Class at Park School, 1913.  WHC Collections 1979.001.0005.

Class at Park School, 1913. WHC Collections 1979.001.0005.

As the Willamette Heritage Center prepares to host our third annual Heritage Invitational Exhibition later this month, we’ve been scouring our collections for materials related to the theme of childhood in the Willamette Valley.  We’ve come across some real gems including this photo of the third grade class at Park School in Salem 100 years ago.

Park School, later Yew Park School, was built in 1891 on the south side of Mission Street between 13th and 14th Street and west of the railroad tracks, approximately where the bicycle/pedestrian onramp from 13th Street to the Mission Street overpass is today.  The original school cost $16,500.  As alumna Mary Eyre recalled, “Yew Park School had eight classrooms in two stories, built over a semi-daylight basement which contained a huge furnace and the stacked cord wood to feed it.  As the wood was burned, more space for games became available…When the nine o’clock bell rang (it was a large hand bell; there was no bell in the cupola that must have been meant for one), we lined up in rows by classes in the basement, and marched, single file, upstairs to the cloakroom which was placed on the inside wall of each classroom.  There we left our coats, rubbers, umbrellas and lunch boxes.  Thence, into the classroom, each to his or her assigned seat and desk, arranged in rows and bolted to the floor.”  Yew Park School would be replaced by the first iteration of Bush Elementary School when it opened in 1936.



Now and Then. Photo taken a week ago looking to southeast towards where the school building stood and historic view looking to the southeast from Mission Street (WHC 2006.074.0001).

2012 Photo Taken by staff

By the time this photo was taken in 1913, the school had seven female teachers and a male principal, H.F. Durham.  What we know about the photo comes from its donor, Mrs. Erma Victor, who appears wearing a headscarf, second from the left in the third row from the bottom of the image.  According to her recollections, the photo was taken 1913/1914 and shows her third grade class.  A small red ink notation in the upper right hand corner of the photo reads 3-13, suggesting the photo was taken in March of 1913.  She positively identifies six fellow students and offers tentative identification for six more students.  According to Mrs. Victor’s recollections, the teacher posing in the upper left of the image was Miss Childers.  The 1913 City Directory shows a Mary A. Childers as a teacher at Park School.

I started wondering about these students and what happened to them, so we did a little digging through census records and our library.

Erma Papenfus (Mrs. Bert Victor)

Erma Papenfus, was born October 15, 1905 in Wisconsin.  Sometime after her little sister Alice’s birth (around 1908) and 1909, the family moved to Salem, where her German immigrant father Paul worked for the Oregon State Hospital as a laborer and a fireman (not quite clear if this was a fireman that put out fires, or a fireman in charge of running the boilers for the steam plant).[ii]  When Erma was in the third grade, the family lived on Oak Street.  Erma would go on to attend Washington Junior High School and graduate from Salem High School in 1924.  In her senior annual, her nickname was “Lou” and her hobby listed was “Clickn’ them keys.”  Considering that she would go to work as a stenographer at Miller’s Department Store after graduation, we are guessing that is a reference to her typing prowess.

Erma’s parents eventually divorced, her mother going back to work outside the home as a seamstress and at the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill.  The girls moved with their mother to a new home at 1099 Mill Street until their respective marriages.[iii]

Genevieve Emmett

Genevieve would have been fresh off the farm when she entered 3rd Grade at Yew Park School.  Her family had recently moved from a farm in McCoy, Polk County.  Her father, Charles, was now working as a stock dealer in Salem.  Their home was at 1168 Leslie Street.  By 1930, Genevieve, now Mrs. Douglas W. Abbey, was living with her husband and her parents in Los Angeles, where she would make her home until her death in 1990.[iv]

Elinor Dorrance

Elinor Dorrance lost her mother at a very young age.  By the age of 5 she had moved across the country to Salem and was living with her grandfather (Wilson) and widowed father (James E.) who worked as a “Sign, Show Cards and Automobile Painter.”  21 year old Nellie E. Robishaw worked as housekeeper and probably nanny for the two gentlemen who had care of three children under the age of 5.  It is little wonder that by the time this photo was taken Nellie had become Elinor’s stepmother.  By 1930, Elinor is living with her step-mother, sister Doris and half-sister Arlie in Salem, and working as a bookkeeper for an auto parts store.[v]

If you recognize anybody in this photo, please contact the Willamette Heritage Center.

Portions of this article were published in the Statesman Journal, Sunday January 5, 2013.

[i] Mary Eyre’s memories excerpted from an article she wrote for MARION COUNTY HISTORY Volume XIII, 1979-1982.  “Some Personal Recollections of Salem Schools: 1904-1982,” pp 27-42.

[ii] US Federal Census 1910.  1909-1910 Salem City Directory.

[iii] Oregon Death Index (Erma L. Victor); 1940 US Federal Census; 1934 Salem City Directory; 1932 Salem City Directory; 1930 Salem City Directory; 1930 US Federal Census; 1928 Salem City Directory; 1924 Salem High School Yearbook; 1920 US Federal Census; 1918 WWI Draft Card for Paul Papenfus; 1910 US Federal Census; 1913 Salem City Directory;

[iv] 1910 US Federal Census;  1920 US Federal Census; 1930 US Federal Census; Social Security Death Index; 1913 Salem City Directory;

[v] 1910 US Federal Census; 1913 Salem City Directory; 1920 US Federal Census; 1930 US Federal Census.