Schools of West Valley

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By Jeanine Buettner

West Valley School was opened in 1961. But what was schooling in the valley like before that?

Stillwater School

Stillwater School first opened on January 21, 1899. The first building was a small log cabin on the Henry Bird place on the corner of Clark Drive and Stillwater Road. All eight grades were taught here with just one teacher.

The new building pictured above was built in 1900. In the 1934-35 year the teacher made $90.00 a month. During the depression years (1937-1938), they were paid $60.00 a month.  A special tax levy passed the district in November 1909, for $142.95.

In January 1910 the school janitor was paid $9.55 a month. He also had other duties. In October 1912, the school paid $5.50 to the Kalispell Mercantile for a water cooler. Water was hauled to the school from the surrounding farms, as there was no well at the school. On April 13, 1915, the school purchased a door lock for $3.00. I guess up until this time it was unlocked.

My grandfather Herman Keller attended all eight grades here starting in 1907. He grew up on a farm north of Old West Reserve Drive on West Spring Creek Road. They could not see the school from home but from an upstairs window they could see the flag pole. If the flag was up, they knew there would be school that day. The last day of school at this site was the 1934-35 school year. The building was used by the community until the late 1940s when it was sold to Al Evanskaas who tore it down to repurpose the lumber.

The bell from the school is now the bell at the Stillwater Church.

Meadow Hill School

Meadow Hill School, also know as Lost Creek School, was opened on September 17, 1901. It was about five miles up McMannamy Draw. When the families all moved away about 1903, the building was abandoned and later made a part of the Bald Rock School district.

At that time, Browns Road was just a cow trail and students walked to Bald Rock School on Rhodes Draw by way of what is now Browns Road. My Aunt Rena Stiles was a teacher there in 1901 and often had a problem with bears coming in the door. She chased them out with a broom. My grandfather, T. Milton Stiles (more on the Stiles here), attended school here starting at the age of five. He and Rena  lived on the corner of Old West Reserve and West Valley Drive and walked the one mile west to McMannamy Draw and then the five miles on up to the school every day. The school sat empty for many years and was torn down in the mid 1980s.

Sparks School

Sparks School opened in 1900. It was located on the corner of Farm to Market and Church Drive.  

Mr. Clifford Nordtom told me that in the early years they had a problem with wild cows that were very numerous around the school. The older boys were given the job of chasing them away before anyone could leave the school. They did this by wearing a sheet over their heads to scare the cows away.

Sparks School, 1961
Sparks School, 1910

I came across a Mr. William Jasper Sparks who lived near the school. He was probably formative in the naming of the school. (Mr. Sparks was a Civil War Veteran and is buried at Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell.) 

The school was consolidated with three other schools to form West Valley School in 1961. That process is detailed under West Valley School, below. 

Spring Creek School

Spring Creek School, also known as Willis School, was established in 1904 and sat on the corner of Four Mile Drive and West Spring Creek Road. There are still two Lombardy Poplars along the road that were likely planted by Mr. F. X. Grosswiler. In his biography it is mentioned that he liked planting trees. He established the farm just to the south of the school and it is said he particularly encouraged tree planting on school grounds. This was a one room school with a big oil stove up front, an old farm sink in back along with a small room for coats, and of course outhouses out back. It was consolidated with 3 other schools to make up West Valley School in 1961. 

The school was later sold and moved to Old West Reserve Drive and is now the Schlegel home just east of West Valley School.

Prospect Park School

Prospect Park School was opened  in February 1904 and sat where West Valley School now sits.  The original school burned down in 1930 and was rebuilt in 1931. The new school had a room connected to the back for the teacher to stay in during the week. The school was a very short distance from Farm to Market Road to the east and McMannamy Draw to the north.  This school was moved to the fairgrounds in Kalispell a few years after the new West Valley School was opened in the fall 1962. It still sits at the fairgrounds today.  

Bald Rock School

Bald Rock School (also known as Davis school and Hansen’s school) was established in September 1, 1909. The school was named for the large bald rock up on the hill to the west. The first building was a rough board shack just to the north. Bruce Young donated an acre for the site and also donated the logs for the building. P.O. Knutson sawed the logs into lumber and the school was built.

The building was built somewhere else and moved by the Rhodes family to its site. (See the pictures below.) A swing set was installed in 1940. Electricity was installed in 1946. They insulated the building in 1950. In 1951 a radio, phonograph and records ($20.00), a view master and films ($6.00), a library file cabinet and index cards( $5.60) were all donated by the Citizenship Club of the Bald Rock Community. An American Flag was donated in 1953. The school closed in 1961 and consolidated with Prospect Park and later with West Valley school in 1962.

West Valley School

On February 13, 1960 an election was held to consolidate four schools in the Stillwater community:  Sparks, Bald Rock,  Prospect Park and Kuhns. (More about Kuhns’ School may be found here.)

There were a couple of advantages to consolidation. Teachers would instruct four grades instead of eight, and taxpayers would have only two schools operating with grades one through four in one building and five through eight in the other. This election failed because Kuhns school dissented.  Kuhns later consolidated with Olney and then sent their children to Bissell.  

In 1960-61 Prospect Park and Sparks divided enrollment with the first four grades at Prospect Park and upper four at Sparks. The next summer Bald Rock merged with Prospect Park and Bald Rock  was closed. The next year, 1961-62,  Spring Creek was included—first through third at Spring Creek, fourth, fifth and sixth at Prospect Park, and seventh and eighth at Sparks.  A bus was purchased and voluntarily driven by volunteers. 

In January 1962 the three districts voted to merge and became West Valley.  A bond was run the spring of 1962 and easily passed to supply bunds for a new building.  The new building was considered rather a bargain at $36,800.00  This included a basement for a multi-purpose room. 

Henry Keller furnished the equipment to dig the basement. Bob Barkley did the digging. Jim Hanson and Earni Hartsoch supplied the “cats” to back fill.  Paul Grosswiler gave the extra two acres needed for the construction and also donated the well pump. The well was a major expense at $1,425.00.  

On Sunday, December 2, 1962 an open house was held. The following day was the first day of school with 57 students entering the shiny new hallways. The new building consisted of three classrooms, an office, boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, and the basement.  

I remember this day like it was yesterday.  I was so impressed with the indoor plumbing.  A bit of excitement for a second grader.  

Since first opening its doors 61 years ago, enrollment at West Valley has increased to nearly 900 students.  

West Valley School, 1962
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