Monday, July 11, 2011

The Closing of Central School

My last post about the consolidation of schools and the "New Emery County School" was only half of the oral history project funded through a grant from Utah State Historical Society and Utah Humanities Council. The other half of the project concerns the closing of Central High School and making two high schools out of three. I have interviewed a few people who were former students, and I have talked to many who have an opinion about it. It has been fascinating to study. This was a much more difficult transition than the consolidation of 1962. Central School was closed in 1943 and burned four years later. "It was worse than a funeral," one of the students said.

Emery Stake Academy1910-1922.  Central School 1922-1943
(Click on each picture to enlarge it)
The burning of Central School in Castle Dale in 1947 was a great loss not only to the residents of Castle Dale and Orangeville back then, but for the entire county even today.  The school had served the people for at least three generations. It began as Emery Stake Academy in 1910 and became Central School in 1922 Although I did not live in Emery County during my school years (see About Me) and actually, wasn't even alive during the lifetime of Central School, I mourn the loss of that majestic building and miss it terribly! I often drive past the hill that was once its throne and try to picture what it was like when it reigned over the valley.
Central High on the East Bench of Castle Dale
It was originally built by the LDS Church as a Stake Academy. It was three stories high with 16 classrooms on the first two floors and a large third floor assembly hall where many activities were held including weekly dances. The floors were all wood; there was beautiful woodwork all through the school. It functioned as a high school (7th-12th) for Emery County LDS residents from anywhere in the county. In 1922 Emery County School District bought the building from the LDS Church and opened it as Central High School. Judging from articles in their school newspaper, The Broadcaster it looks like they had some fun times. Such as, "Speech Class held a Chocolate Cake and a Pickle party at Miss Beth Jewkes of Orangeville last Saturday night. A delightful evening was enjoyed by all."  

Faculty page in yearbook "The Tower"
Dance Card from Central High School
The school had three clubs: The Knights, which was a boys club; the Peppers, which I have not learned much about; and the S.A. Club which was a secret society club like those in some universities. But in this club, the members were known and so were the activities--only the name of the club was secret. No one knew what S.A. stood for. It was a girls club and to be invited into it one had to have a B average. After receiving a letter inviting you to a meeting. The initiation meetings were held at night. One former member said: 
S.A. Club Girls in their uniforms--black sweaters with white initials.
It was candlelight, and it was secretive. It was in a beautiful setting with candles. I remember that. Then they made you take an oath and promise that you would never reveal the name.
I overheard one lady say that she would never tell the name of the club; it would go to the grave with her. Others have felt like it was of their childhood and held no harm in telling it, so they divulged it to me. I will not publish it here in respect of those who want to "take it to their grave" with them. The club was founded in 1931, and the tradition continued until the close of the school.

Students gathered around their school rock painted with a "C"--behind the two boys in front
The school rock was moved onto the lawn on the corner by the Castle Dale City buidling

According to the history books Emery County communities were losing population and school enrollment  during the Second World War. The school board felt that they needed to look at all options. Central School was very old and probably too large to accommodate the number of students in the area. It was difficult to heat, and the war had taken a lot of the teachers, so there was a shortage.One lady remembers they brought in just about anybody in the county who would take the job of teaching, and they were usually just temporary. So closing one school and busing them to another school would save the district a lot of money. The proposal to close Central came from a school board member from Huntington. This proposal 
"...set off the most bitterly fought consolidation battle in the county's history...The beginning of the school year brought a boycott, with students refusing to board the buses." (Geary 306)
When the fight began and bad feelings were flaring, Huntington was included at the top of the  black list just under the school board superintendent R.S. Chipman.

Edward Geary states in his book The History of Emery County
Building R-L: Seminary, Central School, Shop
A group of Central High patrons filed suit to block the closure...The courts, while noting that the school board lacked the authority to close the school permanently, ruled that the board could temporarily discontinue Central High for the duration of the wartime emergency. A compromise was reached that called for all Central High students to be bussed to South Emery instead of dividing the closely tied communities of Castle Dale and Orangeville. This solution ended the boycott, but bitter feelings continued for many years. (Geary 306)
With the end of the wartime emergency that had been used to justify the closing of Central High School, residents of Castle Dale and Orangeville began pressing the board of education to reopen the school. (Geary 320)
The school burned down August 1947 before the issue was resolved.

I heard some expressions of bitterness, anger, suspicion and injustice concerning the school's demise such as:

  • It was a "heavy handed decision," opinions were not asked for. 
  • Some felt that if the board had gone about it differently there wouldn't have been a "war."
  • They felt like they "didn't get a chance" to improve the school or make any changes.
  • Parents and teachers were mad at the superintendent. "They sure didn't like Mr. Chipman."
  • "We didn't start school or even go to school until January. Our parents kept us home."
  • "We even had a family problem. My dad was on the school board and wanted to close Central; my aunt was opposed to it. She lived in Castle Dale."
  • The school board wanted to separate students Orangeville was to go to Huntington--North Emery; Castle Dale was to go Ferron--South Emery. That fueled the fight even further.
  • A small town's social life revolves around a school, "you take that out and there goes your town."
  • Some of the parents had attended Central High when it was the Stake Academy, so they were especially attached to that building.
  • While some were attached to the building, and others just were adamant about having a high school in their area--if they tore the old one down, they needed to build a new one.
  • Some said the building was deteriorating, others said it was in good condition and could have easily been repaired, the deteriorating claim was "just an excuse."
  • There was rivalry between all three schools. None of the kids wanted to go to Huntington--North Emery; they didn't want to go to South Emery either, but they mostly didn't want to be separated.  
  • When the kids did start at South Emery, everything was done differently like grading, etc. 
  • None of the kids from Central "could do anything for the year and a half that I was there" (like be student body officers and cheer leading, etc.).
  • The kids from Ferron weren't very happy to have the new students invade their school.
  • When the school burned a few years later, many were sure it was started by the school board superintendent. 
  • "I remember the fire! How we watched it. It was worse than a funeral!"
  • "I went to Central School until they burned it down.And that was no accident! I know about that! That was no accident!"
  • "It’s funny they didn’t ride that superintendent out of town!"
  • "I run up there and looked and I could see all them microscopes and stuff in there. It just made me sick. I wanted to get in there so bad. I would have died if I had." 
As one person put it, "The fight was a losing battle. The compromise was not satisfactory, but nothing more could be done." These are all very sad comments, but the school is gone and everyone learned to adjust to it. And there are always the memories.Those who attended Central High School have some great ones that they have passed on to us.

In September, 1947, the seminary building caught on fire and quickly spread to the main high school. Montell Seely was 13 years old at the time and lived nearby. His eyewitness account is interesting. He and his brother saw the smoke and quickly rode their horses to the building
Three or four other men were just arriving. They tried to get some water turned on, but since these building had been closed for several years with all the water lines shut off, no one seemed to know where to turn the water on. We arrived soon enough, so that if we had had some water, we could have put out the fire in the seminary building.
Soon many people arrived and men were running in all directions...Finally they got the water turned on, but by then the Seminary building was an inferno of flames and there was no chance to save it. They tried to wet down the high school building, but there was not enough water pressure to do any good and the roof caught fire. To make a long story short, they had to stand there and helplessly watch, as that beloved old Academy building burned to the ground.
1986 Central High School Reunion

For me, the fact that such a majestic building once belonged to the Emery County landscape piques my imagination. I walk the halls, peak into the classrooms, and attend the dances as I listen to others share their memories. Having come to know Emery Stake Academy/Central High School, I will forever revisit it!

The wonderful thing about Emery County Archives (and we are the only county archives in the state*) is that we are preserving history right here. Through oral histories, we save memories; we save stories; we save photographs. The photos and the memories are what brings history back alive for us.

 Come revisit it, and other elements of Emery County History, with me at the Archives. We have more photographs here.  Come visit the Archives and see all the information and even more photographs we have.  Please leave any comments you have at the bottom of this page where it says "comments." Or email me:
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*We are the only county archives other than Salt Lake County.