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The Schools

By Jill Evans, Administrator of the Stumptown Historical Society

The chairman of the board appointed Messrs. Crum, Cremans, and Ferguson to investigate a new site for a school, and a bond issue was determined upon. An election was set for December 2, 1911, which would authorize the board to “issue coupon bonds to the amount of $124,000, $8,000 of which shall be used for a Lakeside school and $16000 for a city high school.” The bonds were to earn not more than 6%. Results of the election were:

City High School bonds… Yes 213 votes
No 91 votes
Lakeside School Bonds…Yes 233 votes
No 85 votes

In 1912 the bonds were issued and sold, the lots were bought from the Whitefish Townsite Company, and contractor B. B. Gilliland and architect M. B. Riffo, both of Kalispell, were selected. An annual report of the clerk covering finances from May 1, 1911, through April 20 1912, showed total income and disbursements of $25,384.11 for the operation of the school, including a total teachers’ salaries item of $6,276.34. This included the superintendent, some six to eight teachers, and substitutes!

Proceeds from the sale of bonds was listed as $25,200, and it was anticipated that this would purchase two building sites and build two schoolhouses, an elementary school in Lakeside and an elementary and high school combined in Whitefish proper. Both were completed in 1913. The old riverside school and its site were put up for sale. For the first time in January, 1913, no school bell rang: “We will miss the Dear Old Bell,” wrote the Pilot editor.”

During all the years covered by the Minutes found by Mr. Lee-that is, from 1905 through 1912-the school operated on a mill levy of five mills, though regularly ½ mill was added for an interest and sinking fund, and sometimes there was 1 mill added to the levies for building. Occasionally the need to be extremely Scotch with the taxpayers’ money did lead to regrettable results. Unfortunately the first central and the Lakeside school built in 1912-13 did not last well. The Lakeside school was abandoned in 1940. The central school had to be renovated, added to, practically rebuilt in 1938.

The first graduating class from the new high school consisted of one graduate, Dorcas Ferguson, in 1914. Montana H.V. No. 129, when it became law in 1913, made it legal for a district high school (Whitefish, for example) to be established independent of a county high school (Flathead, for example). Consequently Whitefish was no longer required to pay for support of the county high school. Whitefish had reportedly been paying approximately $4,000 a year in tax moneys for the county high school, yet had never had more than two students attending there. The new central school opened on March 13, 1913, and the high school met in one room of it. To be accredited as a high school, Whitefish High School had to have at least one graduate. Dorcas was it. Board Chairman J. A. Monk gave her graduation address; William Bugg and Vera Pottle were her proud teachers. In addition to Dorcas, there were in high school in 1914 one junior, five sophomores, and fourteen freshmen. The school building continued also eight elementary grades. Lakeside school had the first four grades only.

During the next years, references to the schools in the Pilot are infrequent and few other records have been found. In June, 1915, the school board voted to build a portable stable for students’ horses. Night school classes commenced, commercial courses were offered at a charge of $5 a month; and whenever there were as many as five registered for a class, courses in dressmaking, cooking, and languages could also be arranged.

In 1916 the Whitefish High School debating team placed third in the Northwest Montana interscholastic. In the same year a new domestic science building was set up, and this would serve many community interests during succeeding years, serving as a hospital during epidemic and as a headquarters for adult education and other projects. By September, 1919, the Pilot’s new editor was complaining of overcrowding in the schools. “Housing of School Children Serious Local Problem.”

In October, 1919, a 20-mill levy to provide $16,000 for additional facilities was passed, and Archibald G. Riggs of Spokane was appointed architect to plan for two new wings and a centralized school system. The general contract was awarded to Frank Pival of Libby for $51,365 and the plumbing and heating contract went to Whitefish Sheet Metal and Plumbing for $25,450. The school on Second Street was given two new wings and a temporary gymnasium. Lakeside school was still in use.

Stump Town to Ski Town book from the Stumptown Historical Society, Whitefish History, Whitefish Photos, Whitefish Museum

Note: The quoted material is taken from Stump Town to Ski Town, by Betty Schafer and Mable Engelter, written in 1972 and reprinted by the Stumptown Historical Society in 2003. It is available for sale in the Whitefish Museum located in the Train Depot or for purchase online.

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