The first school opened in Holt County in the fall of 1839. A very primitive structure, this was in a log cabin that had been built by R. H. Russel, primarily as a residence. The 14 X 16 building was placed about three and a half miles southeast of Oregon. The first teacher at that school was Jeremiah Garner; he was required to teach spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic. Sparsely populated, the first students were the children of early settlers John Russel, Thomas Crowley, James Crowley, and John Sterrett. There were no public school funds at this time, so the teacher taught for a term of three months, and the patrons furnished firewood, boarded the teacher and paid $1.50 per term for each pupil. The school began when twenty pupils were enrolled.
The first school in the town of Oregon itself was a private enterprise, beginning in the winter of 1843. John Collins opened the school in a squatter’s cabin in the northeast corner of the town. A total of 30 students were enrolled.
After that endeavor, there were two school districts in Oregon; one in the East and one in the West, commonly known as districts 14 and 15. In 1857 these were joined into one school, the Northwest Normal School, in a new brick structure, a two-story building with 4 rooms and two halls. A new school building was built in 1873 with 12 rooms was built at a cost of $25,000; the building also was equipped with a full basement and four hot-air furnaces. The elementary and secondary grades were housed in this building. Textbooks used in 1885 included Swinton’s Spellers, McGuffey’s Readers, Ray’s new Primary Arithmetic, Ray’s New Mental Arithmetic, Clark’s Practical German, Monteith’s Geography, Swinton’s U.S. History, Towsend’s Civil Government and Steel’s Physiology.
An increasing number of students and the desire for an expanded curriculum resulted in a new red brick high school building, which was built in 1916. This new building was erected a few yards north of the current building and included a basement gymnasium with seating for 200. Four recitation rooms, the superintendent’s office, a hospital room, laboratory, study hall and gallery were added to the educational experience at this time. The high school classes moved into this building and the 1873 building was used solely as an elementary school. This building was remodeled in 1937, adding modern equipment and a new gymnasium. The high school was then moved into this building, with the elementary school moving into the north building.
Information for this article was compiled from information found in the History of Holt County 1882; the History of Holt County 1917, and newspaper articles and personal research housed in the Holt County Historical Society’s Genealogy/Research Center. (Contributed by Helen Morris Smith)