After 100 years, Springdale School set to close forever

By: 
Liz Kearney
With its centennial this year, a Montana one-room schoolhouse is scheduled to close forever. 
 
Under state law, when a school does not have students for three years in a row, it must close, Park County Superintendent of Schools Jo Newhall explained recently, and this has been the case of the Springdale School. 
 
The school, located in Springdale, near the Park County/Sweet Grass County line, did not have any students for the past two school years. This current school year is the third year, and steps have been taken to begin the official dissolution, including selling the school building and transferring records. 
 
The school building itself is scheduled to be sold at auction on the steps of the City-County Complex in Livingston on Monday, Nov. 27 at 2 p.m., according to an upcoming legal notice. Following a recent appraisal, Newhall said, the opening bid has been set at $63,000. An open house will be held at the school on Saturday, Nov. 18 from 9 to 11 a.m. 
 
Construction on the building started in 1917, and the school opened in 1918, Ward said. 
 
Dissolving a school includes notifying nearby school districts, Newhall said. In the future, if there are school-age children in the area, they will have the option of attending school in Livingston or Big Timber. 
 
Springdale School educated students up to the eighth grade. 
 
The school’s last three children, according to Ward, included two who transferred to the Livingston School District, which left just one student three years ago, she said. Keeping the school open for one student wasn’t feasible, and that child ended up moving to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Livingston, she said.  
 
A brief history
Ward, who attended the school herself, provided some history on the one-room schoolhouse in a news release.  
 
Pictures of one-room schoolhouses fill a wall at the Crazy Mountain Museum in Big Timber, Ward wrote, each telling stories of the dozens of rural schools that once dotted the landscape in Sweet Grass and surrounding counties.  
 
Once providing important and necessary services, these schools often served not only as schools, but as the community church and meeting place. Changes in demographics, ease of transportation, and budget cuts have contributed to the closing of rural schools. 
 
Former Springdale historian Edna Nelson chronicled much of the school history, according to the news release. In 1887, Cyrus B. Mendenhall petitioned for a school to be built at Hunter’s Hot Springs. A 24-by-30-foot building was built, with school opening in March 1888. Cora Marshall was the first teacher. Children from Springdale went to the Hunter’s Hot Springs School, crossing the Yellowstone River on a ferry until the bridge was built. 
 
Later, the people of Springdale asked that the district’s money be divided so they could have a school in Springdale. A small two-room house across the creek from Muir’s Store became the first school. It was painted red and became known as the “Little Red Onion,” Ward writes in the news release. The first teacher was Alice Work, but there was only enough money to keep the school open for five months, and then the children of Springdale had to return to Hunter’s to attend school.  
 
A joint school district, partly in Park County and partly in Sweet Grass County, was formed in 1917. Building of the present school began in 1917. School was once again held in the “Little Red Onion” until the present school could be completed. This new school became the present Springdale School District, which has educated children from kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as being the hub of Springdale community functions, for generations. The Springdale School opened in 1918 with Anna Schultz as the teacher.  
 
Indoor restrooms were added in the early 1960s, but the old outhouses sat out back for many years as a reminder of days gone by. The Springdale School building will turn 100 years old in 2018, and although many improvements have modernized the interior of the building, the exterior looks much the same as it did when it was first built.  
 
Springdale School Board Chairman Scott Boeh sums up local emotions.
 
“It’s a helluva note that the school will be closed forever as it turns 100 years old,” he said in the release. 
 
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Liz Kearney may be reached at lkearney@livent.net.