Historic Structures

Oats Park Grammar School, Fallon Nevada

Date added: September 20, 2022 Categories: Nevada School

Churchill County was established in February 1864, nine months prior to Nevada's entry into US statehood on 31 October 1864. After a series of temporary county seats, the emerging crossroads town of Fallon was established as the permanent Churchill County seat in 1903. Two years later, Fallon was surveyed by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company, and identified as having a population of 350. Fallon incorporated as a municipality in December 1908.

Fallon developed commercially at the intersection of Williams and Maine Streets, and spread out residentially to the southeast and southwest of these crossroads. One of the prominent developments of Fallon's eastern section was the Oats Park Addition, owned by John Oats, an English immigrant to the American west. Oats and his wife Nellie owned lands in Fallon and numerous ranchlands about the County and became instrumental in the early development of Fallon. In 1906 Oats donated property for the construction of the first Fallon High School, a two-story brick structure located on Second Street. Three years later, he donated a ten-acre area centered within the Oats Park Addition for use as a public park. By the early 1910s, the Fallon City Council began improvements to the square, and residential usage developed around the square. Several undeveloped blocks bordered the park.

At the turn-of-the-century, the Churchill County economy was based on mining, and following a strike at Rawhide, Fallon became the center of mining and ranching enterprises. Opportunity to diversify the economy developed with the passage of the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902, which enabled the irrigation and development of the desert lands of Nevada. The Lahontan Dam project, located within a few miles of Fallon, was designed to harness the power of the Truckee and Carson rivers. Initiated in 1911, it was the first Federal Reclamation Project in the United States, and directly influenced the need for more educational facilities in Churchill County.

Work on the construction of Lahontan Dam began in the spring of 1911 and was completed in 1915. During this four year period, the project attracted an influx of workers, and the town and surrounding area grew accordingly; from 1,000 in 1909, to 1,800 in 1912. Growth in Fallon was paralleled by growth in Churchill County, and this was reflected in the need for new educational facilities in both the city and county. At the same time bonds were approved and architectural plans drawn for a grammar school in Fallon, residents of the nearby Harmon District of Churchill County voted to construct a larger school for their rural students. The almost-simultaneous construction of the Harmon School in the country and the Oats Park Grammar School in the city confirm the impact of the construction of the Lahontan Dam upon Fallon and Churchill County. The Harmon School, consisting of the school building, pumphouse, and teacherage, was erected between 1915-16.

The "Fallon Grammar School" was designed in 1914 by Reno architect Frederick J. Delongchamps. The budget for the school building, including purchase of the real estate, the school furnishings and the payment of the architect's five percent fee for supervising the building's construction was $20,000.00 and was raised by bond. The bids for the construction of the school building were opened and accepted in June 1914. Friedhoff and Hoeffel of Reno won the bid for construction; J. A. McDermitt of Reno for plumbing and heating.

On 8 July 1914, John and Nellie Oats sold Block No. 5, Lots 1-12 to the Board of School Trustees of Fallon School District Number Four for the sum of $500.00. With architectural plans and contractors prepared, construction on the school building began soon after the acquisition of the property. The building was finished in January 1915 and was named in honor of John Oats.

On Thursday 7 January 1915 the School District hosted a reception to celebrate the completion of "one of the most modern and magnificent school structures." Declaring that the event "marked an epoch in the educational progress of the City of Fallon," the Churchill County Eagle praised the School District for completing the project within the 20,000 bond, and detailed the spacious and modern interiors:

The classrooms are all the same size and will accommodate a maximum of 45 pupils, or a total number in the building of 180....The entire building is floored with maple and the doors are of hard wood, all presenting a fine appearance. The heating and ventilation are modern and the best that the board could secure.

The basement is divided into two separate parts, the south for the girls and the north for the boys. This lower part of the building has only been completed so far as the hallways and lavatories are concerned, and while provision is made on the boys' side for manual training and in the girls' department for domestic science, these large rooms will be completed later when funds are available...Directly in front of the entrance is the main assembly room, with ample seating capacity for the entire school.

The Oats Park Grammar School, serving the third through eighth grades of Churchill County, opened for classes on Monday 11 January 1915.

While celebrating the completion of the school in 1915, the Eagle reporter also noted that "when the increased population requires, two rooms can be added on the north and two on the south, thus doubling the capacity of the school and accommodating 360 pupils." By 1921, this expansion was necessary. DeLongchamps' firm provided the "Additions and Alterations to the Oats Park Grammar School" in 1920. T. J. Reese, a Fallon contractor, won the bid for construction of "four additional classrooms" and "two basement rooms to conform to those already in use at the school, that will afford quarters for domestic science and manual training classes."

The architect's 1920 prints included the substantial expansion of the centrally-located First-Floor Assembly Hall to include a gymnasium and stage, and the inclusion of a moving picture room located against the Hall's interior wall. When the project went out to the final contractor's bid, however, these innovations had been deleted from the specifications.

Construction on the two wings began in March 1921, and by late May 1921 the exterior construction was completed. The Fallon Standard called the building "one of the state's finest school edifices." The only subsequent addition to the Oats Park Grammar School block was a completely detached gymnasium, constructed in 1946.

As reported in The Fallon Standard, the Oats Park Grammar School suffered minor damage during the earthquake and aftershocks of July and August 1954, but opened on schedule with other schools on September 7. School remained open during the minor repairs, although two classes were shifted to other rooms of the school, "not because of danger, but to avoid noise during remodeling work."

In 1954, the newly-appointed Nevada School Survey Committee commissioned Peabody College of Nashville, Tennessee to survey and report on the status and future of Nevada schools. As a direct result of this report, the High and Grammar Schools of Churchill County were re-organized and consolidated under one County Superintendent. This organizational restructuring, including creation of the Churchill County School District, prompted the decision to make the Oats Park Grammar School a junior high school for the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades in 1957. Within a few years, facilities at Oats Park were deemed inadequate by the State, and the city passed a bond issue for a more comprehensive facility. The E. C. Best Junior High School, constructed on property directly behind the Oats Park Grammar School, opened in September 1962. By the mid-1970s, the lower grades were served by both E. C. Best Middle School and the newly constructed Minnie P. Blair School. The oats Park Grammar School was used for storage and provided classroom space for students of the Western Nevada Community College.

In the late 1970s, the Churchill County School District commissioned an evaluation of the potential restoration of the Oats Park School. This preliminary report acknowledged that restoration of the building as a school was possible, but probably cost-prohibitive. Based on this preliminary report, undertaken without identification of the architect and his original plans, the Churchill County School District closed the Oats Park Grammar School.

Since its closure, the Oats Park Grammar School building has been used for storage purposes by the Churchill County School District. In January 1990 the Churchill County Sheriff's Department began using one of the former basement classrooms as a weight-training facility.