Polk County Historical Society

Lyle School at Dallas is named after John E. Lyle, the schoolmaster who taught the first school in Polk County.

Lyle’s first school was in one of the two rooms in the log cabin erected upon the Nathaniel Ford land claim at Rickreall. Ford was better known for other things. Among them was the lawsuit brought by his Negro servants over who controlled their children. That suit, one of the classics in Polk County’s legal history, determined that slavery did not exist in Oregon Territory.

The Ford cabin was a comparatively elegant structure for its time and place. First of all, it had two rooms. And each room had its own fireplace.

Lyle conducted school there the winter of 1845-46. In 1925, Julia Veazie Glen interviewed Mrs. Thomas Hayter, who as a young child (Mary Embree) was one of the original students. The interview was contained in Julia Glen’s book, John Lyle and the Lyle Farm, a part of which was reprinted in Historically Speaking Vol. XVII, a publication of the Polk County Historical Society.

Mary Hayter recalled there were 11 students the first term of the school.

This school — the first in Polk County – moved to a new location a mile west of Rickreall on the east side of what now is Bowersville Road. It was built upon the land claim of Cary Embree.

The March 19, 1846 issue of the Oregon Spectator announced that the school, under the new name of Jefferson Institute, would open in its new location the following April and would be conducted for 24 weeks.

Trustees were listed as N. Ford, James Howard and William Beagle. John E. Lyle was listed as the teacher.

This was not a tax-supported school. Tuition was charged — $8 per “scholar” for the term.

Mary Hayter remembered the building and its furnishings. Students faced the walls sitting on plank benches. A wide board, set against the wall, was used as a desk.

Writing implements were goose quills kept sharp by the teacher. A stock of blue writing paper was on hand. Ms. Glen suggested the paper was purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. Ink was made locally by squeezing fluid from oak galls and steeping in it iron filings. An early version of the lead pencil was lead rifle balls hammered into the shape of a pencil. Students provided their own books. Wise pioneers brought up to three years of books to help their children’s’ education.

The curriculum of this early school did not conform to what would be appropriate today. The morning session started with a study from the Bible. Each child read a verse.

During lunch period and recess the children played outside the school. Ms. Glen says the girls played on one side of the building, boys on the other. The boys played ball with a knitted ball. The girls jumped rope, made of braided rawhide.

Jefferson Institute became the center of activity for the county. A pulpit was built in the school building. Preachers of all denominations conducted services there. There is some suggestion that cabins were erected nearby to house those who came to services at the Institute but were unable to return home the same day.

Mary Hayter remembered that additional shelter for the congregation was afforded by setting forked tree limbs across the front of the building and covering them with fir boughs.

The Jefferson Institute building was the site of two sessions of the first Provisional Government Circuit Court. Polk County had not selected a Clerk of Court, so John Lyle, the schoolmaster, took the job for the first meeting. (A sign on the west edge of Bowersville Road marks the site of Jefferson Institute.)

The next school in which John Lyle was involved was the LaCreole Academic Institute.

Water wells in Cynthian – now North Dallas – did not produce during the summer. A proposal was made for the formation of LaCreole Academic Institute to be established south of LaCreole Creek (now Rickreall Creek), where water had been found, and financed by the establishment of a town site on donated property. It also would assure that the county seat would remain in the area.

Trustees were R. P. Boise, N. Lee, William Lewis, J. F. Roberts, J. E. Lyle, F. Waymire, A. H. Sweeney, J. M. Frederick and Horace Lyman.

Several donated land. Others donated money. On July 13, 1855, after some dithering, the trustees agreed to the location of the Academy grounds, platted a town site and set aside a one-block site for a new county courthouse. Lots were given to merchants to induce them to move to town.

LaCreole Academic Institute opened in 1856. Its first teacher was the Rev. Horace Lyman. He was assisted by Elizabeth House. Tuition was “$4 for reading and spelling, $5 for all higher branches usually taught in Common or Free schools and $8 for the Higher English studies and the Languages.”

This Polk County history article is sponsored by Some Things Antiques in Dallas. Some Things is located at:

745 Main St., Dallas


Tue-Sat | 10:30a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Information in this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society.

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