Lane County reached a milestone in 1902 when it established a true high school in Dighton. Organized under a law allowing counties with a population of less than twenty-five hundred to have a county seat high school with the county commissioners serving as the school board, free tuition was offered to all Lane County pupils regardless of age or occupation. A diploma from the high school admitted the student to any of the state’s institutions of higher learning without the student taking an examination. The first class, composed of five students, graduated in 1904.
High school classes met in the second story of the grade school building until 1907 when it was moved to the Smith-Holton building on the southwest corner of Long and Main streets in Dighton. In 1910, the high school was moved to the second story courtroom of the courthouse. The first term began in October with an enrollment of thirty-two students. Professor Herman H. Gillette, who later served as president of the Dighton Exchange Bank, was in charge of the school.
In April 1915, Journal-Herald editor J. E. Lucas asked: “Why Not Build a High School Building?” He claimed that the 1914 Lane County farm and livestock products were valued at approximately two million dollars, and the 1915 prospects looked better. Therefore, Lucas suggested that a vote be taken before 1914’s harvest.
The vote did not become a reality until September 1916. Work began on the $20,000 High School building immediately after the favorable ballot. Masons laid the last brick of the building, located at the north end of the present football field, in March 1917.
This “new important and creditable addition to Dighton” contained a basement, which housed a gymnasium, an observation gallery, a manual training room, a domestic arts room, a coalbunker, and a boiler room. The first floor contained four classrooms, a library, and three clock rooms. The second floor featured the auditorium, three classrooms, and two coatrooms. September 1918 enrollment was 75 students.
Before the August 26, 1935, vote of another new high school, Dighton’s newspaper published critical opinions of its 18-year-old building. Some stated concerns that the building’s wood floors and joists were not fireproof. The building contained only three exits in case of fire. During the past year, 180 students crammed into every classroom and hallway in the building, which was built for a capacity of 100 students.
The students of Lane County Community High School, as it was called at that time, moved into the new $200,000 building on January 25, 1937. It was a time of excitement. Lockers were assigned to students on Friday afternoon. Everyone, with arms piled high, transferred personal possessions from the old building to the new. School equipment was moved Saturday and on Monday morning, students began classes in the beautiful building which still houses the high school of today.
This was the time of the depression and the Works Project Administration. The WPA, as it was called, provided work to counties having needy people. The county commissioners obtained approval from the WPA to tear down the old two-story brick building by local hand labor and to salvage all possible materials. Parts of the salvageable materials were used to build a Vocational-Agriculture building and the remainder was sold to pay the expense of the building. Because WPA labor was used, the county commissioners were in charge of this project. Instructor, Arthur Pomeroy, was asked to take charge of development and construction of the VA building.
Ned Stormont was hired as the project engineer and received the pay allowed by the WPA. Pomeroy received his teaching salary of $110 a month for a nine-month term. The school board, however, hired a teacher to take over Pomeroy’s teaching duties, but Pomeroy had to supervise each class and give a lecture at least once a week. His teaching duties consisted of five classes and one study hall. His extra-curricular activities consisted of coaching baseball, tennis, and assisting the football coach. He also coached two to three high school plays each year.
After completion of the VA building, the county commissioners were in need of additional work for WPA laborers. Therefore, decent football and baseball diamonds and a quarter-mile track were the next projects for Pomeroy’s supervision.
Because an athletic field was not complete without a stadium, that became the commissioners’ and Pomeroy’s next WPA project. Rock for the stadium was secured from the former pioneer town of Ravanna, located in Finney County, from farmers who owned the land on which the town was located, who were more than happy to give the stone to anyone who would haul it away.
After the rocks were hauled to Dighton, plans were sent to the WPA Topeka headquarters, which at first refused to approve them. After a few changes in the plans and much persuasion by Pomeroy, they granted their approval. The officials, however, wanted it understood that their engineers estimated the stadium’s life was only five years. After the turn of the new century 2000, the stadium was still standing.
In 1968, the football field and stadium was designated Ringe Field in honor of Elmer Ringe, teacher and coach from 1925-68, on his retirement. Ringe Field received a face-lift in 1993 as track boosters in the community raised funds to lay a sevenlane asphalt track around the football field. Dighton held its first invitational track meet on the new track in 1994.
Dighton High School student enrollment peaked during the 1966- 67 school year with a record 234 students. Continued overcrowding of the 1937 building led to the renovation and million-dollar addition to the building, which was completed in March 1975. Three classrooms, a new gymnasium, locker room, commons area, kitchen, bathrooms, library and office spaces were added to the school. A complete renovation of the auditorium also occurred, which was later named Martin Auditorium, in 1982, in honor of English teacher, Della Faye Martin, who taught in the District from 1941-48 and 1957-82.
Following the expansion, student enrollment began to drop. In 1999, Dighton High School, a 2A school, was reclassified as a 1A school. Its students numbered 121 in the second semester of 2000.