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Skagit River Journal

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Sedro-Woolley High School opens 1911

(Sedro-Woolley High School 1911)
Sedro-Woolley High School 1911 — a contemporary postcard photographed by Sedro-Woolley photographer Frank LaRoche Sr. We are looking northeast at the school building. This area in front has been filled by the west wing of the school, added in the 1990s. Before that, from the 1930s onwards, a tennis court stood on the right-hand side, where the administrative offices are now in the west wing. An east wing was added in 1924-25, and included an auditorium and gymnasium.

      By 1909, the year of the greatest flood in recorded history on the Skagit river, the bustling town of Sedro-Woolley realized that the two schools at Sixth and Talcott Street were already filled to capacity. So the directors of Union High School 4 decided to propose a totally new building. On Feb. 2, 1910, voters in the consolidated districts agreed by the vote of 636-11 in Sedro-Woolley, 6-2 in Clear Lake and 14-9 in Sterling. The only voting block against the new school was in Skiyou where the no vote prevailed, 25-2.
      The late Norman B. Kelley had been declared a hero back in 1892 when he donated a whole city block for the original Franklin school location on Talcott. P.A. Woolley stepped up to the plate this time around, nearly two decades later, and offered Block 16 of Woolley where the city ball field is today at Metcalf and what would be Munro street if it still extended through. He did not donate the land, however; he asked $4,600 for it, which was probably a bargain at the time. The Sedro Land Company, the dominant development company in the area at the time, countered by offering Block 1 of what had been new Sedro for $5,000 — on the east side of Third street, between Nelson and Bennett streets. That area had been used for various business purposes since the fires of 1892 and 1895 that leveled the original Pioneer Block of businesses in new Sedro.
      In 1965, School District 101 administrator David Rushong researched surviving school records and discovered two interesting anomalies. Woolley offered his Block 16 except lot 13 at the northeast corner of Murdock and Munro. SLC offered all of Block 1 except a strip of land on the west side.

This is the original gymnasium, which those of us alumni from pre-1980s fondly remember. It was a real bandbox, with no floor-level seating, for obvious reasons. Located at the south end of the 1923 east-wing addition, it has been converted to music rooms. Newspaper stories from that time describe it as state-of-the-art as gyms went in those days. This and photos below are from the 1924 Kumtux.

Froggy orchestra
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      Former Sedro-Woolley Courier Times columnist C.C. Elian discovered a most humorous side to the campaign between the sites. In her April 7, 1994, Courier-Timescolumn, "The Point," she shared her discovery of a flyer by Sedro proponents that pointed out that the Woolley Block 16 had a greater portion of standing water on the surface. It was, after all, situated on a former swamp that Woolley's mill workers had filled in during the 1890s after they harvested 200-foot-tall Douglas firs. The Sedro team had a great slogan:
      "If you want a dry, centrally located site, vote for site 2. If you prefer the Froggy orchestra, vote for #1. An important historical note is that by 1910 P.A. Woolley had lost the clout he had twenty years before when he ruled his company town. By 1908 he had sold his mill and he and his sons landed a contract supplying railroad ties and construction materials for the Sea Board Air Line, a railroad based in Savannah, Georgia. Even though Sedro had lost its business base, the sons of Sedro — Harry Devin, J.B. Alexander, Albert G. Mosier, A.E. Holland and C.E. Bingham — controlled the real estate purse strings in the merged town. The Sedro site won by a comfortable margin.
      The district still had a problem, however; they were $6,000 short. The lowest bid, by S.E. Harmon of Bellingham, was $40,708 and the district only had $34,000 and change. The first special levy election in the district history approved a bond for the balance and clearing work on the site began on April 28, 1910. According to Rushong, the Harmon company was awarded the actual construction on June 5, 1910.
      All was not smooth sailing after that, though. First, the Skiyou district withdrew from the Union High School #4 consolidation. We have no details about that or their subsequent decisions other than a note by Rushong. Next, the Harmon Co. was so slow and fell so far behind schedule that another unnamed contractor was hired to complete construction. The original high school sat on almost the exact center of the site. While crews built the actual structure, other logging crews continued to fell trees and yank out stubborn stumps all around the periphery, probably with capstans that were built at Sedro-Woolley Iron Works. A capstan is a spool-shaped cylindrical device with cables wound around that attach to a stump. Horses are connected to it and walk around and around in a circle, building up torque. The Skagit County Times (Sedro-Woolley) reported on Dec. 1, 1910, that stumps were cleared on the site and crews were cleaning up and beautifying.

The auditorium in its original state in 1923, part of the 1923 east wing addition. The Journal editor trod those boards in plays from 1960-62.

High school opens, original schools renamed
      The Times reported on April 27, 1911, that the new high school was occupied on April 24 and that the total cost was $44,000. Apparently, the school that spring was in transition. Graduation ceremonies were held a month later at the old Irving School annex and the first graduating class of the new Sedro-Woolley Union High School was matriculated in the spring of 1912.
      As we noted in the last chapter there is some confusion as to the date for the naming of the old schools. The 1937 History of District #70 notes that the second school, which was located where the tennis courts now stand north of Central Grade School, was named Irving as early as 1902, but that may have been an instance of the writer applying the eventual name to differentiate the school. Researcher Roger Peterson strongly disagrees with that early date. His research shows that Mary Purcell, the principal of the Graded School, allowed the students of the two old schools to name their buildings in the spring of 1911 as the new high school was being constructed. We are still looking for a newspaper story that will settle this argument, but that volume seems to be missing.
      According to Peterson's records, when the new term started in August 1911 [there was no Labor Day holiday then], students in both schools were allowed to hold an election to name their schools. The students in grades 1-5 at Sedro Graded School named their school for their favorite U.S. pioneer, Benjamin Franklin. Students in grades 6-8 and the high school classes chose to name their school for the famed writer, Washington Irving, who was very popular at the time. Irving died in 1859 and was most popular for his book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
      Skits were often performed from the book, featuring the headless figure riding a horse. He was also widely read then as a sympathetic chronicler of the American Indian. The high school was always known as Sedro-Woolley High School, but the buildings had distinctive names just as schools of a university do. You will read in the next chapter an alternative story of the naming of the buildings in 1911. The two schools were known by those names until 1926, when both were torn down and replaced by the new Central School. In 1944 plans were afoot for a new elementary school. After six years of planning, groundbreaking for the new Mary Purcell school was on May 13, 1950 and it opened for primary grades in September 1951. Miss Purcell died in Sedro-Woolley on Sept. 20, 1957.
      Rushong noted that an awful specter raised its ugly head at the high school early in the year 1912. Not John Barleycorn, but evil nicotine. Boys at the high were so brazen that special discipline was reported on February 9. On Sept. 5, 1912, the Times reported that the high school was now complete, with a skylight over a small auditorium. There was enough room that kindergarten was conducted in the northeast ground floor of the high school for children over 4. District superintendent H.C. Crumpacker proudly displayed the coal bins for the steam heating plant and he noted that the new city sewer line was now connected to all three schools. For that school year, Crumpacker was selected superintendent with Moulton Clark as principal of Irving school. Mr. H.B. Doolittle of Mount Vernon was then elected principal of the new high school.

(Chemistry Lab)
This is the original 1923 Chemistry Lab, where the late Glenn Hall learned the science and later taught it for more than 30 years.

Schools become more health conscious by the early 1920s
      Later that decade the biggest challenge for the school district was maintaining the health of the students. Starting in 1918 a virus called Spanish Influenza swept across the world and struck both young and old. Dozens died of it here in the county and the schools were often closed for a week or more at a time. The virus caused closure as late as December, according to the Jan. 1, 1920, Skagit County [Sedro-Woolley] Courier, which reported a new round of vaccinations. School directors realized that crowded classrooms and poor ventilation compounded the problem, so they started putting money aside towards eventually replacing the two original grade schools. Back in 1920 the Sedro-Woolley Women's Club joined the effort to improve the overall health of local schoolchildren by furnishing milk during the day; that philanthropic tradition continued through the Depression.
      In 1921, the block that P.A. Woolley had originally offered for the high school was plowed the last time for potatoes and it was prepared, starting in June, to be the city athletic field. The late Howard Miller told us how he ran down to the field from the high school in the early 1930s for football practice and then ran back to the school afterwards. He recalled other folks telling him back then that this was the practice for athletes from both schools, going back ten years. Sometime in the early 1920s a grandstand was built there and I can remember it when I played Little League baseball in the 1950s. The grandstand was torn down sometime in the mid-1970s. The high school board's wisdom of buying the entire block of Sedro was soon evident as even the new high school filled up rapidly. The 1937 Report of School District #70 notes that the board planned for the future in November 1922 by also buying land west of the Carnegie on Third street that stretched to near the Northern Pacific railroad tracks. That would eventually become the site of the football field and was used for recreation. The school district was following a national trend towards getting students out into the fresh air whenever possible. Howard recalled that in 1931 he volunteered for at least one period per day to pick up debris from the stumps that were pulled in preparation for the football field.
      The high school grounds were also the birthplace of a special kind of entertainment called the Chautauqua that lasted for several days here. Chautauqua has been described as rural America's Public Broadcasting System in the late nineteenth century through the early 1930s. It was where, as one wag put it, "our ancestors went to recharge their intellectual batteries." After World War I and especially after radios were widely distributed in rural homes, the intellectual aspect declined in favor of entertainment in the vaudeville vein, but politicians continued to drone on and on in the summer heat. The Aug. 11, 1921, Courier-Times reported that the Chautauqua ended on the high school grounds with a play called Nothing but the truth. It was so successful that 30 guarantors were lined up for the next year. Eventually the Chautauqua moved to Woodworth street after P.A. Woolley's mansion burned and was held in his former orchard where the Odd Fellows building was built in late 1923.
      We must not forget that agriculture was growing into one of the most important sectors of the local economy by the early 1920s. Notes of the Commercial Club from August 1921 show that the Valley Canning Co., a cannery on Jameson street, issued a call that they needed pickers for Evergreen blackberries and wanted schools closed for two weeks. We do not know if their wish was granted, but we do know from interviews with pioneers that in years before that schools were either closed or students from farm families were often excused during harvest.

Growing pains lead to more expansion

(Recitation Room)
This was called the "Recitation Room."

      In 1922 the combined districts sought a superintendent that could guide expansion in the near future. C. Paine Shangle was selected superintendent of both districts at a salary of $3,200, with District #70 and Union High District #4 paying equal amounts. Jack Campbell of Tieton was selected high school principal at a salary of $2,250. Rushong notes that in April 1923 a bond issue passed to authorize $150,000 bonds for new addition to Union High School #4. On May 23 that year a contract was let for $200,000, which would be due in September 1924. That addition, which was completed by early 1925, formed the eastern wing onto the original nucleus of the high school that included a new auditorium, the one that was just remodeled and restored three years ago. It also featured a new gymnasium that would be used for both indoor physical education and basketball games. When it opened in the fall of 1924, West Coast architects described it as the most advanced school gymnasium of its time. Those of us who went to school here in the 1950s and '60s remember it as being a bandbox that we loved for its very close proximity to the action at games. The present gymnasium on Third street replaced it in 1965 and our old Carnegie library was martyred for its cause.

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Story posted on April 26, 2011 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them

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