for the community. Rock Creek School and Tucker School were among these. Teachers and students would walk or ride their horses to school because there were no buses.
6: In 1891 Vernonia was incorporated as a city and the Evangelical Church and Grange Hall, along with a few businesses opened to serve the quiet farming community. There was a general store, a hotel and a blacksmith shop.
7: At the turn of the century the timber industry discovered the Nehalem Valley’s vast forests, and railroad logging began all around Vernonia. Although it took some time for the train tracks to actually reach the community, times were changing. Former farmers went to live and work in logging camps. Automobiles and telephones became common and a new road was built to St. Helens.
8: In 1913 a new multi-room town school was built on Bridge Street. This was the first Washington School which had one room for the elementary students and one for the high school students. A few years later several more classrooms and a play shed were added as the population increased.
9: In September 1922 the first train steamed in from Portland and Vernonia’s boom town era began! By 1924 railroad tracks led to logging camps around Vernonia and the Oregon American Lumber Company opened a state-of-the-art electric sawmill on the east side of town. Hundreds of workers arrived looking for jobs in the mill and with them came their families. The population grew from 150 to 1500 in no time and the schools were suddenly overflowing with children.
10: In 1923 Vernonia Union High School opened on "A" Street. It was a modern three story building with four teachers who taught everything from English to Economics. There was a debate team, a band, and boys' and girls' basketball teams.
11: Around the same time Lincoln Grade School was built on the west end of Bridge Street. It was a four room brick building with a full basement and large windows. Throughout the years it served elementary aged children from kindergarten to fifth grade until it closed in 2004.
12: In 1927 teacher, Jim Johns was born in Vernonia and soon went to live in a logging camp outside of town. His father was a logger and his mother a "flunky" as they called waitresses, at the camp. Mr. Johns attended grade school at Pleasant Hill School on Timber Road until 7th grade then he went to 8th grade in town. He graduated from Vernonia High and enlisted in the Navy in 1941. After his time in the service Mr. Johns graduated from Pacific University with a business degree in 1950 and then earned a teaching degree from Oregon College of Education.
13: Mr. Johns began teaching at Washington Grade School in fall 1950 and taught middle school Geography, Science, and Social Studies for the next 34 years. He met his wife, Ginger in 1954 when she arrived from Minnesota to teach PE. They both retired in the early 1980’s and continue to enjoy their retirement in the community.
14: By 1930 there were so many children in town that the citizens decided to tear down the old school and build a new much larger Washington Grade School. The cost of the school was $90,000 which was $15,000 over the original bid. A bond had to be passed to finish construction and it opened in 1932. The new school was constructed of brick and featured a grand entry with beautiful tile adornments. There was a gymnasium and numerous classrooms with tall windows and wooden doors and trim made with local old growth lumber. Kindergarten through eighth grade students attended school there for the next 80 years.
16: Over the next several years, Vernonia had its ups and downs, suffering through the Great Depression when the mill closed down for a time. This was followed by World War II when women went to work at the mill because so many men were away. Prosperity returned in the 1950’s when a new high school was built on a 16 acre plot on Bridge Street which was donated by the mill. The one story flat-roofed building included a gymnasium that seated 1000 people and became a popular spot for sports and community events.
17: With the invention of log trucks, railroad logging was slowly phased out as was the supply of trees which had once seemed never ending. Mill production slowed and the last log was cut in fall 1957. When the mill closed people feared that Vernonia would became a ghost town but the little community persevered.
18: In August 1957 the Chamber of Commerce held the first Friendship Jamboree. A weekend celebration designed to lift the spirits of Vernonia's residents and to draw visitors to the town. | A parade, logging show, and other festivities were such a success that Jamboree is still held each summer more than 50 years later.
19: The mill office currently houses the Columbia County Historical Society Museum. The historic mill houses are now home to locals and city folks seeking peaceful small town living. | The mill owners donated the mill site, the office building, and the neighborhood of homes on O-A Hill to the city. The mill pond is now dubbed Vernonia Lake, a popular fishing spot with a paved trail circling it. It connects to the State Linear Park Trail and follows the old railroad route to Banks.
20: In 1958 Hollywood came to town to film "Ring of Fire." Exciting scenes of a forest fire threatening the town and burning the mill buildings were shot on the site.
21: The second growth fir trees matured in time and logging continued as the area's main industry. Many residents chose to commute to the valley to work in the cities. In 1991 when Vernonia celebrated its 100th birthday the population was around 2000 people.
22: Vernonia's schools were filled with several feet of muddy water as were homes and businesses. | In February 1996 after many days of rain followed a heavy snowfall Rock Creek and the Nehalem River rose to record levels and Vernonia was devastated by a huge flood.
23: Vernonia's citizens' brave pioneer spirit rose to meet the challenge and with the help of many volunteers the little town mopped up the mess, repaired the damage, and went back to business as usual.
24: In 2004 it was decided to close aging Lincoln Grade School and build a new Middle School between the other schools on Bridge Street. The steel constructed building held a new cafeteria to serve meals to the entire district and six classrooms.
25: In December 2007 another even higher flood hit Vernonia and the townspeople shook their heads in disbelief but not for long. All of the schools were severely flooded this time but within a week temporary elementary classrooms were set up at Mist School and all over town. Scappoose School District generously opened it's doors to seventh through twelfth graders who were bussed there for weeks. Washington and the new school were repaired but the high school got the worst of it and only the gym and a few classrooms could be salvaged.
26: The high school students were moved to the former middle school building and modular classrooms were set up to house middle school students. | It was time to build a new school out of the flood plain. In 2009 a $13,000,000 bond was passed by voters and a campaign began to raise the rest of the funds needed for the project. Many wonderful public and private donors pitched in and the dream of a new K-12 school became a reality. A building site was purchased and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in January 2011. Construction began on the 135,000 square foot concrete and steel building.
27: Vernonia's new school is sure to serve the children of the community well, just as its predecessors did back in the day. | In September 2012 Vernonia's students will begin the school year on the hill, well out of the reach of flood waters.
28: This book was created with the help of many generations of Vernonia Students and teachers. Thank you for sharing your stories, your memories and your photographs. Special thanks to: Doran Lower Tasia Pond Ann Carson Bergerson Jodi Robertson Queen Bob New Sherry Rodeiger Doty Mary Andrus Gross Ruby Wells Ivferson Marvin Turner Tobi Finzel Barbara Larsen Kala Sword Cota Linda Hoerauf Daniel Lawler The Fifth Graders, Class of 2019 Although I've only lived in Vernonia for 30 years, it's very special to me and I consider it my home town. It was my pleasure to share a bit of history with you, the readers. Lynn Marie Shaw May 2012
29: Good bye, Washington Grade School, you have served us well There are so many stories your brick walls could tell Laughter down the hallways, shouts on the playground In each and every classroom good memories can be found We thank you for your service; you're the dream of pioneers A fine place to educate the children who settled here You'll never be forgotten as each brick is taken down We thank you for the shelter you've provided for our town Life has a way of changing; time does take its toll But you'll be remembered fondly by everyone, young and old Farewell, Washington Grade School, in our hearts you'll always be Thank you for the good times and every cherished memory By Kala Sword Cota Class of 1980 | Good bye, Washington Grade School 1932-2012