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Oneida Stake Academy

Historical building connects past and future.

Breanna Olaveson Sep 1, 2017

A century ago, teenagers in long dresses and trousers filled the halls and classrooms of the Oneida Stake Academy in Preston, Idaho. The secondary school for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of 35 academies the church built during the late 1800s. Today, it’s one of five that remains standing, thanks to a $3.5 million fundraiser and a two-block move of the 1,600-ton building.

“This is an extremely important building to our community’s history,” says Necia Seamons, founding board member of the Oneida Stake Academy Foundation. “Every community has a place that embodies who they are — the heart and soul of the place. That’s what this building was to our community. We’re returning it to that place.”

‘Grand Things Came Out of It’

The Oneida Stake Academy building is historically significant, but in the late 1990s, it was deemed irrelevant. The Preston School District — which had been using it as an auxiliary building for its high school for more than half a century — was growing, and needed more space and facilities. The building, though it had rich ties to the past, seemed to have little value in the 21st century.

A group of Preston’s citizens, including Seamons, disagreed. “It’s not just a cool building,” Seamons says. “It’s a grand building, and grand things came out of it.”

The Race to $1 Million

Seamons and her fellow citizens approached the school board with an alternative to demolition. If they could just move the building to another location, the school district could have land to build on while still preserving the building. The project would cost $1 million.

“They said, ‘If you can raise the money before we are ready to tear it down, you can have it,’” Seamons says.

So, they got to work. Larry and Gail Miller donated $250,000. Other donors, like the Eccles Foundation, David and Dianne Sant, Clyde and Gail Heiner, Jim Gilmur, and the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation made significant contributions. Idaho congressman Mike Simpson found some federal grant monies, and private individuals gave donations ranging from $2 to $500. Plans to move the building were finalized an hour before the school board planned to open a contract with a demolition team.

The building was moved about two blocks away from its original location in 2003 and now sits in Benson Park, owned by the LDS Church. Fittingly, the park is named after the family of former Church president Ezra Taft Benson, who was a student at Oneida Stake Academy with another former president, Harold B. Lee.

A 19th-century School in the 21st Century

The task now is to make the building usable to the community. The top floor is a ballroom, which the Oneida Foundation is preparing to be used for weddings, reunions, concerts, dances, conferences and other events. On the main floor is a room that will be restored as an 1890s classroom for the benefit of area fourth-graders learning about state history, as well as tourist groups. A larger room will become a museum of local history. The basement will house restrooms, another meeting room and a warming kitchen for catered events in the ballroom.

These projects will proceed as funds become available. To date, $3.7 million was raised for the building’s move and structural upgrade. The board needs a final $4 million to proceed. Anyone interested in helping to finish this gem of pioneer history may contact Seamons at 208-852-1837 or visit oneidastakeacademy.org. All donations are tax-deductible.

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