The Sights and Smells of the school in the shadow of the Bunker Hill Zinc Plant

My mother was a teacher at Silver King School from the time I was born until I left Sunnyside Elementary in 1975. I entered 7th grade at Kellogg Junior High School. Mom moved to Sunnyside to teach.

My assignment for my siblings Raymond Pert and Inland Empire Girl was to share some memories about Silver King School. I was the only sibling who never attended the school as a student.

My memories are from the visits I would take when Mom would go out to get some work done at the school on the weekends. Silver King School was located at the base of Government Gulch between Smelterville and Kellogg. Above the school was the Zinc Plant,and to the east of the school was the Bunker Hill Smelter. Both were large sources of pollution and toxic waste in the valley. And Silver King School was at the center of it all.

By the time I remember visiting the school with Mom, I don't think the creek running along side of the school was quite as toxic. Raymond Pert remembers losing balls into the creek, and not being able to retreive them.

Visits to the school with Mom gave me lots of time to wander around the school. Often I would head to the gym and open up the equipment closet and get out the P.E. equipment and play with it. But it was a little creepy down in the gym all alone, so, if it was too dark, I didn't stay long.

Going down to the gym was fun, because you went down a long carpeted ramp. But on the edges it was still tiled floor. On this part, you could sit on your butt and slide down the ramp. That was the fun part.

One of the very unique sights of Silver King School was the big window on the north end of the building. The window had bottles of colored water in each section of the window. I wonder whose idea it was to decorate that window in that manner?

The gym was always kind of creepy, but the really creepy part of Silver King School was the attic. During mom's time as a teacher at the school, this was used as a storage room for items they didn't use all the time. Originally, I believe it was the school's cafeteria before the new part of the school was added. Sometimes I would accompany Mom up to the dark attic to find some Christmas decorations or possibly a fish tank that was stored up there.

One area of the school that always had a unique smell was the faculty room. I remember it being a combination of cigarette smoke and the citrusy scent of Constant Comment Tea. Years later, while employed by the school district in the summer to help clean the school, the faculty room still held that unique odor.

One year while I was still in grade school at Sunnyside Elementary, I had the honor of helping out at the Silver King Christmas program by being the page turner for Mrs. Williams, the music teacher. I felt very special. I must have looked pretty cute, because years later, when I attended junior high and high school with those Silver King students, some of the boys confessed they had a crush on me after seeing me at that program.

For a fund-raiser each year, the Silver King PTA would have a Chili Feed in the cafeteria. Each year we faithfully attended. I also remember another PTA fund-raiser during the summer was having a booth during Frontier Days in Smelterville. I remember being in a booth located under the grandstand at Ferd Stadium. The PTA sold corn dogs during the rodeo and the demolition derby. (They may have sold other things, but I remember the corn dogs.)

Yesterday we traveled up to Silver King and it is sad to see the old school in such disrepair. I know the local school district is determining whether it needs to be torn down, or if parts of the school are still usable. It was also interesting driving up to the end of Government Gulch and seeing some of the buildings from the Zinc Plant up there.

That whole area holds many memories for me and for my family. Dad worked at the Zinc Plant for years. Mom worked at Silver King School. My brother and sister attended Silver King School. I worked at that school one summer helping to clean the building. My husband lived in a house in Silver King as a child.

And my famly wasn't without its casualties because of the Silver King area. My dad's death was directly related to the asbestosis he contracted from his long term exposure to asbestos while working at the Zinc Plant.

Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, and we believe there is a strong tie to her cancer and her working environment at Silver King School. She was one of many teachers who taught at Silver King School that battled cancer. Mom won her battle. Others weren't so lucky.

My brother fell to the bottom of a roaster at the Zinc Plant in 1973 and almost died. He temporarily lost his sight and has had problems with his lungs ever since the accident.

But, despite the casualities, I love living in the Silver Valley, of having a father who worked for the Zinc Plant, and a mother who was a gifted teacher who taught hundreds of students at Silver King School.

My siblings and I all feel this way. Perhaps it was the sense of pride our dad had in this area. I'm not sure. And I'm not sure we have to come up with a reason. I think just loving it here is good enough.

After PKR and I were married, we always knew we would end up in the Silver Valley. It wasn't a plan or a goal we were working towards, it was a gut feeling we both had that someday we would return to the Silver Valley and live. And in 2000 it happened. We moved back. And we haven't regretted the move a bit.


John said...

I like reading your blogs. I read your brothers blogs alot as well. I went to Silver King for 6th grade in 1981-82 and loved it. I live in Tennessee now, but still think of the silver valley often. My grandfather died in the sunshine mine fire. My mother, who grew up in Smelterville, died of breast cancer in 1995. And yet I still have fond memories of Kellogg and miss the simpler days of my childhood growing up there.

Silver Valley Girl said...

Thanks for the nice comment, John. I hope you can make it back here for a visit some time. I'm glad you have fond memories of the Silver Valley. I am going to blog soon about the Sunshine Mine Fire. Stay tuned.

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