District History

Birth of the Shelby School System

This was written 1932, by Marguerite Marmont, a member of the Shelby History Group.  This article was originally produced for the Great Falls Tribune, and was published in that newspaper on March 27, 1932.

John Kohnen was the first and only high school graduate in 1916. His name is mistakenly spelled Konnen in the article.

Became of School Age

The town's steady population was small, so Shelby did not come of school age until 1898. Then its school census numbered the necessary 15 children and the half dozen residents families contributed as best they could to establish a school and pay a teacher for the first three months as there were then no available funds from Teton County.

Henry Guth furnished lots for a location and transients were solicited for contributions. An unused barn was purchased from Dr. T. L. Clark and moved to the lots. Shelby education received its humble beginning. This first schoolhouse survives today as the south part of the East Side grade building. Mike Connelly, Pete Hughes and Henry Guth were on the first school board.

Miss Minnie Miebach was Shelby's first teacher. She was well liked, efficient and quite undaunted by difficulties in discipling. When one youthful "bad man" drew a knife on her, she installed a quirt [a short-handled riding whip with a braided leather lash], as part of her schoolroom equipment and school went on serenely.

Miss Miebach was followed by Miss Edith Young, who married Charles Moberly, and Miss Carrie Bamber. Teachers did not stay long, for in those days a teachers' agency was often more effectual than a matrimonial bureau.

The one-room building did double duty for school classes and church services. Catholic mass was held there occasionally until 1907 when a church, with the Rev. Fr. T. Phelan in charge, was built on lots donated by "Uncle Dan" Sullivan. In 1901 the Rev. A. W. Hammer, a Methodist cowboy preacher, rode on horseback from Dupuyer once a month to hold services in the schoolhouse. In 1902 he was assigned to Shelby. Besides his spiritual duties, he was chief carpenter in erection of a Methodist church, for which Henry Guth contributed the ground. Meetings of both sects drew good-sized crowds from outlying ranches.

Old Shelby High School

Old Shelby High School

The old Shelby High School. Opened in the school year of 1912 - 1913.

John Kohnen

John Kohnen

John Kohnen was the first and only high school graduate in 1916.

Another Room Added

More families moved to Shelby "to school the kids," Enrollment grew until another room was necessary in 1903.

The homestead era began in 1910. "Get a free homestead" was the slogan. Shelby became a center of original homesteads, additionals, desert claims, relinquishments and preemptions. Riders searched for cornerstones instead of stray calves. Pennies and barbed wire fences came into use.

A bank was established and a commercial club was organized. The population to 300. A grand inaugural ball celebrated the birth of Shelby as an incorporated town and the election of James A. Johnson as its first mayor. Improvements followed -- a water system in 1912 and telephones and electric lights a little later, Johnson's first addition was platted.

School enrollment increased, a third teacher was hired and classes spilled over into the Methodist church. Shelby was ready for a high school. The district was bonded for $20,000; lots were donated by James A. Johnson. In January, 1913, the three-story brick building that now is the main grade building was ready for use. William M. Black, Shelby attorney, was the principal of schools. He ushered the first freshman class into Shelby high in 1912–13. John Konnen, now in the insurance business in Jamestown, N. D., was the first graduate in 1916.

Toole County Created

After a two-year struggle, Toole county was created in 1914. Newly elected county officials moved to Shelby as the county seat. More homesteaders came. By 1915 it was necessary to use both the new brick grade building and the old two-room school. Payne Templeton, now principal of Flathead County high school, became the head of Shelby schools in 1918, just returned from service in the World War,

In 1919 a high school building was erected across the street from the grade building. It became a lively community center. A zealous community club met weekly; the auditorium accommodated public gatherings as well as school activities.

The Gordon Campbell drilled in the first oil well in the Kevin-Sunburst field. The oil boom of 1923 came, when so many hoped to make their fortunes at Shelby. Homesteaders, who had not already given up their struggles at dryland farming, came into town along with many from the outside world. Snail-like trucks moved in all available buildings from the surrounding prairie to accommodate the rushing population,

Among them came two country schoolhouses, which were relocated on lots donated by the Shelby Townsite company in the north side of town.

One addition has been made since--a large frame building purchased for the manual training department.

New Gymnasium Opened

As Shelby continued to grow, all departments became crowded. Partitions were readjusted and seated space rearranged until there could be no further extensions. A new high school building was again necessary. It was erected on the same lots as the main grade building.

The gymnasium was accepted by the board of education last February 16. It was used for the first time during the subdistrict basketball tournament.

Each of the older buildings will take its place in Shelby's greater school system. Two grade buildings will be used, the first four grades on the north side, and the first five grades on the south. The outgrown high school will be a junior high, With departmental teachers ln sciences, languages and social sciences.

As soon as practical the old east side building will be converted into a dormitory, where students from out of town may live at a nominal cost -- possibly as low as $20 or $22.50 a month. The old manual training building will supply ample material for enlarging and remodeling the dormitory.

Credit to Moser

Much credit for Shelby's school system is due Wilbur C. Moser, who has been superintendent since 1925. Mr. Moser is a graduate of the State University at Missoula and Keystone State Normal. He has taken additional work at Lehigh University, the University of Washington and at the University of California. He is chairman of the Montana Education association placement bureau and a member of its delegate assembly. He also is prominent in civic affairs. He has been Toole county chairman of the American Red Cross, chairman of the Boy Scout court of honor, superintendent of the Community Sunday School, president of the Lions club, and treasurer of the Masons.

Members of the Shelby board of education are: S. Hole, president; Wallace Martin, clerk; Dr. J. M. Williamson, F. E. Williams, Jesse G. Henderson, and W. M. Black.

Cheer in the gymnasium of the new high school brought satisfaction to Shelby's townspeople, for with the completion of the $90,000 structure they have one of the most modern School plants in Montana.

Last summer Shelby's people scribbled at special school elections. Throughout the fall they listened to trucks dumping gravel on the school lots day and night. During the winter many "employed" rushed the building to completion.

Brinkman Was Architect

The three-story edifice of light variegated face brick was planned by Fred A. Brinkman, Kalispell architect, to embody the spirit of education in a modernistic manner. Vertical piers point upward on the face of the building; setback steps form a motif used in exterior doors and arches within.