After the Fergus family moved to the True farm in Roy, OR their oldest child Darwin started school. The year was 1942 and the school was Columbia Academy.
The academy was located just off Milne Rd. on the property line dividing the James Imbrie and Thomas Cornelius land claims. At the time, Milne was the main road between Hillsboro and Mountaindale in the upper valley. The west side of the roadway along the school was planted with native Big-Leaf Maple trees stretching for a half mile or more, spaced thirty feet apart.
1937 Metsker map, Washington County, Township 1 N., Range 3 W.W.M., Section 4 historicmapworks.com
The first building was built in 1855, a smaller version of the old College Hall on the Pacific University campus in Forest Grove. Originally the community intended the school to be the center of secondary education (9th – 12th grades) and to serve a large area stretching from Glencoe (later renamed North Plains) to Mountaindale. Their grand plans never materialized however, once Hillsboro and Forest Grove built their own high schools and university. So the academy remained a grade school surrounded by a grove of old oak trees that provided shade for many a recess and community picnic.
Lester Mooberry, a former teacher at the school, described the inside of the building in his memoir titled, “Memories of Old Academy Linger with Community”.
“One of the downstairs rooms served as the classroom and the other was used as a woodshed and storage room. The upper room served as a play room for the children on stormy days and as a community center when church services were held there on Sunday or programs during the week.”
Prior to the turn of the century, the building was home to the Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church, Columbia Grange #89, and a fraternal order called the Independent Order of Good Templars.
1903 photo of the original Columbia Academy building.
The second schoolhouse was built in 1909 and sited just in front of where the original stood. It was a modest one-room country schoolhouse with the usual school furnishings including a blackboard, wood stove, bell tower. One rather odd feature though, the building had no windows on the front (east side) or south side where the best source of natural light would have been.
Second Columbia Academy school, District #21
In 2010, Melvin Van Domelen shared a school memory from his cousin John Crocker in The Beacon, the local North Plains newspaper. Melvin and John graduated from Columbia Academy in 1946.
“One favorite recess and noon activity was trying to see how far they could walk along the top board of the fence that went around the school grounds. It was fairly easy along the driveway where the top boards were two inches thick. The hard part was when the fence turned to go behind the woodshed and the top board went down to one inch in width. The children became proficient enough at this to be able to meet and pass one another at a fence post.”
According to Van Domelen, the second Columbia Academy building was dismantled sometime between 1953-1955. All that remained was the old well, now capped, and a play shed that crumbled under a load of snow in February 1990. The current property owner has planted an orchard, but the capped well is still visible.
2017 view of the Columbia School site.