A century in the life of Gaston schools, Part 1

This is a very busy year for centennials in Gaston. The city charter turns 100, as does the Knights of Pythias Hall and the Gaston State Bank. The Cherry Grove Dam broke 100 years ago. And 100 years ago, the people of Gaston began an effort to build a high school.

Nothing remains of that original structure, but the long history of the building is full of stories, starting with the Governor of Oregon arriving by sleigh to dedicate it, and ending with townspeople collecting picks and hammers to tear it down.

The story begins in September 1914, when voters approved the construction of a school, authorizing about $3,000 for the project. Like many such projects, plans changed and projected costs rose. Finally in August 1915, the school district sought bids to build the school, setting the cost at $10,000. When all of the bids came in higher than that, the architect went back to the drawing board to bring costs down. Later that month, Forest Grove contractor J.W. Loynes agreed to do the job for $10,000, and work began immediately. The building was completed in just six months. The cost had risen to $12,000, but the community rejoiced, and planned a joyous dedication for January 14, 1916.

Blizzards are rare in Gaston, but on January 14, 1916, Gaston was hit with a doozy. An account in The Oregonian described the event like this: “In a driving snowstorm the patrons of the district and their friends arrived in homemade sleighs of every description. The jingle of sleighbells announced the arrival of Governor Withycombe.”

Still, the dedication ceremony included a live performance by the most-popular local songtress, Miss Goldie Peterson, famous for her rendition of songs such as “Three Little Green Bonnets” and “You’ll Get Heaps of Lickings.” Then Governor James Withycombe, uncle of Gaston resident William Withycombe, took the stage in the assembly hall to dedicate the building. Gaston had its high school.

While the school itself was popular, townsfolk were grumbling about the lack of a gymnasium. A story in the February 3, 1927, Washington County News-Times was typical. Lamenting that “the boys’ basketball team went down to defeat again,” this time a 20-9 loss to Perrydale, the reporter offered a ray of hope. “There is a reason for the unsuccessful games that have been played so frequently,” he wrote. “The Gaston boys are used to practicing on a small floor, but the district is going to build a real gymnasium in the early spring or summer.” Once the gym was built, he assured readers, “the boys … will make a big showing in their future games.”

Just four months later, the gym was finished, and “its smooth semi-hardwood floor contain(ed) the markings for basketball, a tennis court and an indoor baseball diamond.” The original assembly hall was promptly demolished and the writer promised a bright future for Gaston basketball. Sure enough, within three years the perennial losing team was undefeated and on its way to its first-ever state tournament.

By 1930, Gaston High School was such a success that parents in school districts across a wide swath of Washington and Yamhill counties were clamoring to send their children to Gaston. Eventually, voters in the districts of Lakeview, Wapato, Seth, Oak Hill, Hill, Spring Hill, Dethlefs, Scoggins Valley, McCullough, Roberts, and Cherry Grove approved plans to form a “union high school district.”

Although still in its infancy, Gaston High School appeared to have an unlimited future.

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