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Sedro-Woolley Schools, the very early days
Chapter One: schools outside Sedro (and Portal links)

Skiyou Van Fleet School
Township road school, Sedro Graded School, 1890-91

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal, ©2001, updated 2011
      As settlers began moving their families here to join them and as young couples married and began having children, the pressure to provide public schools was intense. The very early settlers before 1883 sometimes chose to educate their children at home, in which case a a wife or bride who was well educated or who had been a teacher was a godsend. Other settlers who could afford to repaired to Mount Vernon for the three-month winter school session and then returned to their homesteads to cultivate and fell logs.
      When Skagit County formed in November 1883 the first upriver school district formed, Number 17, covering the area from Sterling to Lyman. The first county superintendent of schools took a special census in early 1884 and when enough students were counted, Sterling was chosen as the first location of a school since it was still the major upriver market center at the time. The first session began in the Spring of 1884 in a small, one-room, split-cedar shack, which was mounted on logs in case of high water. Located near the log store of J.B. Ball, the building previously served as a bunkhouse for Ball's logging camp. Eva Wallace was chosen as the first teacher but only completed a month and was then replaced by Lelia Turner for the three-month term. Their salary was $40 per month and they taught seven students. Voluntary subscriptions in the first full month totaled $50.10. Read the complete Sterling School story at this Journal site (which will soon move to this domain).
      By the 1885 term, more people were settling near Mortimer Cook's new townsite and east of it, so that session was held in a new split-cedar, one-room house was built by George and Wicker and others on the David Batey ranch near the future location of the Goodyear-Nelson mill. Annie Boyd Hoyt noted that R.O. Welts taught that year; he was later superintendent of Skagit County schools. In November another election was held at the Batey homestead to form a new district, number 27, and school moved back to Sterling in a new school cabin for the 1886 Spring session.

Township school
      After Plin V. McFadden's family moved here in 1885 with many children, Mrs. Olive McFadden was concerned about them walking three miles through the dense forest to Sterling school, having heard many tales of cougars, mountain lions and bears. Mrs. Ira Brown and Mrs. McFadden circulated a petition among settlers and loggers for the new district and urged them to contribute material or labor for the school.
      Once they found the required 14 pupils between ages 5 and 21 in the summer of 1886, the district was divided, with the eastern half from Skiyou to Lyman becoming the Wilson district. The Sedro (and Sterling) district became Number 27. Since a large majority of the children lived in old-Sedro or due north of it, a new school was built on the Van Fleet homestead near the bridge over Hansen Creek, at the border with the Wilson district.
      Logging companies gave lumber and Emmett Van Fleet cut shingles. Those with cash paid and others helped clear the land and construct the building in what was still a dense forest. It was also one room, measuring 18 by 24 feet. The first Van Fleet school session was a three month term from Nov. 15, 1886 to Feb. 10, 1887. Miss Fairie Cook, Mortimer's oldest daughter, was hired as teacher at a very low rate of $100 for the term. Seven students were in the first class.
      The 1888 term was also three months, with $100 paid to a new teacher, Mrs. Kate Moore, possibly the wife of the developer of the Moore Street district north of Sedro. In 1889 the term was four months long, since the original teacher quit early on and had to be replaced by Clara Garl, daughter of the Burlington pioneer. William Bell taught the last term in that building, which began in April 1890. In those early years the school district provided a building and teachers but students had to buy their own books and provide their own supplies.

(1890 Sedro School)
This is a photo of the original school where William Bell taught in 1890. We are looking north at the northeast corner of present Township street and Jennings street. Please pardon the low-def photo, reproduced from a Xeroxed copy of an old newspaper. Below is the ruin of the school/bunkhouse, taken from across Township Street.

(Ruins of 1890 school)

William Bell teaches at the new Sedro Graded School on Township road
      We are always fascinated with the attempts by frontier families to provide education for their children, regardless of the challenges of this remote area. That was certainly true as the village of Sedro formed north of the Skagit river. The little country schoolhouse on the Van Fleet homestead was way overcrowded by 1889, as crews arrived to lay tracks for the three railroads that would begin running over the next year. That early Van Fleet school was located about where Earl Van Fleet's house later stood, near what became known as the Hoehn road in the Skiyou district. The nearest north-south road was a little west of the Van Fleet homestead. It ran from the river north to the Bennett mines It would soon be known as the Cokedale road and is now called the Fruitdale road. In 1886 the school was designated as Skagit county School District #27.
      Since a market center was forming near Mortimer Cook's original village and since the two Sedros had grown so rapidly by then, the parents voted to open a new school at a location west of the Van Fleets. A letter from William S. Bell to the (summarized in Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times on June 28, 1956) noted that he taught at the first Sedro school in 1890. Bell was 87 in 1856 and returned to Sedro-Woolley for the first time in several years to meet with the Territorial Daughters of Washington, whose first society chapter was located here.
      According to Bell, the beginner classes were taught on the second floor and the older pupils were taught on the lower floor. "In trying to teach both rooms and keep order among all the children I was kept busy running up and down stairs. Later a lady, possibly Mrs. Bates, was hired to teach the beginners. "In the August 1890 edition of Washington magazine, we read a description of the infant town:

      The first term at the Sedro school began on July 28, 1890. Bell was paid $60 per month for the four-month term. H.L. Devin, Sedro real estate developer and postmaster, and George A. Brosseau, a Sterling farmer whose wife sewed the first Sedro flag for the Fourth of July celebration, were two of the directors and A.A. Tozer was clerk.
      His correspondence with the Daughters and the newspaper is a marvelous look at this earliest school. Instead of building a new schoolhouse, they chose the donation of what was variously described as either the old bunkhouse or the original family home of William Woods on Township road (Township was unaccountably called Townsend street in the article) at the northeast corner of Township Road at Jennings Street. Woods employed several cowboys and laborers at his ranch and this was at the western border of his original homestead. He was one of the original four British bachelors who settled the future Sedro area in 1878 and his homestead extended east from Township, which was the eastern border of section 24 of Township 35 North, Range 4 East. His original ranch of 147 acres was in section 30 of Range 5 East. The school location figuratively straddled the towns of old Sedro, by the river, and new Sedro, northwest above the bench.
      William Bell was hired again for a four-month session starting on July 28, 1890, the first time that two terms were taught in one year. Fairie Cook, then a student at Wellesley, must have been jealous when she later discovered that he was paid $60 per month. The students of school age had increased so rapidly by January 1891 that Mr. Bell started the new session as teacher of two classes, using both floors. In order to supervise both rooms, his desk was placed on a special platform between them. This proved wholly inadequate, so a Mrs. Bates was added to the staff to teach the younger grades separately upstairs.
      By 1891 newcomers were arriving on each sternwheeler and the rickety old stage, and some even came by canoe to snatch up jobs on the three rail lines or in the woods all around Sedro. From Big Lake to Warner's Prairie to Samish Island to the Cascade foothills, men were arriving in droves and they were bringing their families. The Township school was soon bursting at its seams and when Sedro incorporated in March, a new school was the top priority.

(Township road school 1890)
(Township school ruins, 1976)
Click on these thumbnails
for full-size photos
Far left: Township road school, 1890, looking north. See student names in the upcoming Appendix A
Center: Ruins of the Township road school, 1976, looking east from Township street. Jennings street is to the right.

Photo at left is from the 1953 special Courier-Times edition, celebrating the centennial of Washington Territory. Photo at right is courtesy of the late Howard Miller.

      Mrs. Bates taught the younger students upstairs for only a month at the Sedro school and then left, according to Ethel's notes. But she didn't answer a key question: did the little dears drive the new schoolmarm batty? A Mrs. Blatchley finished the term of two more months.
      In Appendix A, next year, you will find a list of the students from those early classes. The Township school was torn down sometime in the 1970s, according to neighbor Lena Scales. I remember when it was used as a haunted house on Halloween back in the 1950s and '60s, although I did not know the nature of the building back then.

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Story posted Feb. 19, 2002, re-posted on this domain July 29, 2011, totally updated and expanded Dec. 25, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 6 and 59 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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