Alexis Beckstead the president of the Oneida Stake Academy Foundation dressed up to give a tour of the building to some elementary school age children recently.
PRESTON – For nearly 20 years, saving the Oneida Stake Academy is on the forefront of many diehard citizens in Franklin County. Building the Academy in Preston began in 1880 and was completed in 1884. Members of the community formed a foundation and started trying to preserve the historic edifice when it was moved in 2003 from the Preston School District grounds to its current location at 106 East Oneida.
Necia Seamons has served for 18 years on the Oneida Stake Academy Foundation board. She said the Preston building is one of five remaining academies still standing.
There were 50 academies built from Alberta, Canada down to the Mormon Colonies in Mexico in the late 1800’s. Many of the academies were turned into state colleges and universities. Brigham Young University, Weber State University, Snow College and BYU-Idaho were all at one time part of the academy educational system that lasted from 1870 until 1930.
“There are buildings still intact in Colonial Juarez, Mexico; Snowflake, Arizona; Cowley, Wyoming; and, one in Provo that has been turned into a beautiful public library,” she said. “In the beginning, it was about saving the magnificent building, but now it is not just saving a building it is saving something that reminds us of a people that valued their rights and chose to value educating their children.”
The transcontinental railroad brought Protestant and Catholic missionaries to the Utah Territory to build schools. For fear of students being evangelized by the educational environment at the time, Brigham Young founded Brigham Young Academy in 1875 in Provo and another in Logan in 1877.
The schools were successful, and leaders wanted academies to be built in every stake of the church at the time.
“We have documented over one million people being educated in the academy system,” she said. “People gave their time and talents to work on their school because they understood it was up to them to make sure their children had a good education.”
The early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were banned from teaching in public schools by the federal government and leaders were concerned their students wouldn’t get their dose of religious studies in schools. Parents and church leaders were also skeptical of their children being taught without bias against their religion.
“We can rebuild the building, but the people of that time gave so much of themselves,” she said. “It was volunteer labor. People were called on missions just to build academies.”
The early church members had been gone from Missouri for only 40 years and they built the academy.
“The concepts they learned were crucial because in our society today people want the government to take care of them,” Seamons said. “You can’t build a community with ‘me first’ attitude. That’s why the building is important so people can see the values it takes to build a community.”
The only other buildings in the area built in the same fashion were the Logan Temple and the Logan Tabernacle.
“Those buildings were built with the same values,” she said. “We can see what people are capable of doing when we work together for a common purpose.”
Alexis Beckstead, the chairman of the Oneida Stake Academy Foundation, said it will be a beautiful building for the community to enjoy when it is completed and be a place to hold community events, concerts and other productions.
“Before COVID hit we had repaired and replaced the rock along the bottom of the building and around the windows,” she said. “We have installed new windows and insulated the interior of the building.”
After moving the building in 2003 it took a while for them to get the building weather-proofed and structurally sound.
“It doesn’t look like a lot is going on, but there is always work being done and it is progressing,” she said. “We’ve recently received some good grants from The Larry Miller Foundation and the George S. and Delores Eccles Foundation that have been wonderful. We also get some local grants.”
She said they have spent nearly $4 million to move the academy and build the foundation, stabilize it and put a new roof on it. She expects it will cost another $3 million to finish the interior. That may change with rising construction prices.
“It is a fun project and the potential of what we are doing will have a huge economic impact on the community,” Beckstead said. “We have a lot of people form Logan who lived in Preston at one time that are interested in the progress of the building.”
Beckstead said people contact foundation members to find out the progress of the building.
“We can’t open the building to the public due to insurance issues,” she said. “We will still have a booth at the fairgrounds to answer questions and take donations at the rodeo flea market.”