In 1915 a bell rang out across the forest-lined meadows and fields of Flora, Ore., calling children to the new two-story school.More than 1,000 people lived in Flora then. Today the population of the remote, high-elevation town is four. However, the picturesque school remains. Not only that, it looks better every year. For more than a decade, Vanessa and Dan Thompson and a slew of volunteers have worked to restore it to its former glory and transform it into a nonprofit center dedicated to promoting pioneer skills.
“If you come up here enough times you’ll learn how to remodel your house,” said Vanessa Thew Thompson, 60.
Now named the Flora School Education Center, the school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To bring it back to period accuracy, hillocks of paint were scraped from its wooden banisters and floors. A repaired furnace heats the building. The former science room now holds looms for spinning and weaving. In one of two gyms never wired for electricity is the center’s Country Store. There’s a working indoor bathroom but future plans include restoring two eight-hole outhouses out back.
The school is the jewel at an annual event called School Days where volunteers demonstrate skills like blacksmithing, quilting, weaving, spinning, butter making, and flour grinding. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 4, that event will mark the school’s 100th birthday, a milestone it passed last year. There will be live music all day. Admission is free. Tickets will be sold for special activities including a Dutch oven lunch, a pie social and mule-led wagon tours of the former town.
In 1992, the Thompsons learned the school was for sale while visiting relatives in Enterprise, Ore., and went to see it. Upon first sight Dan, a fence contractor, suggested tearing it down for scrap lumber. Vanessa, a teacher and weaver who had always dreamed of having an old schoolhouse for a studio, told him he could not as long as they were married. They bought it “for a song” and moved to Flora from Milton-Freewater, Ore., in 2003. They live down the road where they run a bed and breakfast, North End Crossing Barn and Bed.
The school closed in 1975 because it only had one student, Benjamin Curry, who helps lead tours during School Days. The tour visits the bank building with its old vault, the town cemetery and the newspaper and dentist’s office, where the Thompsons now live happily with ink spots in the front room as another reminder of the past.
The birthday celebration will honor the volunteers who have helped return the school to life. Penmanship boards with donors’ names will be placed in the classrooms.
“We’ve had over $200,000 worth of money and time and items donated to the school,” said Thompson, who continues to recruit new volunteers to help restore the building and demonstrate once commonplace tasks, whether it be milking a cow, sacking grain or calligraphy.
“You don’t have to have any skills. We can teach you,” she said.
What: Flora School’s 100th birthday
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 4
Cost: Admission is free. Tickets, $1, will be sold for various activities and food. Lunch tickets, $10, are limited and should be purchased upon arrival.
Directions: Flora, Ore., is about 50 miles southwest of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. The drive takes an hour and a half. Go to Asotin and take Washington State Route 129 through Anatone. The road becomes Oregon State Highway 3. After the top of the grade there is a marked turnoff on the right for Flora. Take this road for three miles.