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Cornerstone For Augusta High School Building Was Laid 100 Years Ago

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You have no doubt heard the phrase, “if these walls could talk…” Well, imagine what the walls at of the Augusta High School would have to say!

The Augusta News Logo

The Augusta News and The Augusta Times are owned by Sun Times Printing and Publishing, LLC. (Fairfield Sun Times)

Just the the exterior walls themselves, could speak volumes. Built at a time when community projects, such as schools, were built on a grand scale. Just look at the entrance – the double doors raised above the ground, up a set of broad steps. The style says you are entering a special place, a place of learning and community.

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Augusta's new high school.

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Augusta High School, 1920.

The walls inside, no doubt, echo with the voices of kids, some long gone; some still in the community and many who will walk those halls once the school season returns.

The story of Augusta’s high school building is a story of a community coming together to fill a need for education.

Here we present the story of the Augusta High School as it was told in the pages of the Augusta’s two newspapers, The Augusta News and The Augusta Times.

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The first reference to the school in Augusta found by the Sun Times appeared in The Augusta Times of November 14, 1914.

Augusta and The Sun River Valley.

“AUGUSTA is situated in the center of the Sun River Valley, about 15 miles from the Rocky Mountains. It is a town of about 400 people, has a good graded school with four teachers; has four churches, Methodist, Catholic, Episcopal and Christian.”

In The Augusta Times of May 14, 1915, we see the first call for a “Central High School.”

Now For a Central High School.

“County Superintendent, Miss Eva Harrington, was down from Helena this week visiting out schools. While here she met with the educational committee of the chamber of commerce who are desirous of finding out what can be done toward the establishment of a central high school at Augusta. The last legislature passed a law which provides for country central high schools and it is the opinion of those of our people who are interested, that if we could get about four neighboring school districts to go in with us, we could establish a central high school at Augusta which would prove a lasting benefit to the Sun River Valley. It is too bad that so many of the young people of the valley should be denied the privileges of attending high school. A number of our young people are away attending high school, some at Great Falls, others at Helena. This is very expensive for the parents; besides, they cannot look after their children so well as if they had them nearer at hand. Many parents cannot afford to send their children away to school and it hardly fair that they should be denied these advantages.

Many of our young people who would be benefited are those of school age who have taken first year of high school at Augusta and then withdrawn from school because they had exhausted the resources of our schools. There are those who are away attending school who belong to Augusta and many from the country surrounding who would attend if they could. Besides this, it would be a big inducement for parents to bring their children into the district if they could obtain these advantages.

This is something worth going after, and if we have to make some sacrifices in order to get a central high school, we will be amply repaid in the future.”

Over four years later, the support for the high school appears in the local papers again, in The Augusta News, September 25, 1919.

We Must Support the High School.

“Do you know that the Augusta high school is one of the three high schools in Lewis and Clark County receiving county support - whose work is accredited by the State Department of Education?

We maintain the only four years course outside of Helena. Marysville being accredited with two years.”

By New Year’s Day of 1920, the support for the new high school takes an official turn.

From The Augusta News, January 1, 1920.

$75,000 Will Be Asked to Build New School Houses.

At a special meeting of the school board of this consolidated district last Saturday, at which all members except Dr. Kenck were present, the board voted unanimously in favor of proceeding with building a high school building and dormitory for the district by contracting with the Wells-Dickey Company and the Minnesota Loan and Trust Company to jointly handle the proceedings of the proposed bond issue.

The proposition as generally understood is to vote a bond issue of $75,000, but to seek only such amount as is necessary to erect two rural schools, a high school building for the district, presumably in Augusta, and a dormitory.

The high school building is to be large enough to accommodate a hundred students and to be a modern, fully equipped building.

The board voted unanimously on every proposition and it is expected that the election call will be made at the regular board meeting next Saturday.

As to the amount of money required to complete these buildings, the News is in no position to guess, but we most heartily agree with the board that enough should be voted to make possible their completion without it becoming necessary to skimp at the finish.

From The Augusta News, January 15, 1920:

School Board in Special Session.

“The school board contracted with S.C. Schuppert, architect of Great Falls, to furnish plans and specifications for the proposed high school...”

“Mr. Schuppert is one of the best architects in the state. He has furnished plans for any number of high school buildings and the general opinion is that the board acted wisely in securing his services.”

On February 5, 1920, The Augusta News ran a front page editorial in support of the new high school building under the heading “GOOD INVESTMENT.” The editorial read in part,

“Displayed on this page of The News, hanging in the windows of the homes, psoted in the stores and public meeting places and school houses of this district – District 45 – will be seen as a beautiful facsimile of the proposed High School building for the district.

It is attracting a great deal of attention as it is a beautiful building and designed to meet the needs and requirements of a rural High School of one hundred pupils.

We wish everyone would study the floor plan of this building, keeping in mind that it is within the walls of such a building as this that the future generation will get their education, that in order to teach the high school subjects as they should be taught to get the most from them, a building equipped for this purpose must be erected.

The board managers, appointed by the county superintendent, are a live bunch and taking interest – doing more than we could expect, and we feel the names of

Fred Eder

G.H. Gonser

Malcolm Chisholm

Dr. A.O. Kenck

C.C. Covington

Should be chiseled on the corner stone of the new High School building, to stand for all time.”

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The cornerstone at Augusta High School.

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From The Augusta News, March 4, 1920

196 TO 6 - Was the Result of School Bond Election.

“The electors of this consolidated school district did themselves proud last Saturday when they cast an almost unanimous vote in favor of the bonding proposition, to enale to district to build two rural schools and a high school.

The two rural schools to be built are in what is known as the old joint district, and the high school building will be in Augusta.

While no high school site has been purchases, it is generally understood by the school board of trustees that the high spot of ground west of the present school building is the proper location and the people have all confidence in the judgement of the board and will not interfere.”

...

“The Augusta high school will be the only four-year course accredited high school in the county outside of Helena, and the people of the district are to be congratulated for voting so nearly unanimous on the proposition.”

The Augusta News, April 8, 1920.

This Building to be Completed by September 1, 1920.

“Ward Swanstrom of Great Falls was the successful bidder for the contract having been awarded him at the meeting of the board of trustees last Saturday.

There were four bids on the general contract, Mr. Swanstrom’s being the lowest - $49,844.

The three other bids ranged between this figure and $59,000.

The heating and plumbing contract was awarded to the Collins Heating and Plumbing Co. of Great Falls and the Cascade Electric Company of the same city was awarded the electric contract at $995. This makes the total cost of the building $61, 212, and is considered a very reasonable figure.”

The Augusta News, June 24, 1920

Corner Stone Laying.

“The Black Eagle Commandery of Great Falls will be present at the corner stone laying of the new high school building next Wednesday, acting as an escort to the local Masonic order which by special dispensation for the occasion is the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Montana.

Many members of the Blue Lodge from Great Falls and other neighboring towns are expected to be present, and in all a large number of people will be present.

All other lodges and civic organizations have been invited to join in the parade.

Hon. H.S. Hepner of Helena will deliver the address. Mr. Hepner’s oratorical ability is well known, and on occasions of this nature he is at his best.

The service will be at 2:00 in the afternoon.”

The Augusta News of Thursday, July 1, 1920, recounted the laying of the school’s cornerstone, under the headline “Impressive Ceremonies Attend Laying of Cornerstone

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Preparing to set the cornerstone. (Corrected)

“The cornerstone of the new Augusta high school was laid Wednesday afternoon, th the presence of a splendid audience, and with a most impressive Masonic ceremony, conducted by H.S. Hepner, representing the grand master of the Masonic Order of Montana.

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Members of the Black Eagle Commandary of Great Falls march from Augusta to the ceremony at Augusta High School.

The program began with a parade leaving the Masonic hall at 2:00 p.m., of Augusta Lodge No. 54, A.F. and A.M., under the escort of Black Eagle Commandary of Great Falls and followed by the school children of the district and many hundred citizens. The Masons and attending audience took up their position at the northeast corner of the building where the inscribed stone was in readiness.

The ceremony proper began immediately, participated in by Mr. Hepner and members of the local body, who responded to questions put by the director.

Dr. O.A. Kenck responded for the school board and taxpayers in a short but forceful talk, reciting what had been accomplished in this district within the past year, and the hopes of the board for the immediate future.

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Note the comment written on the photo: "Placing records in corner stone laying, Augusta, Mont. July 5-20" The date on the photos is different than the dates on the cornerstone and the date recorded in the Augusta newspaper, which puts the date at June 30, 1920. (Corrected)

As is customary in Masonic ceremonies of this kind, a metal box containing a copy of the Constitution of the United States, a copy of each of the county papers, a list of the members of the local Masonic order, a list of the members of the Augusta Civic Society, the latest financial statement of The Peoples Bank of Augusta, a list of teachers having taught in this district past term, a copy of the proceedings  of the last session of the Grand Lodge, names of the Grand Lodge officers participating I the ceremony and an assortment of coins of the United States was placed in a cavity in the stone prepared for that purpose and sealed into the masonry of the building. Thus, in ages to come, when time or disaster shall have crumbled or demolished the walls of this monument to the industry of this generation, a vital record of this proud occasion will remain to enlighten those who follow.

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A large crowd gathered for the ceremony.

Rev. J.F. McNamee of Helena made a short address, dwelling on the importance of education and true Americanism.

H.S. Hepner, also of Helena, spoke upon the solemnity of the occasion, marking as it does, the splendid advance for this district along educational lines.

Both speakers were listened to with the very best of attention and both gentlemen complemented the audience on its behavior and close attentions.

Inscribed on the east side of the stone are these lines:

Laid June, 1920

School District o. 45

Augusta, Montana.

Board of Trustees

O.A. Kenck, Chairman

C.C. Covington

Malcolm Chisholm

Fred Eder

G.H. Gonser

Chas. P. Troyer, Clerk

And on the north face:

1920”

The Sun Times spoke with Kerry Bouchard, President of the Augusta Area Historical Society and Museum to see if there were any plans to mark the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the school. Kerry said that some residents are still concerned about the COVID virus and are reluctant to come out for large gatherings, but that she thought a small observation, some time in July, would be nice.

Kerry added that the mystery for the community had been if there was a “time capsule,” and if there was, where was it located and what might be in the capsule.

Thanks to Augusta’s own newspapers, we have solved some of the mystery. Still, it would be great to access the capsule, or “metal box” in this case, and see those contents. At the very least, celebrate the grand old school; possibly with a re-enactment of the cornerstone laying.