Brief History of Fords Prairie School
The history of a schoolhouse on Fords Prairie dates further back than the existence of a unified Centralia School District. The earliest references to a school in the area indicate that the “Lum Schoolhouse” was in use as early as 1875, possibly on or near the present day site of Fords Prairie. Fords Prairie was incorporate into a unified Centralia School District in the early 1940s.
On December 5, 1945, a fire destroyed the Fords Prairie school building, which was built in 1912. Students were sent to Edison and Washington until a new Fords Prairie building, the one we are all familiar with, was completed on the same site in 1947.
Fords Prairie was home to one of Centralia’s earliest kindergartens when the “new” school opened in 1947. The room had no furniture at first. Furnishing and supplies were added after the building was occupied.
A wing was added to the south side of Fords Prairie in 1957. In later years, second and third grade classes were held in those rooms.
In 1969, grade levels were reconfigured and first through third grade classes were held at Fords Prairie.
In 1978, another new wing was added, this time to the east side of the school along Reynolds. Six new classrooms were added, which would later house kindergarten, preschool, and special education classes. All of the existing rooms in the school were also remodeled at this time. The library was relocated to a space that had previously been a boiler room, though it would later be moved to a vacant classroom.
In 1984, Fords Prairie received its final significant modification when two more classrooms were added to space that was previously a play shed.
Replacement or modernization of Fords Prairie was the subject of several failed bond attempts from the early 1990s through the early 2000s. In 1996, a study of the school found that Fords Prairie was in poor functional condition, and the community indicated that replacing it was a top priority. Voters in Centralia approved a $74 million bond package in 2017 which financed new schools at Fords Prairie and Jefferson Lincoln and the modernization of Centralia High School.
The existing Fords Prairie School was demolished in July 2019 to make way for new outdoor learning spaces and parking at the new school facility, which is located on the same site.
The new Fords Prairie school will be at least the third, and possibly the fourth school to occupy the site.
This early Fords Prairie school house was in use from the early 1900s until 1912. The building that replaced it was destroyed by fire in 1945.
December 6, 1945 clipping from The Daily Chronicie discussing the fire at Fords Prairie
Children play in the multi purpose room in the late 1990s. Notice the bright blue color on the walls.
Children playing in a classroom in the late 1990s
Do you remember the Centerville Hoedown? It was a popular program in the 1980s and 1990s.
A covered wagon on display at Fords Prairie.
Both the old and new Fords Prairie schools are seen in this drone photo from May 2019.
Demolition of the 1957 wing of Fords Prairie on July 7, 2019.
Demolition of the 1978 wing on July 3, 2019, with the new school in the background.
Demolition of the 1947 wing of the school.