By accident I found the 1924 Cayuse, the Columbia College yearbook, on Ancestry.com, but I had no other information on the school. This Columbia College does not appear on lists of closed Oregon colleges. Sandy Nelson, the Genealogy librarian at Milton-Freewater Public Library, put me in touch with Marcia Akes, editor of the Valley Herald Newspaper, who provided additional photos and material on the history of the school.
Columbia College, a product of the East Columbia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, opened in September 1900, using the campus of Milton Academy. That year saw 131 pupils enrolled. By 1906 the school began a campaign to raise funds for a permanent building. That building was completed in time for classes in the fall of 1910. However, beginning in 1923, the school began to experience financial problems, made worse by a dormitory fire in June 1924. In 1925 Columbia College was officially closed for lack of funds.
The Cayuse shows a student body of fewer than 75 students. Included were 14 Sophomores, 11 Freshmen and 12 special students in the college, with 12 Seniors, 10 Juniors, five Sophomores and nine Freshmen in the academy. With these small numbers, most students were active in campus activities. The conservatory of music and department of expression did monthly recitals and choral programs. They combined to perform “The Mikado,” an undertaking involving more than a third of the student body.
Since the aim of Columbia College was to “promote Christian culture and truest refinement in thought and conduct,” the religious element of Columbia College was strong. About a fourth of the students were members of the College Life Service Band, a group training toward a life of Christian service. There were both Young Men’s and Young Women’s Prayer Meetings, regular chapel services and a campus revival during the term.
The major campus social event of the 1923-24 school year was the wedding of Grace Bamburger and Reuben Frank, both Columbia College students.
Bricks and Mortar
Milton was considered to be an attractive site for a college because of its pure air and water and the absence of vice in the town.
The 1910 main building was a three-story brick structure. The third floor contained an auditorium with a seating capacity of 200. The original campus building from Milton Academy days was Rickard Hall. Called the “Old Wooden Dorm,” it housed female students in 1923-24, before burning in June of 1924.
After Columbia College closed, the City of Milton acquired College Building for use as City Hall. Recently renovated, it still operates today as Milton-Freewater City Hall. It was placed on the National Register in 2003.
(Top) This photo from the 1921 Sed and Dun shows the new College Building. (<interactive. ancestry.com>)
(Bottom)Milton-Freewater City Hall today (photo courtesy of Marcia Akes)
Team name: Cayuses
Despite the low numbers (35 males total in the college and high school) Columbia College fielded a football team. The Cayuse reported that “nearly every man on campus was in a suit.” The 1923 team played a high school schedule, going undefeated and allowing only three points to be scored against it. The Cayuse noted that the 1924 schedule would be made up of college teams from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
1923-24 basketball teams played in the Columbia Valley Conference with Spokane and Walla Walla colleges and Lewiston Normal from Idaho.
The 1923-24 women’s basketball team was undefeated in a nine-game schedule, cut short by a measles epidemic. A traditional (for the time) six-to-the-side team, they defeated Lewiston Normal in a five-to-the-side game.
The 1920-21 basketball team played a three-game schedule, winning one and losing one, with one ending in a draw. (Sed and Dun, <interactive. ancestry.com>)