An antique itself
The biggest antique at the Lafayette Schoolhouse Antique Mall is the building itself.
Built in less than six months, the three-story structure opened a century ago, at the beginning of the 1912-13 school year. Children from Lafayette and the surrounding countryside practiced their sums and spelling in its classrooms for the next six decades.
Now the supplies and desks used by those children would look right at home in the displays of antique and collectibles filling the former classrooms. Antique mall staff members frequently meet shoppers who once went to classes in the Lafayette Public School, or have relatives who did.
A few former teachers still live in the area as well. Laurel Adams of McMinn-ville, for instance, was a teaching principal in Lafayette from 1964 to 1968.
“It was very interesting working there, a lot of fun,” said Adams, who taught sixth grade or grades 5 and 6 combinations.
Adams and the three other teachers, including Katie Cabe and Berniece Johnson, had classrooms on the main floor. Upstairs, there was a library on the west side and a music room on the east. Students took P.E. in the separate gym building to the east or on the extensive play fields.
Thanks to a relatively small enrollment, it was easy for students and teachers to develop close relationships, Adams said. Sometimes that led to giving in to students’ desires.
“Kids always wanted to go down the fire escape slide,” Adams said, “but teachers didn’t.”
That two-story slide that still clings to the west side of the building. “When kids went to library, we’d periodically have a fire drill and kids would get to slide down.”
Adams replaced Josephine Wascher, whose name lives on through Wascher Elementary. It opened about 1980, after Lafayette had been without a school for almost a decade.
Wascher, then the unmarried Josephine Courtney, was on the faculty when the school welcomed its first group of students.
A May 4, 1912, newspaper clipping noted that officials hae approved selling $12,000 in bonds to build the school. Scheduled for completion by September, the eight-classroom building, constructed by G.E. Howland, was designed to replace a smaller, 1880s-era school next door.
“We were terribly proud of the new building, with its slate chalkboards,” Wascher recalled in a News-Register interview in the mid-1970s.
The new Lafayette Public School was valued at $12,500, its furniture at another $2,000, its library books at zero because there weren’t any.
District Clerk Eugene Courtney reported the first-year budget at $6,615.54, including $2,510 in wages divided among the future Mrs. Wascher and her fellow teachers, Maude Laman, Helen Ferguson and C.R. Vessey. Principal Prof. J.B. Hatch, who also taught the oldest students in grades 9 and 10, earned about $1,200 for performing his double-duty assignment.
In its first year, Lafayette School had 208 students, 99 boys and 109 girls.
That figure was pretty much a high water mark, but what students lacked in number, they made up for in performance. They excelled in academics, athletics and even drama, staging such productions as 1933’s “The Strange Bequest.”
The graduating Class of 1933 consisted of just six students — Alene Knox, Elma Williams, Raymond Boswirth, Ruby Wanner, John Robertson and Darrel Imus. Six years later, the Class of 1939 consisted of only five students — James Bonham, William Holman, James McClure, Dan Schoppert and Llewellyn Williams.
In 1948, high school students started traveling to McMinnville for classes, and enrollment eroded even further. By 1956, Lafayette began considering consolidation with either McMinnville or Dayton.
Mayor Charles Shirley pushed for McMinnville. He said it would be good for both districts, as Lafayette’s facilities were “commodious, in good repair, free of debt and attractive.”
Voters went to the polls on Aug. 12, 1957. The final decision was split — rural kids went to Dayton while city kids stayed at the Lafayette School for first- through sixth-grades, then moved on in the McMinnville school system.
Less than 15 years later, the “commodious” Lafayette building was abandoned. Lafayette students were bused to McMinnville until Wascher School was built.
Today, the Lafayette Public School’s original principal’s office serves as the antique mall office.
Chaz, the mall’s official tabby, enjoys the view of Highway 99W through the office’s original sash windows. He also spends time pacing the wide stairwells and wandering the display cases.
Staff member Heather Wilson speculated that another office space on the top floor once served as the health room, since it’s equipped with a sink. Like classrooms, the small front office now holds displays of vintage glassware and cookware, along with clothing, toys, tools, furniture and other household goods.
Wilson, who has worked there for five years, has been researching the building’s history in conjunction with the antique mall’s 25th anniversary celebration and sale, to run Friday through Sunday, Feb. 22-24. “I love history and genealogy,” she said.
She remembers noticing the Lafayette landmark in the 1990s, when she was a student at McMinnville High School.
“I love old buildings,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated by this one.”
She is still searching for photos and memories from the building’s school years. She can be reached at 503-864-2720.
Wilson and Cricket Propp, manager since 1996, said the mall opened in the spring of 1988 with 50 dealers. By fall, it counted 100, from as far away as Pennsylvania and Alabama.
Shoppers come from both the local area and around the region, sometimes arriving by the busload to spend an hour or two browsing. It may have 400 or more visitors on a busy weekend, Propp said.
The Lafayette business is part of a co-op of antique malls that includes sites in Centralia and Snohomish, Wash.
The old school is a perfect location, Propp said, observing, “This building draws people in.”
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.