The date and place of the first schools in the Chetco area are not known. Most likely the early schools were set up in private homes. The teachers were usually girls or women who may have had little schooling of their own, and no professional training for teaching. The curriculum was the simplest: reading, writing and arithmetic. The school day was short, and the term of schooling even shorter. ... The "scholars" in those early schools consisted of from six to perhaps a dozen children of all ages, bunched in one room with a teacher.
The Port Orford Post in its issue of April 28, 1881, noted that:
Mr. Charles Dyer, the school teacher (in Chetco), went into the mountains to hunt and recruit his health during vacation; and school was to have commenced today. As he has not made his appearance fears are entertained that he is lost. Some are talking of searching for him. (Apparently he did return, since he moved to Roseburg in 1881.)
In 1882 the school census for Curry County was 425. The schools ran for three months a year, and the costs figured out at 36 cents per pupil. Later on, two schools were located along the Winchuck River: one at its mouth; the other, four miles upstream, was taught around 1915 by Beulah Keiser.
Reporting on the Curry County enrollment in 1894, the Gold Beach Gazette stated on April 13 that there were then 696 persons in the county between ages 4 and 20 years, of whom 396 were males, 300 females a considerable increase over the previous year. The children resided in 23 districts. Sixteen teachers were employed in the County during that year. The average pay of the 10 men was $47.33; of six women, $41.50 per term. School was taught an average of 3 1/2 months in each district. One teachers' professional institute was held, with 11 teachers in attendance.
Whaleshead School is progressing nicely under the skillful management of Louis Strong of Myrtle Point. He has given excellent satisfaction so far, and it is to be regretted that his school is so near a close. The scholars are learning rapidly, and if the district could only afford to hire Mr. Strong The Gazette, July 24, 1896
Schools for the children of lumber camp workers were moved about as the camps were moved. Mrs. Hattie Miller Payne of Harbor taught at several of the lumber camp schools, all of which were part of the Curry County Rural School District.
Upper Chetco School
As early as 1910, before the Brookings Timber & Lumber Company established the town of Brookings, there were families with children living up the Chetco River. Around that year the original Upper Chetco School was built on the north bank about 18 miles up the river, at the Summer Bridge location. The school also served as a community center where many dances were held on Saturday nights.
Crossing the river
Carl and Elizabeth White moved to the upper Chetco in 1932. At that time there was no road on the north side of the river. They had to boat their supplies across the river. The children had to cross on the lower summer bridge or row across the river to get to school until the (present) Upper Chetco School was built in 1939 on land donated by the Whites. Curry County Echoes, January 1975
Thirty years later the School District purchased four additional acres adjoining the school site, to provide a campus of five acres.
Before 1909 an elementary school, grades 1-8, known as Harbor School was built off Benham Lane, near Oceanview Drive. One teacher handled all the grades. This was the only school in Harbor; it was used until Brookings and Harbor became one consolidated school district around 1950. After that, the school children in Harbor were bussed to Brookings.
An experienced teacher capable of handling ten classes and thirty pupils. Apply to J. Van Pelt, School Clerk, Harbor, Oregon. -Advertisement in the Curry County Recorder, July 14, 1921.
In 1913 Bess Clerk (later Mrs. A.H. Bretz) came across the Chetco River in a rowboat to become the first teacher in Brookings. School was held in a house in a row of mill houses. She taught 40 children in grades 1 to 8. In 1920 a two-room school house with a gymnasium adjoining was built, and a second teacher was added.
In 1954, Mrs. Bretz recalled that while she taught here a trip to Grants Pass by wagon required three days travel, with overnight stops at Patrick's Creek and at Kirby. She also remarked that when she first came Brookings was a musical town, with many gifted musicians among the personnel of the Brookings Lumber Co. They made their own entertainment.
The 1921-22 District 17 Register listed as teachers: Mary D. Bykin, Mrs. D.R. Raine, Gladys Breen and Adrian B. Owen. The single women received $135 a month, the married lady $150, and the man, who taught high school classes, $200. There were 140 students in all the grades, an increase of 75 percent over the previous year. The School Directors were Warren Watkins, T.N.. Hull and Ed Ransom. George G. Wood served as Clerk, as he had for several years past.
School district financing was in trouble. In August 1921, a special school meeting was called in Brookings to discuss the question of offering high school courses during the coming semester. Several speakers including J.H. Owen, H.C. Nutting (officers of the C&O Company) and a Mr. Frankel urged improvement of school facilities rather than discontinuance of any of them. The community voted to employ a high school teacher, and thereby continue the high school program.
Following that crisis school growth, pegged to the growth of the town, continued. In 1923 enrollment reached 225 in Brookings, and the one-building school was overcrowded and clearly inadequate. Should a separate building be constructed to house the high school? In a momentous school finance election the community decided by a vote of 15 to 7 to construct a new two-story building of redwood, containing 15 classrooms for the three upper elementary grades and the high school classes. A $10,000 bond issue was voted to finance the construction. "Prof" Paul W. Cook from the University of Oregon served as the principal of both schools, and as the high school teacher, with Mrs. Cook as co-teacher in the high school. For the grades there were five teachers. W.J. Ward was now School Board Chairman.
In 1924, a year before the C&O Company withdrew its operations, Brookings High School became a standard four-year school. Diplomas were accepted for admission by Oregon colleges and universities. Paul Cook, still the principal, was assisted in teaching by Mrs. Cook and Mrs. Clarence Cannon. The following year the school graduated its first senior student: Iona Pfefferle. All her grades were above 95.
The original Brookings High School building was located on Pacific Avenue where the Pacific Building once stood. But its life was short.
School lost in fire
A spectacular fire of unknown origin completely destroyed the Brookings school building early one Sunday morning. The old school building on the same property also burned. The then newer building housed both the grade school and the high school. The building was insured for $16,000. The insurance had been reduced from $24,0000 as a matter of economy.
The loss of all books and school supplies belonging to the district, teachers and pupils was practically complete.
The heat was so intense that clothing on a line five hundred feet away steamed dry. Dec. 5, 1935, Curry County Reporter.
Years later, in the Curry Coastal Pilot, "Polly Pilot" provided more details:
Marie Oar, who still lives in Brookings, had graduated from school not long before and went to watch the flames shooting upward, spraying sparks throughout the night. She found a piece of glass from one of the windows which had melted into a nondescript ball and for many years kept it as a memento of her alma mater. Archie and Doris McVay at Harbor remember that it happened in the middle of the night during a school holiday. Marie Hassett Nye of Harbor recalls that there had been a dance Saturday night and the fire broke out early Sunday morning. She woke up at 6 a.m. to a commotion and her mother told her that her school was on fire.
After the fire and before a new structure was built, classes were held in the old C&O mess hall, which was once the Ice Cream Barn Restaurant and the Grey-hound bus terminal and is now Lees Dragon Gate Restaurant.
Polly Pilot" continues:
Temporary partitions were constructed to separate the grammar school children from the high school teenagers. The youngsters found knotholes in the rough partitions were just right for peeking at the classes on the other side when teachers backs were turned. An additional detriment to discipline was the lack of school materials. Students in those days purchased their own books and few had escaped the fire. Most families could not afford to buy more.
The next year the voters decided by a 36 to 1 vote to issue $5,500 in bonds for the purpose of constructing a new school building. The board decided to build the new structure of concrete, including a concrete vault with a steel door in the basement. This structure was located on what is now the Azalea Middle School parking lot.
"Polly Pilot" says that "the vault still contained school records and most of the facts and figures in this article came from mildewed books and ledgers found in the vault."
Brookings and Harbor slowly revived and set off in new directions. The enrollment numbered 273 students, and the reported school district valuation was over a million dollars. Ten women and two men teachers were employed. The principal, Mr. C.D. Horner, was paid $3,000 annually. The other man teacher earned $2,900; the women ranged from $1,850 to $2,400, the average being about $1,900. Chairman of the School Board was Herbert Payne.
That year two state school investigators from the State Board of Education and the University of Oregon surveyed the school system. They reported that the school plant consisted of an eight-room building together with a rented building formerly belonging to the Harbor district. The eight-room building was overcrowded, leaky, noisy, badly heated, attacked by dry rot. Some parts of the building had never been finished, there was no heat in the gymnasium, and no provisions for teaching special subjects such as science. The experts found that: The basic economy of the community has undergone a radical change in the past two years, and this change is the basic cause of a number of school problems. The local school must expand to meet the growth of the area.
The following year Superintendent Hampton presented to the School Board a 6-6 school plan, which included mechanical drawing and woodworking. The Rotary Club provided hand tools for use in the manual training classes. The plan would save space and teacher's time, and teachers would teach subjects for which they had been trained.
To many taxpayers, the proposed increased school costs seemed high. The facts were that the high school enrollment had increased 557 percent since 1928, yet the costs per high school student had decreased 22 percent. Money available from the county and elementary school funds were not sufficient to maintain the Brookings-Harbor system. So voters were asked to approve an override of the 6% limitation on the increased budget. Leo Lucas of Harbor was president of the "Progressive Taxpayers" group. What happened?
School Budget Carried 219-120
Largest Vote in History of School Cast
Banner headline in The Pilot, Oct. 2, 1947