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Flora School sits alone on its 3.4 acres. It’s once lively playground is filled with weeds and native grasses. And many nearby houses are gone or crumbling. But in its heyday in the early twentieth century, the school prepared the young for their future and for our future.
Now, Flora School remains to show the future what the past looked like.
Schools were (and are) a major concern of people in any community. As settlers colonized the West, they often established schools before platting the town. According to planning meetings held before the building of Flora’s first school, “The schoolhouse called for a town nearby.”
Flora’s school system started when patrons of the area petitioned to divide from Arko District #10 and form School District #32 on February 16, 1891. They built a 16′ x 20′ one room, log schoolhouse at Buzzard’s Corner in 1892. It had three rows of double desks and became overcrowded by 1895.
Flora was not the first in the area to educate their young but they were the first in Wallowa County to add a high school. This came in the form of an academy (similar to a private high school) in 1896. Professor Ligtle opened the Flora Academy but it closed the same year because of uneven attendance. In 1898, a second attempt was made to establish an academy with Professor F.H. Ghormley as principal. It too closed due to lagging attendance.
Often lacking an education of their own, early settlers did as much as they could to make sure their children received what they had not. They pushed for the building of schools before towns and donated money and labor to construct schoolhouses. But desire for education often clashed with the realities of farming, ranching and logging in harsh weather. Parents sent their children to school as often as possible but not always consistently. Boys needed to return home to help harvest wheat, barley, and hay or to assist in lambing and calving. The children of loggers followed the logging camps and could not always attend a full season of school. Girls could often attend school more regularly. However, since children walked or rode horses to school, they all faced the challenges of inclement weather. Thus, the school year consisted of weeks, not months, and in some cases the school year was counted in days only.
Despite these challenges and inconsistencies, the demand for higher education continued to grow throughout the North End.
The community opened Flora School #2 to accommodate the increasing number of younger children. Built in 1900 on the first property F.S. and Anna Johnson sold to the district, it was a one-story, L shaped building, much larger than the log structure at Buzzard’s Corner.
With this school came a more regimented school year six months long. In 1902, a vote decided in favor of a ten mill tax for an addition to the school and to hire a second teacher. Up until then, one teacher had as many as 48 students in grades one through eight.
With the North End community continuing to grow, the school board once again took up the challenge of establishing a school that could accommodate older children. F.S. Johnson and his wife sold the land to the school board for the new school. The new Flora School opened in 1915. With a basement, first and second floors, and an attic, this school was much larger than the others. The Enterprise Record Chieftain proclaimed, “The Flora people will never regret their expenditure for the school as nothing goes farther to give a community standing.”
The school has never had a well on its property. Water was piped from approximately a mile away, with a deed holding this arrangement in place until the school was closed.
Flora School reached its zenith in the 1925-26 school year with the largest graduating class numbering 25 (members tallied 30 at one point). Flora became the education center for the North End. Flora’s student body, first through twelfth grades, enrolled over 100 students. There were eight teachers at its high point. As the three remaining districts of today enveloped the others of the past, Flora District #32 participated in this same consolidation. Kuhn Ridge District #78 joined Flora in 1923. Arko District #10, from which Flora was originally cut, and Sunny Glade District #85 consolidated with Flora District #32 on August 6, 1947. Diminished population (due to WWII) and the ability to drive enabled the district to expand its boundaries. Waverly District #66 added to the numbers at Flora in 1957.
Then, a few years later. the North End’s education system began its decline. The school board announced in November of 1962, there were too few students and the school too remote to survive.
Flora’s high school closed in 1962 after operating for three years with special consent granted by the State of Oregon. It was the smallest public high school in Oregon at the time: twelve students.
Thirteen years later, the elementary school closed when only one student, seventh grader, Ben Curry, was enrolled. Flora School District #32 officially consolidated with Enterprise in 1977. When the school closed, the high school students of the area were already attending Enterprise High School.
Since then, Flora’s children have had travel to Troy’s one room school 15 miles distant or over 40 miles to Enterprise.
Heart of Community
Wallowa County has had a total of 91 school districts. Some were one room, some two rooms, others were large like Flora School, Wallowa, Joseph, and Enterprise schools. Over time, each of the large ones enveloped the smaller as people moved to the towns and cities for jobs.
After World War II, agriculture became more mechanized. Large ranches bought out smaller farms. many families didn’t have enough land to pass on to all their children. And some children decided to seek new opportunities available in the post-war boom of urban America. The large towns grew larger while the smaller ones faded.
School closures are hard for any community, but area especially hard in rural areas, since so much of rural identity, pride and activity focus on schools. .
Flora lost its high school in 1962, it’s post office in 1966 and its grade school in 1975. The town is now a ghost of its former self.
Enterprise School District took ownership of the Flora School and the attached property. In 1990, the district planned to sell the old school to an individual wanting to surround the Flora School with secondhand appliances, cars, and assorted items. The North End community opposed the sale, and the deal fell through. The District then sold Flora School and acreage to the Northend (Flora) Grange in 1991 for $10. The Grange sold the school to its present owners who helped to form the Flora School Education Center to guide restoration and the establishment of a folk arts training center. The money from the sale of the school became seed money for scholarships, to be used for students who would have attended Flora School had it been operating to this day.