It always makes my day when someone asks me to research a history question they have concerning Idaho. I have an insatiable appetite for history–which my husband says is a form of mental illness–but there it is. If I can find an excuse to do some research, I’m all for it.
Usually people ask questions about what I call, “big ticket stuff.” What was the Carey Land Act? What is the history of the Minidoka Internment Camp? Etc. I rarely get asked questions about my hometown, which is a teensy dot on the map where a few in and out-of-staters stop to fuel up and grab a quick bite before getting back on the I84 speedway.
This weekend a good friend asked me a question about a little shack and a foundation north of Bliss, and the search for answers was on. It didn’t take long to find the answer…It was one of several little school houses that dotted the area in the late 1880s and early 1900s. It was obsolete by 1920, because the Bliss School District was formed.
Might I add, Bliss High School will graduate its 100th senior class in May of 2020!
But, back to my story. Finding out the ruins were once a school house whetted my appetite to see if I could figure out why a school house was built in such a remote, and frankly odd, Upper Clover Creek location.
I’m still digging for information, but I will share what I’ve found so far.
The town of Bliss would probably not have existed in the 1880s, or today, if not for the Oregon Short Line. In 1883, a well was drilled in Bliss, a steam powered pump and water tank were erected, and a siding was built. This was done because east bound trains, after the long pull up from the valley floor at Glenns Ferry and over the King Hill grade, had just enough water to reach the little station.
Few in that day figured Bliss would ever become a major Idaho city…and it didn’t, but the consensus at the time was Bliss could be great for agriculture if water were delivered to it. And so it is.
But prior to the Carey Land Act, and the irrigation systems that grew out of the act, Bliss’s biggest draw was its quiet anonymity. Many of her early settlers built small farms or ranches, but some of them had more of a “hermit” attitude and simply wanted to be left alone. They were called hermit miners or hermit farmers by most, because they didn’t buy land or build homes but instead used existing geography to make their homes out of. One such family, who’s children attended the school was the Connaway family.
Little information is available about this family, but according to oral history, the family lived in dugout in the Hole-In-The-Wall area north of Bliss.
There were at least six children in the family, two of which died quite young, and are buried in Pioneer Cemetery, which is also north of Bliss. Lorna Bard, who often wrote of Bliss history, wrote that her parents spoke of the Connaway family and that some of the Connaway children, “attended the little school that was south and west of Blanch, which is now the ranch owned by the Huxhold family.”
Another family, who’s name is lost to history, sent at least three of their children to this school. This family lived in a small cave complex for at least one year, possibly two, near the school.
I’m still researching to find out what other families may have attended the school. My mamma recalls meeting a young person when she was in high school, who was a member of a hermit family in the late 1930s. This person was looking for a job, and claimed to have attended school, “near Bray Lake.”
One thing that I did get from the number of interviews I conducted this weekend, is Bliss pioneers considered education opportunities for their children to be of paramount importance. There were six of these little schools dotted around the Bliss area in 1893!
Lydia Bliss, who my grandmother knew and had great respect for, taught in at least two of these schools, and my great-grandmother Brewer taught for a short time in the Lower Clover Creek School.
The research continues! I am going out to the site next weekend to see what I can “dig” up. I will be taking one of my old–and I say that with the deepest respect–buddies with me.