• A History of Grants Pass High School

    by Joan Momsen

    Grants Pass High School is over 100 years old, 118 actually, in the year 2007. The first class of four students graduated in 1888 and the grand centennial celebration was in 1988. There are more things to be told about Grants Pass High School and the students who attended over the century than could possibly be written on a few pages. However, I will attempt to give you the flavor of the spirit of the school. A school is not the physical buildings in which the classes are held. A school is the spirit and pride, past, present and future, that students have in their school. 


    The school actually opened in 1885 in a wooden building located at Fourth and C Streets. The building had been built in Jerome Prairie and served as the community center. It was purchased in 1884, dismantled and moved to the Grants Pass site. It served as the Central School until it was replaced by a brick building in 1891. In 2007 there is a house on C Street that is still standing and it is built from the wood of the original school.


    The wooden structure was moved to make room for the new school. It was dragged across the street because without solid foundations, many old building could be pulled to a new location. A photo taken from the roof of the Opera House after 1891 shows both the "new" brick school and the "old" wooden school. The old school was a haven for drifters to sleep in since it was only two blocks from the railroad tracks. It also was a warehouse for awhile, but was eventually dismantled and used to build at least two houses. One house still stands on the site. A wooden building at the end of Fourth Street was built, supposedly using some of the wood from the old school. It was used as an extra school for a few years. Anna Schmidt, who passed away in 1987 at the age of 99, said her younger sister Flora, went to the extra school for a few terms. Pauline Shier, who worked at the Josephine County Historical Society for several years before she passed away, said that it was not unusual to put houses and other buildings on skids and move them all over Grants Pass. Many buildings have been in more than one location, sometimes just a block away in the same position. Therefore, old photos can be misleading if a panoramic view is not shown.


    In 1891 the second GPHS was built. It also held all the other grades except for some students who went to the "extra" school. In the new building the upper floor was used as the high school and was called Grants Pass Academy. It was also called Central High by some area residents, especially those living outside of the city. Some students from distant county points would find a place to room and board on weekdays while they attended high school.


    It was a two year course to get a diploma. Because of other commitments, it sometimes took years for the determined scholar to work the required time into his or her schedule. If some of the early graduates look old for high school students, they probably were. Lincoln Savage, who was a teacher in the community and later superintendent of Josephine County Schools, was over twenty-five when he finally got his diploma from GPHS. Eclus Pollock, a member of the first graduating class in 1888 was born in 1863, so he was also in his twenty-fifth year when he got his high school diploma. Savage later became a county judge. Eighth grade diplomas were issued for years because that was the highest grade that many people could attain. Crops didn’t get planted and harvested if a student was sitting behind a school desk.


    According to some sources, in 1894, Grants Pass Academy was renamed Grants Pass High School. However, I have a commencement program from May 1893 on which is printed: "Grants Pass High School exercise of the Fifth Annual Commencement." This yellowing, fragile little folder also brings up another interesting point. If the first commencement was in 1888 and the fifth in 1893, there must have been a year when there were no students graduating. This is plausible because in 1894, there were only two graduates, Mary McCarthy and Fred Colvig.


    The 1892-93 Annual Report of the Grants Pass Public Schools tells that there were 616 persons in the district between the ages of 4 and 20. School enrollment was 487 and average attendance was 344. There were eight teachers. The first through the sixth grades had one teacher per grade. The seventh and eighth had one teacher and the high school teacher was also the principal and served on the Board of Education. If just the average number of students showed up on a single day and if each class had equal numbers, then the minimum average class size was 43. It’s a small wonder that six of the eight teachers were single women...they did not have time for much outside of school.


    The Board of Education consisted of three directors, one clerk and the principal. They met on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 P.M. in the clerk’s office.


    Subjects offered the first year of high school were philosophy, civil government, algebra, rhetoric, elocution and mental arithmetic. The second year’s offerings were geometry, etymology, English literature, physical geography, elocution and a review of algebra, rhetoric and grammar. The third year was a special course because diplomas were awarded after the completion of the second year. Third year offerings were trignometry, botany, geology, bookkeeping, chemistry, general history and Latin.


    By 1902 GPHS was offering a four year slate of courses and the State of Oregon had mandated four-year high schools. In 1907 the school year book began publication. It was named the Toka after the commercial Tokay grape vineyards and Tokay Heights about a mile east of the current campus. The first few years it was published monthly as a small booklet, but by the teens was a single yearly publication. The "y" on the end of Tokay was dropped , but the pronunciation still sounds like the grape.


    In June of 1910 the Toka talks about the plans for the new high school. The plans were complete and building would begin that summer. They planned to occupy the new building at the beginning of the second semester. They moved into the new building in February of 1911 right on schedule. The following quotation from the original article best describes the plan:


    "As we go to press for the last issue of this season our thoughts very naturally center to some extent on the new school building, the plans of which are now about completed. Our interest is very keen to know the answer to the often repeated question that this article is written at this time to give, in a general way, some of the plans of the proposed building.


    "In the basement, besides the toilets and heating and ventilating plant will also be physical and chemical laboratories, manual training room, separate lunch rooms for boys and girls, gymnasium, shower baths and dressing rooms. The floor of the basement will be of cement except the gymnasium, and that will be floored of hard maple. The gymnasium will be amply large for basketball, and also have sufficient space for seats for spectators. These seats will be arranged on inclined floor; the basket ball court will have a height of 15 feet, and will be 60 feet long by 40 feet wide.


    "...The main entrance to the building leads into a spacious octagon hall. Leading off from this octagon hall are the corridors and doors to the ten recitation rooms located on this, the main floor. The superintendent’s office will also be located off this hall...


    "On the second floor, which is approached by wide stairways leading off at either end of the lower hall, will be the commercial department, domestic science room library, several recitation rooms and the assembly room. The assembly room will have a seating capacity of 350 single desks..."


    By 1912 the school had five courses of study entitled Latin, German, English, Science and Commercial.


    Latin school students studied Latin for all four years. They also enrolled in four years of English, three of math and single courses in Physics, Ancient History, Medeaval (as spelled in the course listings) and Modern History, Civics and American History.


    German school students started German in the sophomore year and continued for three years. The rest of the requirements were the same as the Latin school.


    The English course was the same as Latin school with the addition of commercial law, bookkeeping, economics, geography, a choice of chemistry or physics, no geometry but instead a senior class called academic arithmetic.


    Science students only had to take one history course...American History. They also took physiology, botany, chemistry, physics, geography, a year or two of German, three years of math and four years of English.


    The Commercial students had four years of English, spelling, penmanship, commercial law, commercial arithmetic, bookkeeping, physical and commercial geography, civics, two years of stenography, two years of typewriting, and American History. Sewing, cooking and manual training were electives for all.


    Drawing, music and physical education were not listed, but Toka’s of the era show photos of athletic teams for young men and women, orchestra and choir. Evidently they carried less credit or no credit but were part of the class offerings. Sixteen credits were required for graduation.


    1915 Building


    The 1915 Toka talks about the loss of the gym to manual training. Two reasons seemed to be the need for the room and the height of the ceiling made it a poor gym anyway. Boys’ basketball disappeared at the time for a few years. Girls used the gym at Central School and continued to have inter-school games.


    There were no Tokas published in 1918 and 1919 because of World War I. Materials were expensive and people were doing without many things for the duration. Several young men left school to join the service. Some of the teachers also departed for war-related duties. Including the principal. The Daily Courier was kind enough to print the school’s activities in lieu of the Toka.


    In 1922 the student newspaper, The Scroll, began publication. However copies of the newspapers are not preserved as well as copies of the year book.


    The 1924 Toka was dedicated to "The Oregon Cavemen, Inc.", with a full page photo of the booster organization at the beginning of the book. It was about that time that the teams began calling themselves the Cavemen. The Oregon Cavemen, Inc. were in existence from 1922 to the present, although they no longer participate in parades.


    The 1924 Toka also discussed the lack of music facilities at GPHS and said with a new building and gymnasium in the plans, the "greatest need now...is a musical department with regular music teachers and where music could be studied as an elective...Grants Pass has an unusual amount of musical talent...and could...develop a department of music worthy of note."


    The 17th Volume of the Toka in 1925 pictures the new school. Actually, it was the old 1910 school extended and remodeled. Two wings were added at the West and East ends of the building but exact details of the interior changes were not noted. The students were proud of the newness as shown by part of this 1925 Toka editorial.


    "An epoch-making year has just been completed in the life of Grants Pass High. We have made a noticeable step upwards in the scale of progress. An atmosphere of newness and rejuvenation prevails. How could it be otherwise with such a beautiful new home to live in. A "school" is a very human thing. It has life, body and spirit. Its body has a wonderful growth...


    "The effect of the cooperation and interest which the townspeople have shown this year has not been entirely material either...interest and respect make for progress. Let nothing affect the intellectual standard which our school was attained!"Proof of this backing may be found in the new building which the taxpayers have provided for us..."


    The Depression Years produced smaller Tokas but the spirit of each class was well covered in each of the small issues. With the help of New Deal agencies, construction on a new building began in the late thirties. The new school was occupied in the 1939-40 school year. The building remained part of the high school complex until 1998 and was the last major building to be removed for new construction. It has most recently been called the English Building. The new 1939 school housed the upper division students while the old building was used by the lower division students. GPHS was a six year school for about a dozen years.


    In 1948 the upper division student found themselves in another "new" school. The lower division students got the new school of 1939 and the upper division students moved back up the hill.


    During the summer of 1948, the 1910 portion of the school was almost completely removed. Some of the basement’s cement floor remained along with portions of the walls attached to the 1924 additions. The top floors of the 1924 wings were removed and the dirt was pulled away from the basement level. When the new construction joined the remaining wings, the basement area became the main floor. Two wings surrounding a grassy courtyard were also built in back of the original site. A new grandstand on the east side of the football field in front of the school was also under construction at this time. 


     1948 Building


    When school started in the fall of 1948, the construction was not finished, but students used the building anyway. Some classes, such as music, met two blocks west in the old Lincoln School. Some of the students who would normally have attended Lincoln School had classes in the 1939 building, because a new Lincoln was also under construction. Students in the new high school building went to class in unheated, unfinished classrooms. The winter of 1948-49 was the winter when the Rogue River froze over near Caveman Bridge. Coats were worn all day in attempts to keep warm. Doors, if they were hung at all, did not have knobs. A student never knew what to expect as a finger was stuck in the knob hole to pull the door open. December of 1948 was also when GPHS won the State Football Championship only to have the team’s trip home end in tragedy when their chartered bus when off the road and two team members were killed. The Heater-Newman Memorial Gymnasium was completed the next year and dedicated to the two young men who had died.


    By the early fifties, the idea of a six year high school began to fade and the 7th and 8th grades became the Grants Pass Junior High and they were housed in the building that was the high school building from 1939 to 1948. In 1958 South Junior High was built and the 1939 building became North Junior High School. About a decade later, a new North Junior High was built on Highland Avenue and the old building became part of the High School and was commonly called the English Building. It remained the English Building for the remainder of its existence, even though the last year it was occupied, it housed mostly science, business and music classes. The cafeteria remained in the building until the new Commons and business building was completed.


    The class of 1961 was the last, for a while, to enter as freshmen. GPHS became a three year high school and the ninth grade was part of junior high. In 1977 the Josephine County School District (now Three Rivers School District) built two new high schools and withdrew their tuition students, lowering enrollment at GPHS enabling the reestablishing a four year high school. Soon the sixth grade classes were moved to the Junior Highs and they became known as North and South Middle Schools.


    In 1961 and 1962 there were more additions and repairs. First the roof of the two-story building (main building) blew off in a freak storm. For those of you who were not in school at that time and have hazy memories, it was NOT the famous 1962 Columbus Day storm. It was February 24, 1961 and was just a wind that did little damage except to the high school. Frank Thomas, principal at that time, told me that he was told by the repair crew that the roof put on in 1948 was never attached to rest of the building. The big laminated beams just set there for thirteen years waiting to play the staring role in our own version of Gone with the Wind.


    It was probably a good thing that the science wing construction had not started, because that is where the roof landed...right on Spanish teacher Grace Van Walk’s car. Within a few months, the science wing was the newest addition to the school.


    There was constant growth at the GPHS campus. Other additions and changes included a shop building in 1952 with additions to it in 1953, 1955 and 1956. In 1956 the girl’s gym (recently called the small gym) was built next to the Memorial Gym and in 1962 the music building was added. The crafts building, which was often mistakenly thought of as part of the English Building, was constructed in 1958. In 1969, the former administration building, which was built in 1952 facing A Street, became the Business Building. In 1988 the Business Building was remodeled and soon became the District 7 administration building once again as the business classes moved to the second story of the main building. The Vocational Building on 8th Street was also constructed in 1969.


    In 1980 the courtyard became the student center, a classroom which eventually became the computer teaching lab, and part of the enlarged library.


    The rooms around the courtyard became hallways, storerooms, the counseling center and sewing classrooms. In the late 1980’s, sewing was no longer offered as a class and the sewing room became a regular classroom and the back room where students ironed and adjusted their sewing projects, became part of the book depository, commonly called the " book room" by students and staff.


    In 1988 GPHS had a gigantic centennial celebration under the direction of James Savard, former teacher, Student Activities Director and Assistant Principal. Sarvard is retired from GPHS and is currently the executive director of the Grants Pass High School Foundation. Thousands of newsletters and invitations were sent out before the June 1988 celebration and thousands of former students showed up.


    There were four days of planned events starting with a Hall of Fame presentation on Thursday evening, graduation on Friday, a parade down Sixth Street and open house through out the school on Saturday and a farewell church service on Sunday in Heater-Newman Memorial Gym.


    The legacy of the centennial, the Hall of Fame, will continue into the future. Each year former GPHS students are honored by being inducted into the elite group. This limited group includes grads who have somehow left their mark on the people they encounter. They range from teachers to politicians, from lawyers to ministers, from the nationally famous to locally successful, both living and deceased. The GPHS Hall of Fame inductees range from a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ,an undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury to local residents who chose to serve the public in their hometown.


    In September of 1988, just as the memory book of the centennial was going to press, the football grandstand was destroyed by an arsonist’s fire. The memory book publication was delayed to include photos of the fire and arrived in the purchaser’s hands by Christmas 1988.


    The next year the new grandstand on the west side of the field was near completion. Built on the site of the student grandstand which was torn down during the 1977-78 school year, the new fireproof cement structure seats 1600 people, 600 less than the one it replaced.


    Millard Hodge retired in the early 1990’s and the old Hodge’s High School Store became part of GPHS. It was remodeled as part of the food service complex. There was even a contest to rename it. Pubic opinion and student choice ended up in keeping the name Hodges.


    Each year some teachers change to other classrooms or retire and are replaced with new teachers taking over their classrooms. The business classes, for the most part, moved into the English Building and the nearby crafts building. Regular classrooms moved into the second story of the main building when the business classes departed. There are numerous switching of classrooms, many of which simply are forgotten. This is only an attempt to make note of major and departmental changes. Everything considered, most things remained pretty much the same for the first part of the nineties.


    Then 1996 arrived. In the summer of 1996 construction began on a new high school complex. Everything started down the road to change. By the time the century turned, the only things remaining of the pre-1970’s era was the 1969 Vocational Building, the 1989 grandstand and of course a totally remodeled Hodges which is the District Administrative Office. I wondered if local folks would continue to call it Hodges? In 2007 I can say that they do. Someone might ask where the business office is for the district and someone might reply that they should go to where Hodges used to be.


    In the Spring of 1996, the east wing teachers (art, science and foreign languages) packed up everything at the end of the school year and that part of the building was torn down during the summer. In the fall, the new portable classrooms were not ready so art classes filled the student center and others were spread out in various places such as the wrestling room, choir room, library classroom and different rooms each class period. Crafts were taught in the English Building in the end room by the old crafts building. The old crafts room had been converted to the business education lab a couple of years before. Finally, by November three science classrooms, two foreign language and the art classrooms were in the portables. Some teachers still had to move from room to room or share with others. Ron Edwards spent the year teaching Spanish students in the choir room.


    In July 1996, all the trees on campus that would not have a place in the new landscaping around the new main building were cut down. Most were on their last "limb" anyway. Some of the older trees that did not need to removed are still on campus including redwoods and oak trees over 100 years old. The houses behind the school were auctioned off and moved or torn down. Railroad ties and gravel were brought in to make one gigantic student parking lot.


    By Labor Day 1996, the wing which had been built in 1962 and commonly referred to as the science wing, although it also housed foreign language and art, was bulldozed to ground and a chain link fence surrounded the site. By mid-September the vocational (shop) building on Ninth Street bit the dust. In October construction began just about the time the portables finally got set up. As previously mentioned, some teachers were shuffled out of temporary quarters to the new portables. Timing was just perfect for the vacated student center. Students had nowhere to congregate and that was okay for a few weeks with dry Fall weather. Finally they could go into the student center just as the rains began in earnest. Grants Pass had the most rainfall it had experienced since they started keeping records. Over 50 inches of rain fell during the Fall and Winter seasons. For example in the 2006-2007 rain fall year, it was just about 18 inches and the schools had to be closed twice by snowfall. The 1996-1997 rain year (Sept. 1 to Aug 31) was very, very wet.


    By January 1997, the free-standing weight-bearing walls of the new main building were starting to give definition to the new school. Because there were so many different craftsmen working on the school, it was built in sections from north to south. March 3rd, the first bricks were attached to the completed outside walls. By spring break, the shapes of the rooms could be determined by the metal 2 x 4’s being installed all over the north wing. Brickwork was to the top of most of the north wing by the first of April and by the end of the month, brickwork started on the south wing. Finally by the first week of June, all the bricks were in place on the new main building, except for the pillars supporting the overhead facade of main entrance bearing the engraved name of Grants Pass High School.


    Other building changes around the school in the Spring of 1997 included the remodeling of food services. When construction began on the new gym in the fall of 1997, the District 7 administration moved into the remodeled Hodges. Construction started on that project in Mid-march. When students returned from spring vacation, Hodges was no longer serving food. While walking to lunch on the Monday we returned to class, I heard a sorrowful student say, "Hodges isn’t there anymore."


    All the tables had been removed from the cafeteria in the English Building and food carts set up along the walls. A large canopy of wood and galvanized roofing had been built between the main building and the English building. Picnic tables were underneath the new shelter.


    On May 19, 1997 Ninth Street was closed to be rerouted in an arc in front of the new main building. The asphalt parking lot on the west side of the old main building was broken up and hauled away, possibly to be recycled into new blacktop for a new parking lot. The foundation outline of the west wing of the new science building was clearly visible by the end of the school year June 11 and ready for occupancy by fall.


    Ninth Street was also broken up and hauled away. The old house on the double lot on the corner of Olive and Eighth, across from the English Building, was torn down and a new parking lot created, leaving two majestic redwood trees to provide shade for the cars and oxygen for our planet.


    In the summer of 1997, the main building which served us well from 1948 to 1997 was taken down to make room for a new science building and student commons. These were ready in 1998. The performing arts / music building was built in the area of the 1939 high school building (aka North Middle School and the English Building) and opened 1n 1999. If you visit campus, you will find some of the dates carved in stone over or near the main doors.


    By 1999 most of the site of the 1911 GPHS was totally rebuilt in a complex of seven buildings (main, science, commons, arts, gym, Hodges and vocational) covered with red brick and trimmed in gray and white, very reminiscent of the original building on the knoll in northeast Grants Pass.


    When the new core building of the school was opened in 1997 and the other buildings were started, finished and occupied in the next two years, many people were thinking "now what?" A decade has passed and the school is still expanding and changing.


    From Above


    Remember when you attended GPHS and that was it. If you couldn’t come for various reasons, you were basically unschooled. We have many ways to be sure that students get educated.


    Gladiola opened as soon as the portables used to house GPHS classes were no longer needed because the new buildings were completed. The double-wide portables were set up on land on Gladiola Street near Riverside School. It used to be a long way from GPHS because of the railroad, but a new crossing was established. Now you can drive east along A Street, keep going when it becomes Foothill, cross the Parkway, pass the Greyhound Depot and straight across the railroad tracks. Turn left at the first intersection and right in front of you will be the new bus sheds for the district school busses and to the right of that is the Gladiola campus.


    Gladiola is a branch of GPHS and was established as an alternative site for students that can not do well at GPHS. School officials called the new alternative school Gladiola because that was where it was located. When the first students arrived, they were given the opportunity to name their new school. They decided Gladiola was a good name and kept it.


    Gladiola Alternative School


    If a student cannot keep up at GPHS or thinks they might do better in a different environment, he/she have alternatives such as Gladiola, On-line classes, night school, packet programs or classes at Rogue Community College. These programs have helped lessened the drop-out rate. Students can also get college credit from Rogue Community College for classes they take at GPHS. Some graduating seniors can enter college as sophomores.


    As mentioned, the bus barns, as many called them, were moved from 9th Street to Gladiola. That space across the street from the high school is now playing fields. The football field, one of the things that has remained in the same place, has artificial turf. The softball field across from the school also has artificial turf. Both these playing fields got their new surfaces by outside funding of boosters, local banks and other concerned parents and supporters of GPHS.


    Even inside the school, there have been changes. Built to service about 1800 students when we only had 1200, the school is now to capacity. (Some of you who attended GPHS in the 1970’s before the county school district built Hidden Valley and North Valley High schools can remember when the old campus had as many as 2,400 students.) If all the alternative students were on campus, there would be a shortage of space. As it is, the Pods which were built and designed for teacher lounges and eating areas have been converted to various other uses.


    The space for teachers to eat in the Commons is now classroom space. The alcove in the north end of the first floor in the core building has been enclosed and is the student body office. The original Career Center on the first floor of the core building has been the Athletic office for six years. All the assistant principals and the principal have moved from office to office as the need arose. One of the counselor’s offices is now storage. This is very typical of the high school in that if a need arises, something is put in an area which was originally something else. Kids graduate and return the next year to find nothing seems the same. We call that adulthood.


    So 126 years into existence GPHS in many ways is the same. The times in which we live have given us some changes, but kids will be kids and GPHS is GPHS. Come visit the next time you are in town. There is always someone who would give you a tour. Just be sure to check in at the main office and get your visitor’s pass.


    Content provided by Joan Momsen


    GPHS Class of 1960