The school system in Oronogo dates back to the 1860’s. Oronogo pioneer Judge Charles E. Elliott, who moved to Oronogo in 1867 when there were only two buildings in town, had charge of the erection of the first school house. The first 8th grade graduation exercises were held in 1869. In 1892 a new ward building was built and furnished at the cost of $600.
The brick Washington School building was built before 1895 near the corner of Mineral and Elliott Streets. Three lots were set aside for the school in Elliott’s Addition located on the west side of town. By 1898, high school classes were established and the first class to graduate was in 1904. The high school classes consisted of a 3-year term.
In 1908, construction was started on a new 2-½ story brick school on the east side of town. The school building was built next to an old frame schoolhouse located at the corner of Grant and Central Streets. The construction was under the supervision of the Joplin architectural firm of Garstang and Rea. The new school was named Irving School. The school district continued to use the old frame schoolhouse until about 1912.
Washington school closed in the early 1920’s. In 1926, it was noted that the Oronogo School Board decided to abandon a plan for a four-year high school for another year.
In February 1935, a $10,000 school bond issue was passed to defray the town’s share of the cost in the erection of an annex to the Irving school building. The annex would house a new auditorium and gymnasium. The new construction was part of the Works Project Administration (WPA) with the federal government paying for a large part of the cost. Construction was started in July 1936. In February 1937, Oronogo voters passed a school bond issue of $6000. The issue supplanted the $10,000 issue that was passed in 1935 after it was discovered that the original election was held illegally.
Voters approved a merger of the Tower of Light and Oronogo school districts in October 1951. The new district would be named the R-16 District.
The Joplin Globe, October 31, 1951, page 1
A special meeting with the Webb City R-7 School Board was held in June 1964 to discuss the reorganization of the R-7 and the Oronogo School districts. Several advantages of reorganization were given. Oronogo students would attend a “AAA” school, which included one grade per teacher, art, music, a physical fitness program, school nurse services, a free kindergarten and a modern departmentalized junior high school for grades 7 and 8. An election held July 21, 1964. Webb City voters approved the proposal with 402 in favor and 123 against. Oronogo voters did not approve the proposal with 78 for and 142 against. The proposal passed with the total vote being 480 for and 265 against.
The City of Oronogo moved its offices to the old Irving school building after reorganization of the school districts. A fire destroyed the city hall on November 26, 1969. The blaze started in the southwest corner of the auditorium. It was speculated that a furnace that overheated caused the fire when it was left on after a junior high basketball game.
From The Carl Junction Standard, July 17, 1936:
The board of education here had selected Morris Jones of Lamar as superintendent of the public schools here to succeed A. L. Hosman, who recently resigned after serving many years in that capacity. Jones taught in the Lamar schools last year and graduated two years ago from the Kansas State Teachers college at Pittsburg. Mrs. Jones was elected as primary teacher. Work of building a new school auditorium here as a WPS project is expected to begin within the next five days.