Abandoned school in Oregon

Children's Farm Home School, Corvallis Oregon
Date added: August 25, 2022 Categories:
West (front) elevation. View looking north/northeast (2007)

The Children's Farm Home began as the dream of Mary Powers (later Mary Powers Riley) to provide a home for "orphaned and otherwise dependent children" in Oregon. It was to be a facility where there was no expectation of adoption, but rather a place where children could live their entire childhoods. Mrs. Powers, who had been an orphan herself, presented her ideas to the Oregon Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) convention in October 1919 in Ashland. The idea was met with favorable response, and the state president asked Mrs. Powers to chair a committee to investigate the need for such a facility. Mrs. Powers selected Mrs. Mary Mallett (Portland), Mrs. Emma Archibald (Tangent), Mr. Alfred C. Schmitt (Albany), Mr. H.C. Seymour (representing Oregon Agricultural College President W.J. Kerr), Mr. W.R. Scott (Albany), and Mr. Walter K. Taylor (Corvallis) to serve on the committee. Their first action was to conduct a survey to determine if Oregon could use this kind of facility. After receiving the names of 2,400 children who might benefit from such a place, the committee recommended that the project move forward, that a board of trustees be selected, that articles of incorporation be created, and that a campaign manager be appointed to secure funds. Thus began the Oregon WCTU's "great adventure in child welfare" that lasted for more than forty years.

The Board of Trustees organized and elected the following officers: A.C. Schmitt, president; Mary Powers, first vice president; Walter K. Taylor, second vice-president; H.C. Seymour, secretary; and H. Hirschberg, treasurer. Mr. Schmitt, Mr. Taylor, and Mr. Seymour were charged with preparing the articles of incorporation and the by-laws, as well as submitting the plan to the Child Welfare Commission of Oregon for approval and permission to move forward with the project.

The WCTU wanted their facility to be a home, rather than an institution, where homeless children would feel secure and be a part of a family, and where they would have a chance to grow up with a strong sense of values and have the opportunity to lead a healthy and happy life. To this end, and in keeping with the evolving philosophies on child welfare, a "cottage plan" was adopted based on the model used for Mooseheart, a residential child welfare facility located near Chicago, Illinois, where several individual living units called cottages functioned separately as homes. Each cottage would be under the direction of a matron (to be paid a salary of $65 per month) and an assistant (to be paid a salary of $50 per month). In addition to cottage living, the Children's Farm Home facility would provide education, vocational training, and an opportunity for children to participate on a working farm.

The plan, however, did not get off the ground quickly and stalled due to a lack of funding. In October 1921, Ada Wallace Unruh was hired as the fundraiser for the project. By the end of that year, she had successfully raised funds to purchase the land on which the Children's Farm Home would be built. On January 12th, 1922, the WCTU purchased 253 acres of farm land from the Harry Asbahr family for $49,000. Included in the purchase were a dairy barn, milk barn, machine shed, exercise shed, two silos, and a farmhouse (now called The Oaks). Fundraising continued throughout the year and on December 16th, 1922, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the first cottage. During the winter of 1923, an appropriation for a second cottage was passed by the state legislature for $25,000.

Willard Cottage was the first to be constructed, immediately followed by Oregon Cottage. Mr. C.T. Webb was the home's first superintendent, with a salary of $150 per month. He and his family moved into Willard Cottage on July 5th, 1923 prior to its final completion. By July 10th, twenty-three children moved into the facility and by August 14th, both cottages had their full complement of 20 children each (boys lived in Oregon Cottage under the direction of Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Ethel Pinkerton, while the girls lived in Willard Cottage under the direction of Mrs. Lena White and Mrs. Penington).

It was not long before there was more demand than there was space. In 1924, a third cottage, Portland Cottage, was built with donations from Portland, and a fourth cottage, Multnomah Cottage, funded by donations from Multnomah County, followed in early 1925. Also in 1925, the state legislature approved an appropriation for $50,000, of which $35,000 was to be used to construct a school, and $15,000 was to be used to construct a fifth cottage, called Powers Cottage.

Other buildings followed, most financed by donations and through fundraising. Lane Cottage, the sixth cottage, was constructed in 1927 with donations from Lane County's WCTU unions. The Matheson Building, a shop building housing a freezer, cooler, and wood shop, was built in 1928 (it was added onto in 1937 when the laundry was constructed). The seventh cottage, Unruh Cottage, was built in 1929, as was the hog house. The Cooley Memorial Pool was built in 1930. The blacksmith shop and a new office building were constructed in 1934. The Wayside Shelter was built in 1937. The hospital, also called Looney Cottage, was built in 1938. Frances Elizabeth Cottage (commonly called F.E.) was built in 1939. A new loafing shed was built in the barn in 1943. The Mary Mallett Cottage (commonly called The Mallett) was built in 1949, and a new milk house was constructed in 1951. A chapel was built in 1955, but was destroyed by fire in 1961 and rebuilt in 1962. A new administration building was constructed in 1964, as well as a new loafing shed and a new hog house. The New Powers Cottage (the original was demolished in 1967) was constructed in 1975, and the Cummings Cottage was built in 1976. The Lakeside Shelter House was constructed in 1980, and the Multi-Purpose Building was built in 1989.

The operation of the Children's Farm Home changed over time. The farm, managed with the assistance of Oregon Agricultural College, provided not only opportunities for children to learn farming, but also provided income from farm products that helped support the facility's operation. Although farming continued to be part of the operation for several years, during the 1930s vocational training was added to teach children skills other than farming and house work.

The 1940s saw a shift in decision-making and management of the facility. Until 1942, the Children's Farm Home had been run exclusively by the WCTU, who had a say in every decision made at the facility. With the repeal of Prohibition, and a decline in membership and political clout, the WWCTU-controlled Board of Trustees began to relinquish decision-making responsibilities to the new superintendent, William B. Schnebly.

By the 1950s, popular views of child development stressed a more liberal approach to child rearing, and the Children's Farm Home struggled to adjust while still trying to retain their philosophy of service. By the late 1950s, the country's philosophy had dramatically changed, and society's attitudes toward residential care for homeless children had been nearly abandoned in favor of foster care. As a result of this changing attitude, the state began to pay only for institutional care of delinquent and emotionally disturbed children. Additionally, new ideas on child labor and farming had emerged, and as the 1960s approached, the Children's Farm Home was experiencing an identity crisis.

In order to survive, the Children's Farm Home needed to make substantial changes in their philosophy and services. Although for forty years the WCTU had accomplished their goals of providing a home for children, on October 11th, 1963, the WCTU turned over complete control of the facility in order meet these new goals.

In 1962, Don Miller took over as superintendent of the Children's Farm Home after the WCTU's decision to relinquish control. Miller helped move the Children's Farm Home into a new era with the institution's reorganization into a therapeutic-focused, residential treatment facility for children with behavioral problems. Miller successfully re-developed the Children's Farm Home into a top-quality children's mental health facility. In 1998, Trillium Family Services was formed when the Children's Farm Home, the Waverly Children's Home, and the Parry Center for Children merged to create an integrated system of service. Today, the Children's Farm Home continues to offer services for children suffering from mental and behavioral disorders.

The Children's Farm Home School

Education was seen as a critical part of the services to be offered by the WCTU's Children's Farm Home. Originally, children were taken to Corvallis to attend school, but outbreaks of illness and difficulties in transporting children resulted in the construction of a temporary school building on the campus in 1924. The Children's Farm Home was organized into its own public school district at that time, known as Benton County School District #42, a move that was unique in providing education for Oregon's orphans. This temporary building was too small to meet the needs of the growing population of children. As a school district, however, the Children's Farm Home could seek state and county school funds, which helped pay teachers' salaries.

In 1925, the state legislature was asked to appropriate funds for a new school building for the Children's Farm Home. The legislature passed an act, Chapter 365 of the Laws of 1925, authorizing the funding of $35,000 for the construction of a new school building, and $15,000 for the construction of another cottage. Following approval of the funding, the Children's Farm Home Board of Trustees selected the architectural firm of DeYoung & Roald to design the building. L.N. Traver of Corvallis was selected as the General Contractor, and C.N. Yundt was selected to install the heating and plumbing. Approval of these selections was made by the Oregon State Board of Control at their meeting on August 13th, 1925.

Knud A. Roald and James W. DeYoung, both of Portland, worked in partnership from 1919 until 1929. Together they designed a number of important buildings, including the new Heathman Hotel, the Clark County (Washington) Poor Farm, and the Rex Arms Apartments in Portland. Little is known about DeYoung, however, Roald arrived in Portland in 1910, where he began his work as a draftsman for Henry Hefty, David Chambers Lewis, and later for the L.P. Bailey Co., Architects and Builders. He was licensed as an architect in Oregon in 1919. After working with DeYoung, Roald practiced on his own until the early 1940s, when he went into partnership with John T. Schneider. After World War II, he formed a new partnership known as Roald, Schmeer, & Harrington (with Millard H. Schmeer and Elmer G. Harrington). Roald retired in 1963 and died in 1965.

Construction on the school started shortly after the 1925 approval, and the building was under construction in October when the campus was inspected by the Deputy State Fire Marshall. The exact date of completion of construction is unknown (perhaps in late 1925 or early 1926), but it is known that the state's appropriation of $35,000 was insufficient to fully equip and furnish the school. Ada Wallace Unruh continued her fundraising campaign and gathered generous donations that were used to finish the school.

Teachers were provided through the State Normal School in Monmouth (now known as Western Oregon University). Salaries were jointly paid by the Children's Farm Home and the Normal School. Books, supplies, and janitor services were paid by the Children's Farm Home. Teachers provided six weeks of instruction and lived on the Children's Farm Home campus during that period. In addition to scholastic subjects, the school offered music education and developed a strong music program.

Club work was introduced in 1927 and incorporated into the school day. Boys activities included the garden club and the pig club, while girls activities included the sewing club and canning club. Vocational programs were added in the 1930s and included domestic science (for the girls) and manual training (for the boys). The classrooms for these classes were located in the basement of the school.

Most major indoor events at the Children's Farm Home were held in the auditorium, including the annual Christmas and Easter pageants. Various clubs, such as Boy Scouts, 4-H, Campfire Girls, and the Young People's Society also met in the auditorium. The auditorium doubled as the gymnasium and physical education was recognized as important to the mental and physical health of the children. Athletic programs were developed and supervised by the Department of Physical Education at Oregon State College (now Oregon State University).

The school was used from 1926 until it was condemned by the State Fire Marshall in 1978 due to safety issues. The building has been vacant since that time and has fallen into a state of disrepair, despite modest attempts to maintain it. The auditorium/gymnasium was demolished after it was determined that it had deteriorated beyond repair.