Featured Stories


Celebrating 130 years of education in Sellwood

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


by: COURTESY OF SMILE HISTORY COMMITTEE - Sellwood School, before 1925, and clearly in deep winter, with snow on the ground. This was the wooden two-story building that students attended during the early 1900s. It was torn down in 1925 when the final structure of Sellwood School was finished. Over 130 years ago, the newly-established Sellwood Real Estate Company was selling lots for from 50 to 100 dollars each – inviting newcomers to consider living in a new community called Sellwood.

In September of 1884, the final touches were being completed on the construction of the first schoolhouse, and the bell was rung, announcing the opportunity to learn for all young people.

The Sellwood school bell will once again be rung in 2014, calling on all past and present students to join in a celebration of 130 years of continuous education in Sellwood, but they need your help.

If you have any fond memories or photos of past teachers, students, friends, and classmates, while attending Sellwood School, now known as Sellwood Middle School, then now’s the time to share those special memories at the anniversary celebration.

Write down what you did as a student at Sellwood. Share how one of Sellwood’s teachers made a difference in your life. Or perhaps, that was where you met your first group of friends, stole a first kiss, played sports, or joined the band. Whatever your experience, the Sellwood Middle School staff is collecting information and photos to include in a book about the history of Sellwood’s School the past 130 years.

Throughout its rich history and in the past decades, the school has kept educating kids while constructing new buildings, infusing knowledge in thousands of pupils passing through its door, and meeting the challenges of parents and teachers. But, during its long history, the school has basically remained at its current location at 15th and S.E. Umatilla Street> Here’s just a bit of the Sellwood school’s history.

While the population of Sellwood had nearly doubled to 800 residents in 1890, six years later there were still only four teachers teaching two different grades under the leadership of Principal W. C. Alderson. Over 300 students were attending classes.

Among the excellent staff was the ever popular Miss Estella Hell. For nearly 20 years she was fondly remembered by past students as inspiring, supportive and personable when she was first hired in 1893. I guess you could say she was one hell of a teacher. I’m sure many people said that of her then!

The Mothers and Teachers Club was created to deal with arising school problems. Later renamed the Parent Teachers Association, the PTA fostered a close partnership in dealing with such problems as students smoking cigarettes. The organization also lobbied for a community library, and later for the acquisition of more land for a playground and ball field for outdoor activities.

On October 10th, 1909, many Sellwood students were in attendance at the Waverley Golf Club just to the south, to witness President Taft playing a round of golf with local officials. After his visit there wasn’t a young man at Sellwood that didn’t want to be a caddie at the local links or didn’t have aspirations of becoming a professional golfer.

Old and physically inadequate, the wooden school house needed to be replaced as concerned citizens were afraid the current structures would catch fire – and the call went out for a new fireproof building for the students. The worries were validated during the winter of 1910, when 775 students were quickly evacuated during a fire drill. Sparks from the chimney flume caught the Sellwood School’s roof on fire. Prompt action from the Sellwood Volunteer Fire Station, after a student walking by first noticed the flames, saved the day and the damage only amounted to a thousand dollars.

The School Board purchased eight additional lots on the south side of Harney Street between 15th and 16th.. Local residents were convinced, for the good of the community, to sell their houses on the adjoining property, and the homes were either moved to vacant lots or torn down.

On April 19th 1914 the first section of a four-story, four-classroom structure was completed at a cost of $30,000. It would be another eleven years before a ballot measure was passed to finance the completion of the second phase of the final main structure of Sellwood Primary School.

Floyd A. Naramore, who also helped build Benson and Buckman Schools, was the architect involved in the Sellwood School’s first design – but Floyd had accepted a position with the Seattle School Board in 1919 and left town, so Oregon native George H. Jones was chosen as the architect for the Portland School District, and he helped complete the final phase of Sellwood in the 1920’s.

Community leaders and residents were anxious to see the finished two-story structure, which consisted of 22 rooms, a new library, an auditorium, and two gymnasiums. So, on November 18th, 1926, hundreds of residents crowded inside the new white stucco walls of the art-deco-styled schoolhouse for the opening day ceremonies. Spectators were impressed by the gilded figures of eagles flanking the entryway, as the Superintendant of Portland Schools, and School Board members, delivered speeches on the completion of the concrete structure. Sporting attire for young ladies in the early Twentieth Century in public schools included bloomers and knee-high stockings, and until the 1950’s, as a rule boys were not permitted to watch the girls play. There were two gymnasiums – one for the boys and another for the girls.

During the Second World War, many of the school’s young teachers left their profession to help with the cause. Geri Griffith, who graduated in 1943, noticed that many retired or older teachers were called back to Sellwood at that time because of shortage of instructors.

There wasn’t such a thing as a cafeteria for students; they either went home during the one hour lunch period or, if they’d brought their lunch, they sat in the gymnasium where there other friends sat in scattered groups. A half-pint of milk cost 2 or 3 cents – later raised to a nickel by the time Geri graduated – and those who arrived first at lunch time were able to enjoy the limited supply of chocolate milk.

Geri remembers watching educational and documentary movies that were shown in the auditorium. “There was this show about the different tricks you could perform with a yoyo, and after the program if you bought one of the toys from the salesmen they would carve your name on your yoyo.”

Among the more memorable teachers of her time, Geri remembers, was Australian-born Mr. Potts, the shop teacher for boys. Hordes of curious students would gather after school to watch him throw his boomerangs around the school grounds.

Basketball was an important part of the boys’ physical education, and Sellwood excelled on the basketball court – winning the city championships in 1947 when Ray Hyde was the starting forward.

When baseball was in its golden age, the Sellwood School baseball team was among the best in the city. Twice the boys won the City League Grammar School baseball championship – in 1926, and again in 1927. Led by hot shots Red Miller and Carl Welch, the Sellwood team beat the best players at Clinton-Kelly School, bringing home a silver cup to the school’s trophy case.

With few opportunities available for girls to play in intramural activates during the 1930’s, the young ladies of Sellwood found innovative ways to participate in sports. Irene Hyde (Little) and her schoolgirl classmates would entertain themselves during recess time by jumping over the boys’ hurdles. “We all wore shirts back then and before we attempted to leap over the hurdles we would tuck our skirts into our under panties.”

Teachers have always played an important part in the development of youngsters, and among those that influenced Irene was Mrs. Agnes Lincoln, the music teacher. Mrs. Lincoln who lived in Westmoreland, and taught at the school for over twenty years. She encouraged Irene to take up the cornet at a time when very few girls could be found playing such an instrument in the horn section of the Sellwood School Band.

Mrs. Lincoln followed in the footsteps of one of Sellwood’s most renowned music teachers, Dr. Albert Schuff, who played violin in the Portland Symphony for 23 years, and trained many gifted children in the neighborhood into bring magnificent musicians.

The school is now part of the Twenty-First Century and the computer age. Gone are the days of a hundred years ago, when students first carried a black writing slates and lunch buckets to school, and huddled near the wood heating stove in the winter. Or the days eighty years ago, in the 1930’s, when the only school supplies needed were a box of crayons and writing tablets. Students at Sellwood Middle School today have many modern innovations – hot lunches, school bus transportation, and a variety of classes to choose from.

It’s now common to see students on their trek to the school wearing backpacks, listening to music on their iPods, thumbing cell phone keyboards, and carrying hot beverages in plastic containers.

A standing committee is being formed to celebrate the one hundred thirty years of this historic Sellwood school. If you would like to volunteer to serve on it, or would just like to contribute a photo or some memories about the school, call 503/916-5656.