Monday, October 18, 2010

Collecting the History of Our Schools

Emery County Archives has been awarded grant money from Utah Humanities Council and Utah State Historical Society. These grants have benefited both the Archives and the whole county as well. We are so appreciative of the funding we have received which has helped us collected wonderful stories and events and lives of Emery County residents. Collecting these oral histories is probably the most valuable thing the Archives can do. Through oral history interviews we seek to learn what the towns looked like? What was important? What was popular? What factors created the challenges of the day? What made life fun? What were the schools like? The teachers? The politics? Who were the prominent people? Who were the bullies? Who were the beloved people? What were daily activities? What stores and businesses were in town? And of course we want the stories and details and pictures to make it come alive for us.
Central High School sat on top of the hill where the old Sheriff's Office used to be--or just west of there. It was a three story building that held its place of prominence for 33 years in Castle Dale. --Carolyn Jorgensen Collection
This year our Oral History Grant is focusing on the history of the schools in Emery County with a particular emphasis on the closing of some schools in an effort to consolidate the amount of facilities and funds used for education in this area. As jobs decreased in the county, we lost many residents, and the number of both students teachers diminished. So in 1943 Central High School was closed.

North Emery High School in Huntington--Adeline Wakefield Collection  
There had been an elementary school in every town in the county, including those that are now ghost towns such as Desert Lake, Victor, Willsonville, Woodside and others. Children went to school at these town schools until the 8th grade, when they would then be bussed to the nearest high school. The county had three high schools: North Emery High School in Huntington, Central High School in Castle Dale, and South Emery High School in Ferron.

South Emery High--Sam Singleton Collection
When it was suggested that Central High School be closed, the school board proposed that Castle Dale students be sent to South Emery and Orangeville students be sent to North Emery. A kind of war broke out. For one thing the students and parents did not want to lose the school in their town. One oral history participant explained  that the schools in a town are a social gathering spot for more than just school. To close a school meant to close many activities in a town. Also Orangeville and Castle Dale were sister towns. The kids interacted with each other. They had been going to school together and had become close friends. To separate them seemed quite cruel.

Sam Singleton explained that the buses ran pretty empty for months. Parents refused to let their children go to school as they fought against the closure of the school. His family was caught in the middle of it. His father Morris Singleton was one of the board members who felt that it was the right solution. Morris's sister Cecil Singleton Crawford  was one of the leaders to stop the closure. It was a difficult time for the county. Edward Geary's History of Emery County says that "A group of Central High patrons filed suit to block the closure... The courts decided that the school board lacked the authority to close the school permanently, but ruled that the board could temporarily discontinue Central High for the duration of the wartime emergency."

A compromise was made that both Orangeville and Castle Dale could send their students to South Emery High School. The parents began to send their children to school but bad feelings still exited, and when the school burned down in 1947 before it was reevaluated, feelings were inflamed as well. In some oral histories, I have heard--67 years later--that the school board will forever be blamed for starting the fire, in their minds at least. Everyone was sad to lose the grand old building on top of the hill. Photographs below are from Emery  County 1880-1980 History, originally from Elzora Jones Jensen.

The next consolidation of schools happened in 1962. As students graduated from school, they knew they had to leave the county. There were no jobs here. Population dwindled in the whole county. It was recommended that they combine the two high schools North and South Emery and make just one high school for the whole county, and other schools were "rearranged." Elmo and Emery lost their town school and their students began going to schools in other towns--Cleveland and Ferron, respectively. It was on the voting ballot of 1960. Outlying towns voted against it--Elmo, Cleveland, Emery and Huntington and Ferron who would be losing their high schools, were split on their votes, but Orangeville and Castle Dale voted yes almost unanimously. The school was named Emery County High School and opened its doors to students in 1962.
Many wanted it to be named Castle Valley High, but the board decided on Emery County High School.--Bill Jorgensen Collection

There are some other stories about schools in Emery County. In 1930 a young man playing football for South Emery was killed in a game against North Emery. This was in the days of leather helmets, and it was decided that the injuries weren't worth the risk. The football program was canceled, and was not opened up again until the new high school was built in 1962. One man said in his oral history that he and some friend were even expelled from school for playing football on the school grounds just for fun.

Every school has a rival, but North and South Emery High Schools seemed to be even more bitter enemies than is typical. Some say it dated back to which town got the Stake Academy in the late 1800s--Castle Dale being the location. Others say animosity was increased after the fatal football game. One remembers all the fights that were instigated after the rival games. But whatever the reason was, all the teachers and students that I have interviewed about the new high school said everyone seemed to get along fine when the two high schools were closed and one school for all was opened. People I have spoken to have expressed their dismay at the uncreative name chosen for the school. Many people wanted to name it Castle Valley High or some other name that had some county significance, but in view of the history, Emery County High School sounds like a good, unifying name.

Click here for more School Photographs: 
 If you know someone who should be interviewed about the history of school, please let the Archives know. 
If have any photographs of any of the schools in Emery County, please donate them to the Archives! 
We want more yearbooks, if you feel you can part with yours and let us preserve it, contact us!


  1. What about the Emery School? I attended the Emery School grades K-6. It was a fantastic place and I have great memories of those years. The auditorium on the second floor was so warped that dancing across it was an incredible experience. There was also a huge kitchen up stairs where a full hot lunch was served every day. There was a great extended foundation all around the building and walking the wall was a fantastic activity enjoyed by all. My class was the last 6th grade class and I am 62 so soon there will be none of us that remember the old Emery School.

  2. Good point. When can I interview you, Jo? That would be awesome!