H.H. Eccles, Foundational Figure in Canby School History, Received First Month’s Pay in Gold Coins

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A 1940s boom led to the construction of a new elementary school on Grant Street in 1948, the first new school in Canby since the high school had been 20 years earlier.

It would eventually be named for William Knight, the early merchant who built the first frame schoolhouse on Baker Prairie in 1875 and who also served as clerk of the Canby School District in 1922 at the ripe age of 83, but that wouldn’t happen for another 30 years. Until then, it was known as the Grant Street School, or simply, Canby Grade School.

Canby Likes Ike

Three years later, 592 students at that school saw a presidential inauguration for the first time in their lives, thanks to a Zenith television the Burgess Appliance Co. and Larry’s Radio Service had installed the previous night.

The fourth through eighth grades gathered around the old black-and-white in stunned amazement as President Dwight D. Eisenhower took the oath of office, while the three lower grades watched the parade in the afternoon.

All students gathered to watch the coverage during the noon hour. Food around the TV? That sounds like lunch at my house.

That same day, at exactly 9 a.m. (noon in Washington, D.C.), Canby postmaster Helen I. Brown marked the change of presidents in a small ritual virtually no one witnessed, as she solemnly took down the large portrait of President Truman that had hung over her desk for several years.

At the time, she had no picture to replace it with. According to an article in the Canby Herald, she had written to President Elect Eisenhower’s headquarters to request one, but had been told that pictures were not yet available.

According to the Herald, that was about the only work that was done in town that day. Virtually all work throughout Canby ground to a halt, as thousands of eyes were glued to screens.

‘Can I Copy Your Homework, Mom?’

In 1955, a local mother enrolled at Canby Union High School to complete her education. An injury had forced then-Edith Johnson to drop out during her junior year 17 years earlier.

At the time she rejoined the student ranks, as Mrs. Harvey E. Hartman, her 12-year-old daughter, Susan, was a seventh grader.

“I always wanted to finish high school,” Mrs. Hartman said, “but after I was hurt I was ill for several years. Then Harvey and I were married, then there was Susan, and finally the new home that we built. I just made up my mind to do it this year.”

Her teachers said she was a great student, particularly in English, Social Economics and Bookkeeping. In an interview, she admitted to feeling a little self-conscious about the age difference at first, but eventually, the kids treated her like any other student.

“With her trim figure and bright smile,” the Herald noted, “Mrs. Hartman could easily be mistaken for another 17-year-old.”

Oh, that’s…creepy.

City Mourns Loss of Eccles

That same year marked the end of era for Canby schools, as the community grieved the passing of Howard Hayes Eccles. He was a Canby school teacher, coach and administrator for over 50 years.

At the time of his death, he was 78, retired, and a resident at the Canby Nursing Home, where he had resided for several months after suffering paralysis in both of his legs. He had been diagnosed with cancer that winter, but had shown such marked improvement by the spring that he was offering his services in income tax assistance to local residents.

H.H. was born in 1876 in Brownsville, Pa., the only child of John Eccles and Caroline J. Carter Eccles. With his mother he came to Oregon as a young child, first to Portland and later to Woodburn where he attended school.

He began his career at the White School in Hubbard, before moving to Canby in 1897. He received his first teachers’ pay, $30 a month, in gold coins. And they say teachers are underpaid!

He taught at the one-room Riverside schoolhouse and in Mundorf before being named principal of the Canby elementary school in 1913, a position he would hold for the next 32 years.

When he retired in 1945, Mrs. Henry Kraft, who had been his student in Riverside in 1900, her son, Emil, who was in his classes in Canby, and Emil’s daughter, Ethel, who was a primary student during his Canby principalship, sang trio selections, reminding him that his teaching work had covered three generations.

Another new primary school, built on N.W. 5th Ave. in 1956, was named in his honor, at the suggestion of his grown students, who wrote letters to the school board and local paper.

At one point, briefly, Eccles Elementary would be the state’s largest primary school, with expected enrollment of over 700 students in 1974. “The public is invited to see the extent of overcrowding at the school,” the Herald recorded with its usual, trademarked subtlety.

She’s My Cherry Pie

We’ll end with a sweet one. In 1958, the state’s champion cherry pie baker came from right here in Canby: 18-year-old Molly Atchison, a senior at Canby High School and in the words of the Canby Herald, a “stately brunette,” (creepy) won the honor of competing in the national finals in Chicago that year.

Her lattice-topped treat, baked at the University of Oregon, won in a field of 34 contestants. Her prize was $25 cash, plus two cases of Oregon cherries, 60 pounds of flour and five cans of shortening. Real subtle.

We have many more colorful stories to tell you from the history of the Canby School District, but it will have to wait till next time, on Canby Then.

H.H. Eccles, pictured here as coach of an early Canby Grade School boys basketball team, year unknown. Courtesy the Canby Historical Society.

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