The first public school in Salem, Oregon was a humble log cabin built by volunteer labor on the southwest corner of Commercial and Marion Streets near the Willamette River. It opened in the early 1850’s. The two-story rectangular building in this picture was built in 1857-58 , also with volunteer labor, and was called “Central School”. It was on the south side of Marion Street between High & Church. It had two rooms when it opened, one upstairs and one downstairs, and had four windows on each side, with two entrances. A small building was built next to it in 1867 for Negro children and was called ” Little Central”. It was the only segregated school in Salem’s history. It is possibly the building in the rear, although if the date given are correct, it would not have been built yet when the photo was taken.
Barrick Funeral Home postcard series, “Salem in the Past”
Research by Joan Marie “Toni” Meyering. See article by Alfred C. Jones in Statesman Journal for Salem’s sesquicentennial
The first Equal Rights Law, established in 1866, does not speak of education, but in a prosperous democracy, it is vital. Salem began educating its youth in 1851 when a log cabin on the southwest corner of Marion and Commercial Streets became Salem’s first school, supported mainly by tuition. By 1857 a larger school was needed, and Central School (above) was built by the county near High Street between Center and Marion Streets. By 1859 there were 227 school age children in the district, but there is no record of how many children actually attended school. Ten-year-old T. T. Geer, a future Governor of Oregon from 1899 to 1903, attended Central School in 1861. By 1865 the number of children in the district had grown to 632 with 200 students in attendance at Central School.
By 1866 there are 600 children of school age in Salem, 200 of these crowded into Central. For the photograph above, they leaned out of windows and clustered outside. This year the district levies a 5-mill tax to build two new schools. One was built in north Salem and the second school, South School, as it was named, was originally located at Fir and Myers Streets, but was moved to South Commercial Street in 1892. The school building was later used in turn as a cider mill, machine shop and as the W. A. Barkus Feed Mill. The building existed as late as the 1960s.
Between the years of 1866 to 1869 “Little” Central School and East Salem School were built. “Little Central,” ” School was near the original Central School with fifteen non-Anglo students taught by Mrs. R. Mallory. It would be Salem’s only segregated school. (This may be the smaller building seen in the photograph above.)