School, church, tavern

Matt Wood

One of the key components of our federal government is the principle of checks and balances provided by our Constitution’s separation of power into the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. In theory (and generally in practice) it prevents one branch from gaining inordinate influence over the others and usually maintains a fairly healthy state of cooperation and compromise for the good of all — or at least most of us.

Small towns such as Helix, my place of approximate residence (my ZIP code is technically Adams), provide a provincial example of checks and balances in the form of three institutions that I regard as vital to a community’s balance of power: the School, the Church and the Tavern.

Each of these plays an important role in a community’s well-being and, personally, I would be suspicious of a place where any one of these institutions exhibited unilateral control. In the near quarter-century since I moved to Helix, I have spent time in all three of the aforementioned places, though I have no definitive nor accurate means by which I could quantify exactly how much time has been spent in each or in what order of priority.

Though I unfortunately do not possess anything more than a cursory and incomplete knowledge of Helix history, I have been fortunate enough to know many folks, both friends and family, who possessed great knowledge concerning Helix schools, churches, and taverns and from that have gleaned enough to offer a brief synopsis.


Like most other pioneer towns of the American West, the citizens of Helix saw the need for public education nearly from the start of the town, or at least by the time the railroad arrived and gave some semblance of permanence around 1889. The grade school from this era still stands though it has been transformed into a residential duplex. The second more modern brick grade school was built about 1914. Still a handsome structure, it now serves as city hall, museum and public library and is the focus of a local group called HAPN (Helix Advancement Partnership Network), which hopes to continue to improve and enhance the facility for present and future denizens of Helix. The high school in Helix was built in 1923 and named for a long-time resident of the town, Dr. Griswold. Born in 1850, Griswold came to Helix in the 1880s and was an important stalwart of the community until his death in 1922. He is buried in the cemetery on the hill south of town and his legacy endures to the present.

Before unification of districts occurred in the 1940s, the Helix area had many one-room schools spread throughout the present, rather large district. These included, but were not limited to: Holdman, Stanton, Mullencup, McRae, Dorran, Juniper, Moll, Koepke, Myrick and the Finn School. The Stanton and Dorran schools were moved in the 1940s and became farm dwellings.

My family lived in the Dorran school until 2009 when we moved to a different farm. The Finn School was moved and is now the shop building on the Enbysk Farm.


At the turn of the last century, Helix proper had two churches, one Baptist and one Christian. The Christian Church no longer exists except in photographs, but the Baptist Church founded in 1893 still stands and now serves the spiritual needs of the area as a non-denominational flock tended to by a former farmer from Sauvie Island named Mark Woolbright.

The greater Helix area has had other churches as well. For many years, Holdman had a church and a parsonage that accompanied a store, post office, school and teacherage, and hotel among several homes. My grandmother was rewarded for perfect attendance at Sunday School sometime in the 1920s. In 1892, a German evangelical Lutheran Church was built south of Myrick to serve the many German farmers in the area. In 1924, the congregation moved to Pendleton and is still located at the corner of NW Ninth and Carden. My Volga Deutsch ancestors would be disappointed if I belonged to any other church, however, during the farming season my attendance is sporadic.

In 1884 a Finnish apostolic congregation was founded and a church constructed five miles south of Helix and four miles west of Adams near the present-day Midway elevator.

This church still stands today and has never had electricity or indoor plumbing. It is owned by the Greasewood Finnish Heritage Society and represents a proud heritage of a once-thriving, densely populated enclave of Finnish farmers who began homesteading the area in 1877-78. Our family occupies one of these farmhouses built in 1916 by a second-generation Finn named Elmer Hendrickson.


Over the years, Helix has had numerous waterholes including the Pastime, Charlie Alspach’s Olympic Bar, Harry’s Place, Howard’s Corner, Henry Campbell’s and the present-day Market and Pub.

In the days before income taxes and our modern levying of property taxes, licensing fees paid by saloons to municipal governments were an extremely important source of revenue. In the first decade of the 20th Century, the city of Helix collected $500 or more annually to license each tavern in town, a princely sum in 1905.

In October 1922, Harry Rose of Helix was shot and killed at his establishment by L.D. Clark, town marshal, after an argument and subsequent fisticuffs between Rose and Clark’s son, 19 year-old Sim. The Olympic Bar was located approximately where the Helix Telephone Company is currently. I have the safe from that bar. The current tavern began life as a dry goods store in 1920 and was owned by F.E. Blinn.

Lines are sometimes blurred at our town’s three most important institutions. I and many others have occasionally preached from a bar stool. I have also prayed at school, either during an invocation at a graduation or in search of a correct answer during an exam. And it goes without saying that education frequently takes place somewhere other than a classroom.

Matt Wood is his son’s hired man and his daughter’s biggest fan. He lives on a farm near Helix, where he collects antiques and friends.

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