Early School of Payette Idaho

By Ron Marlow

Education was a top priority beginning with François Payette who could read and write and had his children and grandchildren educated in eastern schools. Settlers who came from the gold fields of the Boise basin recognized that fact when they started settling down in the Payette valley. Classes were held in the back rooms and kitchens of many homes. Some schools were little shacks on skids that could be moved when needed.

Some of the schools were: A pioneer teacher in several of these schools was Mary Jane Stuart Nesbitt, who taught all her adult life. Washoe School, fist held in the home of George Goodwin, a widower with five small children. The teacher was J. J. Sturgill of Grande Ronde, Oregon, at a salary of $60 a month. On the school board were three local residents, Jacob Stroup was the only one who could read and write.

At Payette in 1886, local people on William Master's property, south of Main Street and Second Avenue South erected a small wooden school. Sagebrush was plentiful so it was used as fuel to keep the school. First election of school trustees was declared illegal, so on October 6, Peter Pence, W. H. Platt and John J. Reed were appointed trustees for one year of School District #32. Teacher salaries were paid by subscription from patrons. The next year, near trustees divided the school building into two parts and two teachers were hired, P. D. Barney and Mrs. Laura Ford. The school years were divided into a spring and a fall term. Barney taught four months, from November 1886 to March 1887, for a salary of $240. Ford received $160 for teaching the same length of time. The next spring, Miss. Beth Libbie was hired, but there was not enough money in the school treasury to pay her in full. After subscriptions were collected in the fall of 1887, she was paid the balance due of $8.24.

Because of the influx of students and closing of some of the out-lying schools, it was decided to construct a new one. The old two-room school was sold to the Baptist Church in 1889, which they remodeled. School was still held in the building off and on and rent was paid. One day a student built too big a fire in the stove and the building burned in 1893.

A school bond was submitted to the school patrons for $5,500 to construct a new, two story school in Central Park (across from the post office). Construction was of Lamme brick in 1890-1891 and housed grades one through six on the bottom floor and grades seven through twelve on the top floor. It had an assembly room for meetings and faced Ninth Street. The school treasury had a balance of $134.11 in 1890 and $174.76 in 1891. The playground was divided; one side for boys and one side for girls.

Professor A. P. Cady was employed as principal of the high school in1891. The full school year of eight months of instruction was instituted.
In 1892, Professor M. F. Albert from Pennsylvania, was hired as principal of the high school until 1902. Professor J. R. Jimmerson and Miss Nellie Goodwin were teachers.

The school grounds had to be cleared of sagebrush and was graded and leveled by local farmers. The first three high school graduating classes planted cottonwood trees on the grounds. Later the school board bought trees from the local nursery and some were donated by school patrons. They had to be watered from the Lower Payette Canal. Around town on Arbor Day, 1895, 40 men planted hundreds of trees donated by the Whitney Nursery.

In 1897, Central School had 181 pupils. Extensive remodeling was done years later, four new rooms were added, a large hall, and belfry and front entrance facing north. A new steam heating plant was installed at a restroom with running water built. Professor A. M. Rowe from Minnesota, was hired for the next five years, 1902-07, and teacher staff increased from eight to seventeen.

West Side School was built in 1905 on the west side of the railroad tracks. The principal and teacher was E. W. Tracey, fourth and fifth grades, Elizabeth Tiney, third grade. Ida Hannigan taught first and second grades. On Arbor Day 1909, during Boomerang Days celebrations, the entire school grounds or planted with trees.

Professor J. E. Turner in 1907 succeeded Professor Rowe as principal of Central School. College trained teachers were employed and Payette High School was ranked as one of the best in the Northwest.

The first high school graduating class consisting of six students was in 1895. There were five graduates in 1896, eight graduates in 1897, four graduates in 1898 and eight graduates in 1899. In 1900 there were six graduates. The largest community hall available was the second story of Lamme's Store, so commencement exercises for about 15 years were held there. In later years, a banquet for the graduates was held in the Commercial Hotel.

Read More Articles by Ron Marlow Learn More about Mr. Marlow

© Independent Enterprise, Payette Idaho
First Printed in The Independent-Enterprise Newspaper, Payette, Idaho, Wednesday, May 16, 2001

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