Friday, May 12, 2017

Live in the Past for a Day in Flora, Oregon

If you're visiting Wallowa County during the first weekend of June, head to Flora, Oregon, to honor the days of old with a Dutch oven lunch and pioneer skill demonstrations, at the annual Flora School Day, June 3, from 10 am to 4 pm.

A volunteer from Spokane demonstrates spinning in the Flora School library. Photo: Flora School Education Center
Traditional Skills Demonstrations

Volunteers from near and far will share practical skills like blacksmithing, rope making, wagon wheel building, spinning, weaving, and basket making. Activities include the annual pie social, games for kids and adults, and candle making for children. You may catch a whiff of bread baking for lunch in the wood-fired oven, or the sound of the butter churn cranking. Buy something at the Country Store to help the non-profit Flora School Education Center restore the old Flora School and continue sharing the skills of northeastern Oregon's ancestors. Admission is free, lunch is $10/plate.

Education on the Frontier

Flora School District #32 was formed in 1891 with a one room log schoolhouse at Buzzard's Corner in the platted Town of Flora. A good education was a significant achievement on the frontier. Teachers often had only weeks, not months, to impart the basics, especially for boys, whose help was needed on family farms and ranches. In northern Wallowa County, the boys helped harvest wheat, barley, and hay, and were also expected to assist with lambing and calving. Logging families moved often from camp to camp so the children's school time was spotty. When children did attend school, they walked or rode their horses, so weather was always a factor. Nevertheless, the one room schoolhouse at Buzzard's Corner soon filled up and a larger one was built in 1900. A six month school year was instituted at that time.

Flora was a Bustling Frontier Town

Flora was a bustling western frontier outpost that served farmers and loggers. It had three shingle mills, a flour mill, hotel, bank, doctor and dentist offices, churches, Grange, a newspaper owned for many years by a woman, a photography studio, three blacksmiths and other craftsmen's shops. (Electricity finally reached the town around 1958). 

Center of Education in Northern Wallowa County

Continuing growth of the district justified construction of Flora's third school in 1915. It became the center of education and activity in northern Wallowa County. The two-story structure was built in the traditional Craftsman style and it was positioned to make the most of natural light that poured into its large windows.

At it's high point, there were eight teachers and 100 students at the school. Heat was provided by a wood and coal furnace in the basement, and a wooden boardwalk led to outdoor privies behind the building. Water was piped in from offsite and stored in a tank behind the school. 

Rural Population Declines

Flora's population and school enrolment dwindled as better roads, urban opportunities, and world wars drew people away from the rural communities of Wallowa County. Flora's high school was the smallest in Oregon with only twelve students when it closed in 1962. The elementary school held out until 1975 and only one student remained, sixth grader Ben Curry.  At that time, high school students were already traveling to Enterprise and Flora's elementary children had the option of attending the one room school 15 miles away in Troy, or bussing to Enterprise. (The one room school in Troy still serves four students).

Flora School a Historical Beacon

Nowadays the Flora School remains as the most prominent feature of pastoral Flora, which consists of a scattering of old houses and outbuildings, some vacant and some remodeled. Although people still live in Flora, Google and others refer to the community as a ghost town. The Flora School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Getting There

Flora, Oregon, is situated between Lewiston and Joseph, Oregon, at the headwaters of West Bear Creek, three miles west of OR-3, 41.0 miles north of the Mountain View Motel & RV Park.

For more information or to become a volunteer, skills demonstrator, or just donate Email: volunteers(at)floraschool(dot)org.

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