× Close

History of Bismarck Education

By | Last Modified: May 26, 2019
North Ward School / William Moore School
North Ward School / William Moore School (Bismarck: Capital City Memories: 1a-34)

Education has been an important consideration since the first days of Bismarck. Linda Slaughter, one of Bismarck’s most significant pioneers, established Bismarck’s first school in a tent at Camp Greeley/Hancock on August 24, 1872 – three months after Bismarck’s official establishment. It was a Presbyterian Sunday school called Sabbath School, hosting about six students.

When Burleigh County was organized the following year, on July 9, 1873, one of the first acts of its commissioners was forming a school board and Slaughter as school superintendent. Later that year, the school moved into the new First Presbyterian Church at the corner of 2nd and Thayer. Slaughter served as principal and superintendent and shared teaching duties with her sister, Aidee Warfel.

In 1877, the school was temporarily housed in a building owned by William Hallstrom on Third Street. Later that year, the Territorial House authorized a bond issue for funding a dedicated schoolhouse. Voters authorized the bond issue the following spring and a two-room brick schoolhouse was erected on the southwest corner of 5th Street and Rosser Avenue. The site later houses Will School and is the present-day home of the Provident Building.

Saint Mary’s School in the 1880s (Bismarck: Capital City Memories: StM-1)

In April 1877, St. Mary’s Academy and Boarding School is established. It is the first successful non-public school since Slaughter’s Presbyterian school and remains to this day a robust compliment to the public school system. The original St. Mary’s School was located on the north side of Main Avenue between Mandan and Washington Streets.

During this era, Bismarck was subdivided into three wards. The school board consisted of two people elected from each ward, for a total of six members In 1881, many of the school board members are today remembered among Bismarck’s most noted historical figures: George Flannery, George Sweet, James Emmons, John Stoyell, John Dunn, and Alexander McKenzie.

North Ward School (William Moore)

The school board purchased land to construct a replacement schoolhouse in 1882 from McKenzie and Coffin for $5,250. The North Ward School opened in 1884 with 364 students, on the site that now houses Will-Moore Elementary. It construction cost roughly $30,000. It was the second designated schoolhouse to be built in Bismarck, replacing the original two-room building.

North Ward housed all grade levels until the completion of the city’s first designated high school building in 1912.

The school was renamed William Moore School in 1918 after former Superintendent William Moore, from 1895-1908. Moore was instrumental in modernizing Bismarck’s education system, including converting the high school from a 2-year program into a standard 4-year program in 1897.

Present-day Will-Moore Elementary, which was built on the same site, replaced both William Moore School and the similarly named Will School in 1951. The name “Will-Moore” is a combination of the two schools it replaced.

First Graduating Class

Bismarck graduated its first graduating class, consisting of just two students, in 1887: Emelia Handson and Jennette Ward, with the commencement being widely attended at The Atheneum. Eight students were listed as seniors that year, but only two apparently graduated. It was fifteen years since Linda Slaughter established the city’s first school.

Will School

Will School (Bismarck: Capital City Memories: 1a-31)

Construction on the Will School commenced in 1905. The site, now home to the Provident Building, once housed the city’s first two-room schoolhouse. It was named for Oscar H. Will, a local entrepreneur. The school closed in December 1951 when it was replaced by present-day Will-Moore Elementary, but the building continued as office space until being demolished in 1954.

Indian School

Bismarck Indian School is established in 1907 at the former site of Milwaukee Brewery, now Fraine Barracks… home of North Dakota’s National Guard. The school was approved by an act of Congress in 1901 and opens in 1908. It becomes an all-girls school in 1922 and closes in 1937.

New School Buildings

Wachter School (Bismarck: Capital City Memories: 1a-4)

The first designated high school building opened in 1912. The school was replaced by the present-day Bismarck High in 1934, but went onto house the Junior High until 1962.

The first of three new schools over the next five years, Wachter School, opened in 1918. Richolt School follows in 1920 and Roosevelt School in 1924.

Bismarck High School introduced the Demon mascot in 1922.

Wachter School expanded in 1930, adding three additional classrooms and a gymnasium.

Current Bismarck High opens, Bismarck Junior College established

Bismarck High School

In 1935, a new facility housing Bismarck High School opened. The original high school building, completed in 1912, was overflowing with 634 students at the time. The former high school building went onto serve as the city’s junior high until 1962. Bismarck Junior College was established in 1939 and housed within the high school building until 1955.

New Saint Mary’s Central High School

A new Saint Mary’s Central High School building opened for classes in February 1952, followed by Cathedral Grade School later that year.

Slew of new elementary schools

In the 1950s, a fistful of new elementary schools opened to serve the city’s booming population.

The Will School held its last classes in December 1951, replaced by the newly completed Will-Moore Elementary when school resumed after the holiday break. The name “Will-Moore” is a combination of the two school it replaced: Will School and William Moore School, the latter of which formerly housed on the same site.

Saxvik Elementary opened later in 1952, named for H.O. Saxvik (closed in 2016).

The rapid addition of elementary schools continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s: Grimsrud (1964), Dorothy Moses Elementary (1967), Rita Murphy (1969), Dorothy Moses (1972), and Jeannette Myhre (1973).

Other schools also received major additions during this time. Perhaps the most noted of these was Northridge, which more than doubled in size in 1961 The $337,043 project added 13 classrooms to the east (to a total of 18), and a gymnasium, administration offices, and play/multipurpose room (beneath the gymnasium) to the west. A janitor’s apartment was also added, and the basement was remodeled for the cafeteria.

By the next year, Northridge was already at capacity and considering another expansion or portable classrooms. Another addition, to the northeast in 1966 for roughly $190,000, added nine classrooms and a library, which itself was relocated and expanded in 1986.

Hughes and Simle Junior Highs open

Hillside Park Junior High School (Bismarck: Capital City Memories:

Two new junior highs opened in the span of four years. The first was Hughes Junior High, opened in 1958.

Hillside Park Junior High (renamed Simle in 1964) opened September 4th, 1962 with 711 students, at which time the former junior high building that once housed the high school was decommissioned. Hillside Park Junior High cost $844,626.92 to build, according to an August 1962 article.

Hillside Park Junior High, today’s Simle Middle School, was approved in October 1960 when voters favored a $1,850,000 bond measure, which also an addition to Bismarck High School and demolishing the adjoining junior high (built in 1912 as the high school).

Originally, Simle spanned 74,845 square feet and included 22 classrooms, library, gymnasium, “language laboratory,” three science rooms with two labs, guidance room, 900-seat auditorium, cafeteria, art room, band and choir room, workshops, and three music rooms. An athletic field was included to its south.

Hillside Park Junior High was renamed Simle in 1964 to honor Superintendent T.E. Simle, who died the previous November.

Wachter Junior High opens

In 1967, Wachter Junior High opened. This was the second school named for the Wachters, who donated ten acres of land for the school’s development. It is expanded the following year.

Century High School opens; Roosevelt replaced

By the 1970s, it was becoming increasingly clear that the existing high school was no longer adequate to serve Bismarck. The city was faced with the choice of either expanding the current building, or constructing a second high school. They ultimately chose to construct a brand-new high school, to be located in booming north Bismarck.

Century High School opened in 1975 to supplement Bismarck High School. The school took its name from the fact that it was approved in 1972… Bismarck’s centennial year. Coincidentally, its completion also coincided with the nation’s upcoming bicentennial the following year, leading to the school adopting its mascot as the Patriot with its official patriotic colors of red, white, and blue.

Anticipating future growth, the new high school was built on, what was then, the northern edge of Bismarck. At the time of its opening, Century High School seemed to be on the edge of humanity, but the region was quickly becoming a major business center.

That same year, the current Roosevelt Elementary opened, and the former Roosevelt school is demolished.

1980s and 1990s

In 1983, Central High School is established at 222 W Bowen Avenue. It is the district’s alternative high school.

Victor Solheim Elementary opened in 1987, and Centennial Elementary in 1989, named to commemorate the state’s centennial anniversary.

In 1991, Wachter Junior High was the first school in North Dakota to convert to the middle school format. Simle Junior High also completed construction of a new south wing that year. Simle adopts the middle school format in 1994.

Recent History

Horizon Middle School

Horizon Middle School replaced Hughes in 2001. Shortly after, Hughes assumes its new role housing administrative offices and South Central High School.

Richholt Elementary closed in 2003. Several schools, including Riverside Elementary, were also on the chopping block, but were spared for the time being. BECEP occupies the former building Richholt.

Simle completed a $3 million renovation in 2009. The following year, Sunrise Elementary opened.

Riverside Elementary, spared ten years earlier, shutters in 2013. South Central High School relocates from Hughes into the Riverside building.

In 2014, Liberty and Lincoln Elementary buildings are completed. The latter is the district’s first school outside of Bismarck city limits, in nearby Lincoln.

The district’s third pubic high school, Legacy, opened in 2015.

Bismarck voters overwhelmingly approved a $57.5 million bond to renovate and expand all three middle schools (Simle, Wachter, and Horizon), along with Bismarck and Century High Schools in March 2017. The middle school projects are expected to complete by fall 2018, with all projects concluded by 2020.


1873 – Linda Slaughter establishes the first local school.

1878 – First dedicated schoolhouse erected

1884 – North Ward School opens on the site now home to Will-Moore. It replaced the original two-room schoolhouse on the current site of the Provident Building. It served all grade levels until 1912.

1887 – First graduation consists of two students

1905 – Will School opens

1912 – Designated building for Bismarck High School opens. It is replaced by the existing Bismarck High School in 1935, at which time the building houses junior high levels until Simle opens in 1962.

1918 – North Ward School is renamed William Moore School. The original Wachter School opens.

1920 – The original Richholt Elementary opens, named for F.H. Richholt, who retired from the school board in 1917.

1935 – Current Bismarck High School opens. Former high school building continues as junior high.

1952 – Will-Moore Elementary opens in January on the former site of North Ward/William Moore. Will School closes. Saxvik Elementary opens, named for H.O. Saxvik (closed in 2016).

1954 – Northridge and Pioneer Elementary schools open.

1958 – Hughes Junior High is constructed for 1959 occupancy. Highland Acres Elementary opens.

1962 – Hillside Junior High opens. The former 1912-built junior high/high school building adjacent to Bismarck High School is demolished. Northridge is expanded.

1962 – Hillside Junior High is renamed Simle after former Superintendent T.E. Simle.

1964 – Grimsrud Elementary opens, named for educator T.S. Grimsrud.

1967 – Wachter Junior High opens, named for the Wachter family who donated 10 acres of land for construction of the namesake junior high and Dorothy Moses Elementary.

1968 – Wachter Junior High is expanded.

1969 – Rita Murphy Elementary opens, named for a former teacher.

1972 – Dorothy Moses Elementary opens, named for a longtime school board secretary who served under H.O. Saxvik.

1973 – Jeannette Myhre Elementary opens, named for a former teacher and principal who served the district from 1924-1966.

1974 – The Vocational-Technical Center (VoTech) opens on the Bismarck Junior College campus.

1975 – Century High opens. New Roosevelt Elementary opens, and the former school is demolished.

1976 – Dorothy Moses Elementary expands.

1977 – Prairie Rose Elementary opens.

1979 – Robert Miller Elementary opens, named for the former superintendent. Dorothy Moses Elementary expands again.

1983 – South Central High School is established at 222 W Bowen Avenue.

1987 – Victor Solheim Elementary opens, named for the former Assistant Superintendent.

1989 – Centennial Elementary opens, named to commemorate the state’s centennial anniversary.

1991 – Simle adds a new south wing. Wachter becomes North Dakota’s first school to switch to the middle school format.

1994 – Simle changes to the middle school format.

2001 – Horizon Middle School opens, replacing Hughes

2002 – South Central High School and district administration offices relocate into the former Hughes Junior High building

2003 – Richholt Elementary closes. BECEP occupies the building.

2009 – Simle completes a $3 million renovation

2010 – Sunrise Elementary opens.

2013 – Riverside Elementary closes, South Central High School relocates into the Riverside building

2014 – Liberty and Lincoln Elementary buildings are completed.

2015 – Legacy High School building opens.

2017 – Bismarck voters overwhelmingly approve a $57.5 million bond to renovate and expand all three middle schools (Simle, Wachter, and Horizon), along with Bismarck and Century High Schools in March. The middle school projects are expected to complete by fall 2018, with all projects concluded by 2020.

2019 – Saint Mary’s Central High School graduates its final class at its 1952-built building, as a new high school nears completion.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *