|Education came to the Oregon Territory
and to Salem with the arrival of the early missionaries. Between
the years of 1834-1840, Jason Lee and David Leslie, along with
other missionaries and their families worked to establish several
Indian missions in the Willamette Valley. Jason Lee worked with
the Indians near Salem to set up an Indian training school.
His work was not entirely successful, but he did not give up.
He decided to resettle in Salem and continue his work there.
He and the other missionaries saw opportunities for the future
settlement of the Oregon Territory, and Salem. In 1842, these
men met together in Salem to organize and establish the Oregon
Institute. This school was the fulfillment of their desire to
create a school to educate their own children and provide the
opportunity for an education to other Oregon families that were
settling in Salem. These men knew that education was the key
to a stable, responsible population that would lead and guide
the Oregon Territory into future statehood.
The First School
The first school house in Salem was a log cabin at the
southwest corner of Marion and Commercial streets. It was
built in 1850 and was mainly supported by families paying
tuition to send their children to school. Some other money
for the school came from county funds and rate bills. By January
1855, Salem school district 24J was officially organized by
William P. Pugh, the county superintendent.
As the town of Salem grew, so did the need for more schools.
In 1857, Central School was built near High Street between
Center and Marion Streets, the present site of Meier &
Frank. Ten year old T. T. Geer, a future Governor of Oregon
from 1899 to 1903, attended Central School in 1861.
By 1859 there were 227 school age children in the district,
but there is no record of how many children actually attended
school. By 1865 the number of children in the district had
grown to 632 with 200 students in attendance at Central School.
More students meant more schools. In 1866, the district levied
a 5 mill tax to build two new school. One was built in north
Salem and the second school was constructed in south Salem.
South School, as it was named, was originally located at Fir
and Myers Streets, but it was moved to South Commercial Street
in 1892. The school building was later used in turn as a cider
mill, machine shop and as the W. A. Barkus Feed Mill.
Between the years of 1866 to 1869 "Little" Central
School and East Salem School were built. "Little"
Central School was near the original Central School with fifteen
non-Anglo students taught by Mrs. R. Mallory.
East Salem School
East Salem School was originally located at 12th and Center
Streets which now is the downtown Safeway site. East Salem
School stood on this site until about 1886-1887. The building
was then moved to the southeast corner of Liberty and Court
Streets to make way for the new East School. East School was
completed in 1887 at the 12th and Center Street site and was
built to hold 600 students in up to ten grades using twelve
classrooms. Eventually East School became known as Washington
School in 1915. The original 1869 East Salem School building
was then used to house both the Capital Journal newspaper
and the Vidette, the state Democratic newspaper between the
years 1888 to 1890.
In 1871, the school board officially proposed a 3 mill school
levy. It was voted on and passed by the citizens of Salem,
and with that action, taxes were collected and set aside for
the use of Salem schools.
Elementary Schools Grow
Minimum elementary school grade levels had been established
by 1875 along with a standard school year of 40 weeks. The
school year started in September with three terms of 16, 14,
and 12 weeks each along with a 2 week vacation. There was
also the beginnings of a strong interest in developing higher
grades beyond the elementary level. There was no high school
at this time, but there was a growing desire and need to give
students the opportunity for further education. In the approximately
25 years from 1875 to the turn of the century in 1900 saw
Salem unofficially add higher grades with added subjects.
This was the future basis for an official high school curriculum.
First High School
By 1901, Salem officially voted in a ninth grade, the
first year of high school. By the years of 1902-1903, there
were 90 students just in the 9th and 10th grades at East School
with no juniors or seniors. These freshmen and sophomore high
school students were enthusiastic about high school and were
already participating in a wide variety of high school activities.
They included sports, drama clubs, debating groups, social
societies, and literary groups. The first high school newspaper,
The Clarion, was published in 1904.
There was still no officially established four year high
school in Salem, but in 1904 an election was held and the
people of Salem passed a measure that officially added a high
school class each year. With this vote, the residents of Salem
recognized the need to continue to offer a high school education
to Salem students and to provide a permanent four year high
school. The following year, in 1905, the school board authorized
the first four year high school to be built in Salem.
The future Salem High School was built on the present Meier
& Frank site facing southeast from Marion Street. Central
School also sat on this site until Salem High School was completed.
Central School was then moved to the corner of Commercial
and Center Streets in 1906.
Salem High School was a modern building for its time, using
the latest technology and products in its construction. It
was made of Newberg pressed brick and held a state of the
art heating and venting system which recirculated air every
six minutes. The high school had 16 large classrooms, a library,
and laboratories. In the basement were restrooms, a furnace
room and a bicycle room. The third floor held an unfinished
gym, assembly hall and stage. These rooms were eventually
finished, with the gym and assembly hall completed in Italian
style décor. A year later Salem High School was dedicated
in ceremonies held on the evening of January 1, 1906.
Superintendent J. M. Powers spoke at the dedication ceremonies,
and his remarks reflected the pride Salem held for its new
high school. By 1936, when a new high school building was
completed, the original Salem High School had become administrative
North and South High School
The new Salem High School was built at 14th and D Streets.
By the time South Salem High School was built in 1954, Salem
High School was renamed. It became North Salem High School,
and it still retains this name. Over the years it has gone
through many renovations and improvements and is still located
at 14th and D Streets. Two famous alumni from North Salem
High School are former Senator Mark Hatfield, and Matt Moritz,
who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals baseball team in
Through the many intervening years, the number of Salem schools
has steadily grown. In 1871 there were five schools in Salem.
Willamette University had been established and had an enrollment
of 258 students. The Academy of the Sacred Heart was educating
young women and accepted all students from every denomination.
The annual Salem city census of 1877 documented 1,529 children
of school age. Out that number, 680 students were enrolled
in public schools. The rest of the students were attending
Willamette University, Academy of the Sacred Heart or J. W.
Sellwood private school, or not attending school at all. In
1898 the Salem city directory shows fourteen colleges and
private schools in Salem, and five public schools.
1920 to 2000
By 1921 Salem continued to have over a dozen colleges
and private schools. The number of public schools jumped to
twelve. That included one high school, three junior high schools,
and eight elementary schools. The 1932 Salem city directory
shows eleven schools in the district. This included one high
school, two junior high schools, and three parochial schools.
There was a total of 5,536 students enrolled in the district,
and 286 teachers. By 1978, Salem had five high schools and
thirty-eight elementary schools. In the year 2000, the Salem
school district had thirty-nine elementary schools, nine middle
schools, and five high schools, along with two alternative
school and one charter school. By the fall of 2002, West Salem
is scheduled to open a new high school with a maximum enrollment
of 1600 students. The total enrollment in the Salem-Keizer
school district is about 34,000 students in 2000.
Researched and written by Susan Gibby