This abandoned one room Schoolhouse in Oregon was in use until 1935

Rock Hill School, Lebanon Oregon
Date added: July 28, 2022 Categories: Oregon School
East (front) and south facades (1991)

The one-room school building completed and opened for use as Rock Hill School in rural Linn County, Oregon about 1905 stands in the Butte Creek drainage on the edge of foothills rising to the Cascades, where it served the agricultural district lying between the platted townsites of Brownsville and Lebanon until its abandonment in 1935.

The abandoned school property had reverted to neighboring farm owners and was not maintained except for storage purposes after it ceased being used as a community meeting place during the 1940s and 1950s. It was in 1952 that Linn County rural school district No. 31 was formally consolidated with Plainview School District.

The schoolhouse interior, until recently used for hay storage, contains its original plaster ceiling and wall cover, fir flooring and encompassing vertical tongue and groove wainscot topped by a chair railing. At the entrance end, wall-mounted cloak racks are disposed on either side of the vestibule. The entry has a single transom or toplight. Double-leaf front doors are missing, as are original window sash on the south elevation. On the interior, window bases abut a sill line formed by the wainscot chair rail. The west end of the room is distinguished by its hanging stove chimney at the center and the chalk board extending the full width of the room above the wainscot. In the northwest corner is a doorway giving access to the woodshed.

Rock Hill School District No. 31 was among the first school districts to be organized in Linn County in 1854. Although a public school, Rock Hill School, historically, had a close association with the congregation of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, an offshoot of the Protestant German Reformed Church. The present and four antecedent school sited near the ridge at Rock Hill served also in the capacity of church meeting hall and Sunday school. The United Brethren in Christ retained half interest in the school district property even after its religious activities were shifted to the community of Plainview in 1891.

The first official school districts in Linn County, Oregon, were organized in 1854. The Rock Hill School District, designated as School District No. 31, was one of them.

The present Rock Hill Schoolhouse appears to be the last of a series of five buildings known as the Rock Hill School. The school was in operation from the early(?) 1850's to 1935. All of the schoolhouses were located on, or possibly near, the base of a low, half-mile long ridge that trends in a northeasterly direction. The two earliest structures apparently were situated near the southern end of the ridge. The three later structures, including the existing schoolhouse, appear to have been built on the same site at the extreme northern end of the ridge. All of the schoolhouses were constructed on Donation Land Claims settled by members of the pioneer Gallaher family.

Throughout the years, the Rock Hill Schoolhouse served as a place to educate the children of the Rock Hill community, a rural area encompassing a number of farms. For nearly one hundred years, the Rock Hill Schoolhouse also served as a community center. As a gathering place, the schoolhouse was used for a social hall, a meeting hall, and a church. Indeed, one senses that at times the line between Church and State may have been somewhat blurred. The Rock Hill School had a very close association with one church in particular, the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. That relationship began in the 1850's and continued for nearly forty years. (The Church of the United Brethren in Christ should not be confused with The Church of the Brethren, commonly called Dunkards, a sect derived from a German Baptist group. In 1856, the Dunkards organized their first church west of the Rocky Mountains in Linn County, east of Albany.)

In 1845, William Crawford Galiaher, his wife, Amy Kees Gallaher, and their large family emigrated to the Oregon Country. William, a native of Pennsylvania, and Amy had spent their early married life there. Subsequently, they had moved to Illinois and then to Iowa. The family appears to have arrived in the Rock Hill area of Linn County in 1846. In 1850, three of the Gallahers officially settled Donation Land Claims. (On September 27th of that same year, the Oregon Donation Land Law was approved by the U.S. Government.) William and Amy Gallaher settled their 640-acre claim on July 8, 1850. Elmore K. Gallaher, their eldest son, settled on an adjacent 32l-acre claim to the south and east on November 30, 1850. On the same day, Oliver C. Gallaher, the unmarried second child of William and Amy, settled on a 320-acre claim located along the southern boundary of his parents' claim.

First Schoolhouse (southern site)
The first Rock Hill Schoolhouse apparently was constructed on Elmore Gallaher's Donation Land Claim. Dorissa Jane Zoosman Miller, born in 1854 on her father's Donation Land Claim, attended that early school which she years later described as located on the Blackburn farm. (By 1878, A.P. Blackburn owned the west half of the Elmore Gallaher Donation Land Claim.) In March 1853, U. S. Government surveyors working in the area mapped and described in their field notes the locations of the houses of William Gallaher and Elmore Gallaher. They also described the locations of a nearby mill race and sawmill. However, they neither mapped nor described in their field notes a schoolhouse, suggesting that the first Rock Hill School had not yet been built. On the other hand, the structure may have been present, but the surveyors may not have seen it or simply may have neglected to record its existence.

The first schoolhouse was a log structure. Dorissa Miller described the building as follows: "My first school was in a log cabin and we sat on slab benches which were without backs. Each bench was about ten feet long and there were no desks." Two facts suggest that the first log school might have been built before 1853: the Gallahers and other pioneer families who had been living in the area for seven years would have had an earlier need for a school; and planed lumber would have been available for a school building, at least by 1853, since a sawmill was present. Solid proof that the earliest known Rock Hill Schoolhouse was standing by the summer of 1856 rests with the history of the United Brethren Church in western Oregon.

In January 1854, the United Brethren Church organized their first class in the Oregon Territory at the Mt. Union Schoolhouse, which was located east of present-day Philomath in Benton County. On August 30, 1855, the first Annual Conference of the United Brethren Church in Oregon was held at Santiam (in Linn County, according to Springer, 1929). Thomas J. Connor, described as a scholarly man, presided as Bishop at that gathering.

A year later, the Rock Hill Schoolhouse became the site of an extremely important meeting. Claire G. Springer described that event in his 1929 master's thesis, A History of Philomath College (p. 3-4): "The second annual conference [of the United Brethren Church in the Oregon Territory] met at Rockhill school house, Linn County, August 16, 1856. At this meeting a report favoring the founding of a school at Sublimity, Marion County, Oregon, was adopted. A board of fifteen trustees was appointed with instructions to hold their first meeting at Sublimity on September 30, 1856. The school at Sublimity opened for work in the fail of 1857 with the Rev. Milton Wright as principal and teacher." Reverend Wright, as well as Reverend Thomas Connor, very likely attended the momentous gathering at Rock Hill. Wright, later a Bishop of the United Brethren Church, was the father of Wilbur and Orville Wright, aviation pioneers.

By 1856, the Rock Hill Schoolhouse already may have seen use as a church. The fact that this important Annual Conference was held in an apparently obscure schoolhouse in rural Linn County suggests that United Brethren followers may have been living in the area. Several of the men who served as Trustees of the United Brethren Church at Rock Hill in the 1860's had settled earlier on Donation Land Claims in the western part of Linn County (David Claypool in 1848, and Alfred Whealdon and William G. Scott in 1853).

Second Schoolhouse (southern site)
The first Rock Hill Schoolhouse was destroyed by fire, probably in the late 1860's. Elmore Gallaher, owner of the site where that log structure apparently stood, had died earlier, in 1855. (Elmore Gallaher had been married to Harriet Snyder, who came to Oregon as an orphan. Following Elmore's death, Harriet remarried twice. She and her third husband, James Balch, had a son, Frederick Homer Balch, who became a well-known Oregon author.)

Dorissa Miller recalled in later years that after the first Rock Hill Schoolhouse burned " we went to school in a camp house where camp-meetings had been held. That was only for a short time and the building was a temporary affair. That old camp shed was just across the creek from the present old Blackburn house which is now occupied by Dell Wilson." The exact location of the"camp house", a structure presumably used for religious revival meetings, has not been determined. The relative positions of the Blackburn house and a nearby creek, as shown on a map in the Illustrated Historical Atlas Map of Marion and Linn Counties, Oregon (1878), suggest that the "camp house" could have been situated either on the Elmore Gallaher Donation Land Claim or slightly to the west on the adjacent Oliver Gallaher Donation Land Claim.

Third Schoolhouse (northern site)
In the 1860's, the United Brethren decided to build a church in the Rock Hill area. The site chosen by the Church was that of the present Rock Hill Schoolhouse. The property, located in the southeast corner of the William and Amy Gallaher Donation Land Claim, still was owned by William, who by then had remarried. Gallaher's first wife, Amy, had died on April 21, 1856. On November 4, 1856, William had married Lydia McCoy McFarland, a native of Virginia. Lydia, the former wife of William McFarland, had been widowed in Illinois in 1840. Lydia emigrated to Oregon in 1852 and, as a single woman, settled on a Donation Land Claim in Linn County on November 9, 1855.

On December 27 (or 26), 1866, William and Lydia Gallaher sold about an acre of land to the "Trustees of the United Brethren in Christ Church at Rock Hill in Linn County" for $50.00. Construction of a frame church building began, according to Dorissa Miller, but was halted when the Church ran out of funds. Desirous of completing the structure, the "Trustees of the Rock Hill Church" joined forces with the Rock Hill School District. On May 8, 1869, the Church sold to Linn County School District No. 31 an equal and undivided half of the acre, including the unfinished structure, for $250.00. The Church placed a stipulation in the deed that read: "So long as the said School District shall use the said premises for school purposes the Church shall have the preference of using said premises for religious purposes." The School District, in need of a permanent schoolhouse to replace the one that had burned, apparently completed the church/school building soon thereafter.

On June 5, 1931, W.T. Fogle, a former student, chronicled the early history of the Rock Hill School in an article published by Greater Oregon, an Albany newspaper. An entry in the 1880 U.S. Census Records for Linn County suggests that "W.T. Fogle" may have been William T. Fogle. William T. Fogle, who was born in Linn County in about 1862, appears to have been the eldest child of George and Minerva Fogle. By 1902, W.T. Fogle had left the Rock Hill area and had become the editor of a central Oregon newspaper, the Crook County Journal. Concerning the church/school, the first structure built on the current site, Fogle wrote in 1931: "I do not know the date that this building was put up, but the first school that I attended was in this building... This would have been about the year 1869."

Fourth Schoolhouse (northern site)
Fogle's recollections indicate that a second schoolhouse was constructed on the northern site before the current structure was built. Wrote Fogle: "With natural increase in population and a considerable influx of immigration, the schoolhouse became too small to take care of the pupils that sought entry, so a new one was built. This was some time in the 70's as near as my memory goes. As I remember the building it was about 30-40 feet [current building has similar measurements] and during the winters there were around 50 'kids' attending; one winter there were 70 in attendance, all the way from what is now called kindergarten to fifth reader."

Fogle, who penned his reminiscences about a half century after attending the Rock Hill School, did not write about the school's history from 1880 forward. If, indeed, the second schoolhouse on the northern site was built in the 1870's, as Fogle recollected, or even in the early 1880's, it must have been torn down to make way for the current structure.

The boundaries of Rock Hill School District No. 31 appear to have been altered three times in the early years, first on February 17, 1874, and later on March 16 and May 11 in 1882. As a result of at least two of these boundary changes, School District No. 31 was enlarged.

The Territorial Road
All of the Rock Hill Schoolhouses were located along segments of the Territorial Road. This early road, a major north-south thoroughfare along the eastern side of the Willamette Valley, changed course as local needs required. In the late 1840's, the route of the Territorial Road in the Lebanon-Brownsville area was as follows: The road headed east from Knox Butte to the Santiam River, and thence south to Lebanon. From Lebanon, it trended in a straight southwesterly line through Rock Hill Gap, which is located southeast of Peterson Butte, thence along the northern tip and along the western side of the low ridge where the northern and southern sites of the Rock Hill Schoolhouses are located. The Territorial Road continued south along the base of the foothills, passed by the west side of Lone Tree Butte, then through the gap at Washburn Butte, and on into Brownsville.

Early emigrants used this section of the Territorial Road, as did gold miners heading south in the late 1840's. The road was so well travelled in those early days that Gamaliel Parrish, who had settled on a Donation Land Claim in the Rock Hill area in 1847, catered to the traffic. His house, reportedly built about 1852, was located on the west side of the Territorial Road, a little over a mile southwest of the first Rock Hill Schoolhouse. Parrish provided his dwelling as a stagecoach stop for both mail and passenger service. From 1853 to 1856, the Thurston Post Office was located on Parrish's Donation Land Claim and he was appointed as Postmaster. (This designation should not be confused with Harrisburg, which also went by the name of "Thurston" in early years.) Gamaliel Parrish also operated a small store out of a room of his house. The store was constructed with a false front to give it a more imposing appearance.

As emigrants began to settle the McKenzie River Valley and points south, they bypassed the Lebanon area and took a shortcut from Knox Butte to Sand Ridge, a western spur of Peterson Butte, and on to the south. The road through Rock Hill Gap, which passed by the site of the northern Rock Hill Schoolhouses, was extended to the west, in 1858, where it joined the new north-south route. The section of the Territorial Road that paralleled the west side of the low ridge and passed by the first two Rock Hill Schoolhouses at the southern end of that ridge was vacated officially in 1876.

In 1853, federal surveyors mapped the locations of the houses belonging to William Gallaher and his son, Elmore Gallaher. The structures were located next to the Territorial Road and very close to the northern site of the later Rock Hill Schoolhouses. William Gallaher's house was shown northeast of the school site on the opposite side of a small creek. Elmore Gallaher's house was plotted east of the school site, just across the Territorial Road. In 1878 (Illustrated Historical Atlas Map of Marion and Linn Counties, Oregon), a house still stood on the site of the William Gallaher house (the property by then was owned by John Nichols), but the Elmore Gallaher house was gone. John Nichols bought most of the William and Amy Gallaher Donation Land Claim from William Gallaher and his family on October 23, 1873. By then, William, his wife Lydia, and most of William's children, including Oliver, had moved to Walla Walla, in the Washington Territory, or to Umatilla County, in eastern Oregon.

Fifth Schoolhouse (northern site)
Sometime between the mid-1880's and about 1910, today's Rock Hill Schoolhouse was built. Research, to date, has failed to uncover either the construction date or the name of the builder (or builders). Evidence suggests a date of 1910.

The present schoolhouse probably was built on the same site and with the same orientation as the two structures that preceded it at the northern end of the low ridge. The historic, one-acre parcel has only one especially good location for a building. This flat area is bounded on the south by the road, on the east by the road and a creek, on the north by several oak trees and the side of a knoll, and on the west by two oak trees and a slope to the field below.

The existing Rock Hill Schoolhouse was constructed with the main entry facing east so that it would be protected from winter storms. For that very reason, the two schoolhouses that were built earlier on the northern Site undoubtedly had a similar orientation. Four aligned field stones are visible in the crawl space under the present building. The rocks, which appear to be foundation stones for an earlier structure, support the idea that an earlier building or buildings stood in the same place. The most recent pair of outhouses, the south for the boys and the north for the girls, are gone. They were placed to the rear of the schoolhouse, near the west property line. Earlier outhouses probably were built in the same flat area, so that they would be at a distance from the school's well, which is located sixty-three feet east of the front entry.

Late in the spring of 1935, the doors of the educational institution known as the Rock Hill School closed for the last time. By then, the school had been the local center of learning for at least eighty years. Closure apparently was due to low enrollment. Robert E. Wells and his two brothers were students at the Rock Hill School. Robert recalls that he graduated from Rock Hill in 1935, just before Lebanon's Annual Strawberry Festival, and that the school never reopened. Beginning in the fall of 1935, students in the Rock Hill School District were bussed several miles. west to a school at Shedd.

Despite its closure as an educational building, the Rock Hill Schoolhouse continued to serve the community as a meeting place during the 1940's and 1950's. Terri Ellibee, a descendant of the pioneer Nichols family, recalls that when the old schoolhouse was used for community potlucks, the men in attendance would sit around the potbellied stove and swap stories. The building also was used for meetings of the Board of Directors of the Rock Hill School District, which continued as a political entity even though all of the students within its boundaries travelled outside of the district for their schooling.