A 5-foot-tall marker stands behind a fence off Ahtanum Road, one that’s easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it.

But the 65-year-old monument made from native rocks marks the site of an early high school in the Yakima Valley.

Ahtanum Academy was established by members of the Ahtanum Congregational Church to provide a higher education for their children and others in the area, a mission it fulfilled for 13 years.

The school’s founding is closely tied to the founding of the Congregational church, known today as Ahtanum Pioneer Church.

Elisha and Lucy Tanner, who settled in the Ahtanum area in 1870 with their three daughters, were the founders of both the church and a Sunday School, which first operated out of their home and later a log schoolhouse before moving to a church building in 1884 that still stands.

The work of the Tanners, along with Fenn and Frances Woodcock, attracted the attention of the Rev. George H. Atkinson, who was the Congregational Church’s home missionary superintendent for Oregon and Washington. Fenn Woodcock was a church deacon.

While looking to “plant” more churches in the area, Atkinson also thought it would be good to develop an industrial school, one that would instruct students in the trades of the time.

The Woodcocks, who were college-educated, endorsed the idea. So did the Tanners. Atkinson, however, never did much more than talk about it until his death in February 1889.

Eight months later, the Yakima Association of Congregational Churches went forward with plans for a school and solicited offers on sites. The association considered locations in Ellensburg, what is today Yakima and the Ahtanum area.

The Ahtanum offer was sweetened by the Woodcocks offering 60 acres of land for the school, as well as pledging $3,000 — $87,633 when adjusted for inflation — toward its construction. The association approved it and a board of trustees was appointed in 1890, but work did not start right away because of an economic depression in the area.

Work began the following year on a three-story building that rose a short distance from the church. The land was platted in one-acre lots for those who wanted to live close to the school and to further subsidize the project. The lots cost $8,000 — or $233,687 today.

The school opened Sept. 28, 1892, with W.M. Heiney as its principal and his wife serving as the vocal and instrumental music instructor. Speakers at the event compared its establishment to the creation of Harvard, Yale and what is today Whitman College in Walla Walla.

Ahtanum Academy’s first student body consisted of 40 students, two dozen of whom were enrolled on opening day.

In 1897, there was discussion about relocating the building to what is today Yakima, but Ahtanum residents balked, and the school remained in place.

Also that year, the school was renamed Woodcock Academy in Woodcock’s memory. The Yakima Herald reported that the following June, Woodcock Academy’s first graduating class consisted of one student, Etha Henderson.

The school remained in operation until 1905. The school would eventually become the home of the Ahtanum Grange in 1913. As a grange hall, it became a social center for the community, with dances and other activities.

In 1943, the grange renovated the building, removing its two upper floors, changing the floor plan for the remaining floor, and covering it with a false brick veneer on the outside.

But the academy was not forgotten. In October 1955, the grange dedicated the monument at the site in a ceremony attended by grange members, representatives of local historical associations, members of the Woodcock family and 18 graduates of the academy.

In March 2003, while the grange hall was being converted into a bakery and antique store, a fire destroyed the building.

Today, the academy’s site is home to the Yakima Church of Love, with the Woodcock Academy monument sitting on the grounds.

It Happened here is a weekly history column by Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Donald W. Meyers. Reach him at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com. Sources for this week’s column include YakimaMemory.org, the 1892 Northwest Journal of Education, The Inflation Calculator by Morgan Friedman and the archives of the Yakima Herald-Republic.

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