Welcome to the Baker School History Website
The first public school building in the Inland Empire was a one-story wooden building erected on East Sumach Street in Walla Walla in 1866.
Prior to 1862 there had been no public school organization in Walla Walla, though a county superintendent of schools had been appointed by the Washington Territorial Legislature in 1859. In 1862 Walla Walla School District #1 was organized, a room was rented, and a teacher appointed.
Progress lagged until the fall of 1864, when there was a school-age population of 203, only ninety-three of whom were enrolled. At that time a tax was levied for the erection of a wooden, one-story, two-room school building at a cost of $2000.
In August 1865, the School District paid $200 for the full block between Sumach, Spokane, Cherry & Palouse streets as a school site, which basically constituted a donation of the land by the sellers, A.J. Cain and his wife, who used the money to pay off a mortgage on the land held by Dorsey S. Baker.
Classes, for which students were charged a small fee, began on this site in March 1866 in what was the first public school building in the eastern part of Washington Territory.
Attendance was quite irregular, especially in the fall and spring. Those who lived a long distance rode horses, while many walked several miles to school.
Baker School, 1883-1930
In 1882, the voters of the School District approved a much more ambitious building plan, levying a tax of $17,000 to erect a larger and more substantial building. The levy didn’t raise enough money, though, and additional public donations were required to enable the school to be built of brick.
As a result of this, the building was named for Dorsey S. Baker, a major donor.
First High School, 1889
In 1889, when the School District offered secondary classes for the first time, Walla Walla’s first high school students were housed at Baker School. For the following year, high school students were transferred to Paine School, now known as Lincoln School, which had been erected in 1888, where a third floor was completed for high school purposes.
The Walla Walla School District’s first high school class graduated in 1893. By 1900 the total number of graduates was eighty. In 1917 Walla Walla High School had 821 day students; another 127 studied at night.
Baker School, 1931-1955
Baker School underwent remodeling in 1931, during which the tall tower was removed and the front entrance was lowered to ground level.
Baker continued to serve elementary school students until 1955, when the school was closed and sold at public auction. In 1957 the building was razed.
Early Education in Walla Walla
—from Early Schools of Washington Territory, A.B. Bowden
In the winter of 1861-1862, Mrs. A.J. Miner taught a class of some forty pupils in a store building on Main Street. That spring she was given a certificate by the county superintendent and her class was changed into the first public school. Several private classes also continued to be taught by other teachers. Attendance fluctuated greatly according to needs for help at home and on the farm.
Some of the teachers were strict disciplinarians. According to Angie Burt Bowden in Early Schools of Washington Territory, “No lickin, No larnin” was a maxim thoroughly accepted. Teachers who didn’t understand how to manage a class were dealt with harshly by the students, who devised many ways to make life miserable for them, and saw their lashings as a joke. A popular method was to throw ‘spit-balls’ at teachers’ backs while they were at the blackboard.
Boys went barefooted to school most of the year. Swimming holes along Mill Creek were often sought out before and after school. Playing hookey was frequent.
Grading was far from perfect, with brighter students taken over the same subjects many times, and others staying on from year to year until they were grown. Subjects taught were arithmetic, algebra, geography, history, grammar, spelling, natural philosophy (the sciences), reading and writing.
Walla Walla 2020 Historic Research & Plaque Project
Information on the Walla Walla 2020 Historic Research & Plaque Project is available here or by calling 509-522-0399.