History: Edmonds schools — the early years

George Brackett’s feed store/barn. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Imagine starting your formal education by sitting on a bench alongside another student in a room filled with bags of oats, hay and the fresh smell of harnesses. There were only five other students in the class, and two of them were your siblings. That is how the Edmonds School District started.

Edmonds School District No. 15 began in 1884 in George Brackett’s feed barn at the corner of 3rd and Bell in Edmonds. The structure was not only a feed barn but a stable and became solely a feed store later. The first class was held in the feed room at the southeast corner of the barn. The building was fairly new at the time, and the room had a good plank floor, a window and a door. The room was clean and pleasant, smelling of hay and harness leather.  Sacks of oats for the teams of horses working in the lumber industry were stored in the room. Fancy buggy-horse harnesses were also hanging on the walls.

The first class consisted of six students. George and Etta Brackett’s three oldest children — George Jr., Fannie and Nellie — along with the three eldest Deiner children — Flora, Frank and Annie — comprised the first class.


In 1876 George Brackett purchased 140.75 acres of heavy timberland in what is today the Edmonds Bowl area. He was living and logging near Ballard at the time, but by the end of 1876 he had built a small cabin on a knoll above the beach, and had started to dig trenches to drain the marshlands.

In the spring of 1877, Edwin Jones, his wife Melvina and their 18-year-old daughter Etta — along with a pioneer named John Lund — arrived from Minnesota. Soon after their arrival, on June 20, 1877, the 36-year-old George Brackett married 18-year-old Etta. Fourteen months later, George and Etta welcomed their first child, George Brackett Jr. into the world. After their son’s birth, the family moved north to live in the cabin that George had built. By the end of 1883 Etta had given birth to three more children — Fannie, Nellie and Ronald. Mr. Brackett had also built a larger house in which his family resided.

The Brackett family circa 1889. L-R: Nellie, Ronald, Fannie, George Jr, Etta and George Brackett Sr. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

John Lund, who had arrived in 1877 with the Jones family, had initially settled in Seattle. But in 1883, after meeting and marrying Matilda Deiner, who was a widow with five children, he purchased 160 acres four miles north of the Brackett property, along the eastern shore of Puget Sound. At that time, the location was known as Six Mile Point (six miles south of Mukilteo). Today that area is known as Lund’s Gulch in Meadowdale.

The five Deiner children circa 1883.  L-R, upper row: Flora, Frank, Annie. Lower row: Oscar and Harry. (Photo courtesy: Edmonds Historical Museum)

Instruction Begins

It is believed that George Brackett wanted to have his children educated, but there wasn’t a school within miles. After speaking with John Lund, Brackett offered the feed room within his barn as a classroom.

John Lund and his children, however, lived a fair distance up the coast, and there were no roads by which to get the children to school. A deal was worked out whereby Lund would bring the children down in his rowboat on Sunday afternoons, and they would stay with the Smith family during the week. Lund would return on Friday afternoons, pick them up and bring them home for the weekend.   The Smiths had two children of their own, but they weren’t ready to begin school until later in the term.

John and Matilda Lund on their cabin’s porch in the Meadowdale area circa 1885. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Miss Emily Box was hired as the first schoolteacher with the salary of $20 a month and the “privilege of boarding around.” Historical records indicate that Miss Box boarded at the Brackett home most of the time during the three months that the school was in session.

The educational materials had to have been minimal at best.  There weren’t any desks, blackboards or known elementary school books available. Each student might have had a pencil and slate tablet on which they could write their letters and numbers.

By the end of the first school term, the number of students had grown to eight with the addition of the two Smith children.

By the start of the second term, it was clear that the room in the corner of Brackett’s barn was not ideal for learning nor was it a safe environment for the growing number of students. By the start of the next term (1885) the attendance had grown to 12, Bracketts (3), Deiners (3), Smiths (2), Hyner (1), Fourtner (2) and White (1).

The following is a paraphrase from a speech given by Flora Deiner Koelschs at an Old Timers Picnic in 1938, where she provided insights into the school’s second year.

Our teacher at the beginning of the second year was Miss Morris. Most of the students were beginners, except Zetta and Fred (Fourtners) who had completed grades 2 -4 in their home state of Illinois before moving to Edmonds. Flora (Deiner) was the eldest of the group and had 5 grades in Portland Oregon. 

Our first school was held in Mr. Brackett’s feed barn, with meager equipment. The seats and desks were double, two pupils in each seat, consequently we didn’t always study. Miss Houghton also taught one term, after Miss Morris married.  

Living north of town, we still had no means of transportation except by steamboat or walk when the tide was out. So our only means of transportation was by rowboat. Our stepfather would row us down on Sunday afternoon and we boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Those good folks had a son, Allen and a daughter, Ethel who were our classmates. Mrs. Smith was a busy and understanding mother. Our good stepfather would then call for us on Friday afternoons and took us home in his sturdy rowboat. We learned to row a boat at an early age too. 

We didn’t have the fancy equipment as OUR children now enjoy. Everything was done on small slate tablets.

From the Edmonds Historical Museum’s “50 for 50” exhibit. (Photo by Byron Wilkes)

Author’s note: In the late 19th century, married women were not allowed to be teachers. This “marriage bar” existed in some places up until 1940.  When Miss Morris married, she would have been dismissed from her position, or not rehired.

The first schoolhouse

Realizing that the feed room in his barn was not a suitable place for a school, George Brackett donated a parcel of land on top of a hill between 3rd and 4th streets north of Main, and a small one-room schoolhouse was quickly built. The room was heated by a wood-burning pot-bellied stove, and the restroom facilities were located outside.

Over the next two years. the number of students grew rather slowly, but the ages of the students varied greatly.  The teacher was still responsible for teaching students from first through eighth grades by herself.  The parents were responsible for purchasing the slate tablets and pencils for their children, although the school still continued to be in session only three months a year.

Again paraphrasing from Flora Deiner’s 1938 speech at the Old Timer’s Picnic regarding the first school:

At the new schoolhouse our school grounds consisted of natural tall trees, shrubbery, ferns and beautiful wildflowers grew in back of the school house. The children would gather after hours with their parents and the teacher. Wild berries grew abundantly, over the old stumps and fallen logs. 

Here we had the most pleasant and happy times together. At recess time we played anti-I-over, also see-saw with a heavy board laid over a cedar stump. Also hide-and-seek behind the stumps was a favorite.

During the first two years in the new schoolhouse, Miss Kellogg was our teacher and she was extremely efficient and loved by the pupils. Several teachers followed. Gradually every possible improvement was made for us. The schoolhouse was continually enlarged as new families located here.

The original one-room school house circa 1888, with the 15 students and their teacher pictured behind it. L-R, upper row: Maybell White, Fannie Brackett, Ethel Smith, Zetta Fourtner, Flora Deiner, Ruth Hyner, Annie Deiner, Nellie Brackett. Teacher either Miss Taylor or Miss Susie Houghton. Lower row: Oscar Deiner, Ralph Alpine, Harry Deiner, George Brackett Jr., Frank Deiner, Fred Fourtner, Allen Smith. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Author’s note: When the two youngest Deiner children were old enough to attend school, John Lund purchased two lots next to the schoolhouse, and built a four-room house for his five stepchildren to live in during the school term.

By the end of 1890, the student body had grown to over 40 students, and the grade levels had expanded to include two years of high school, although the program was not fully accredited.  The enrollment had risen to a point that Brackett’s Hall on 3rd Avenue, just south of the feed barn, was used for school classes in the spring of 1891.

The expanded one-room schoolhouse, with a portion of the student body, two female teachers in the back and James Brady with the moustache in front of the school door, circa 1890. Brady was a successful professor and was the instructor who taught the high school subjects. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Given the number of new settlers arriving, and the continued increase in enrollment, plans were put in place for a new schoolhouse. George Brackett donated property for the new school building a half block above 7th Avenue, (100 yards south of where Frances Anderson Center now is situated). A $10,000 bond issue was approved, and a large three-story wood-framed building was built within a few weeks.

1891 grade school building. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Although it was much larger, the new school building was still pretty primitive. The entire building was heated by a single wood-burning furnace, which was situated on the lower floor, and there was no running water or electricity in the building.

The rooms were, however, equipped with individual desks and slate blackboards on the walls, which were improvements over Brackett Hall and the previous one-room schoolhouse.

1892 classroom in the new school building. Frank Deiner, one of the six original students, is in the center row furthest back. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

Remembrances of the first few years in the new school building:

In an article written for the Edmonds Tribune Review on March 13, 1936, Mrs. Garrie Astell related her experiences in the new school building. The following is a paraphrase of her article.

I arrived with my parents in 1891, at the age of 8.  There was a new school building which was the first school I attended. The schoolhouse consisted of six large rooms, and a large hall for each room.  Those were meant to be cloakrooms. Then in the main hall there was a small room which was used for a washroom, and drinking fountain. The fountain was a large bucket of water with a large dipper, which was used by everyone. 

Only two rooms were used the first year; two teachers to teach eight grades. The parents still bought the books, slates and pencils. There was now a six month school term. A large bell was rung that could be heard all over town at 8:30, this meant to get ready, at 8:45 a second bell rang which meant to start for school, and at 9:00 the last bell meant to be in line to march into the school room. 

After school was called to order and the roll called, songs were sung before taking up the daily study: reading, arithmetic, spelling etc. Fridays were used for spelling matches, penmanship or copy books or for speaking pieces. This was looked forward to as a great event, because on holidays and Friday afternoons the parents visited the school.  Sometimes a parent came in unexpected during the week.

The first year, I remember we drew Valentines on our slates, also a cherry tree and hatchet for George Washington’s birthday.  Later on, when the use of paper came along, we bought newspaper and cardboard to make the Valentines. These were colored with chalk dipped in ink, as we had no colored crayons. 

Also examinations were written on slates until the school board furnished us with paper. Large sheets of yellow paper were given to each one to do his/her work on. These papers were corrected and taken home to our parents. 

Regarding language instruction: We didn’t have to study French or German etc. in school, instead they refused to even let us speak it. English was the only language allowed. Because families had come from different places and backgrounds there were many who couldn’t speak the English language. This made it difficult for the teachers as well as the pupils.

Early desk and writing slate. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress Digital Collection)

Adrienne Anderson Swanson wrote in a 1972 article about her remembrances of first grade in the new school building 80 years earlier. Here are some of her recollections.

We entered our first grade basement classroom at the northwest corner of the school building. The entrance started on the level, with a cement sidewalk but cut through the sandy-hill ground, which was held back by a cement wall on the left. Straight ahead was the wood furnace room but to our right the doorway opened to a hallway running east and west where we hung our cloaks along the wall.  Then there was a door into our room, with windows all along the west side. 

An incentive for learning our A,B,Cs was a short stack of colorful post cards. The first pupil to learn their A,B,Cs had first choice of the cards. By the time I learned my A,B,Cs there were only three cards left. One was a picture of a big white rose, which I chose while the teacher stood beside me, patiently waiting for me to make up my mind. I picked the card, not because it was my preference, but because it looked so forlorn, at having been passed by so many students.

One of the punishments in the first grade was standing in the corner, facing the wall. An experience I went through. That day I learned that school isn’t your mother’s arms.  I held back my tears until my hand touched the door knob of our front door, after having run all the way home, after school, as fast as my feet would carry me.

The last afternoon before Christmas vacation, our teacher had a surprise for us. She told us to lay our head on our folded arms, on our desk and keep our eyes closed. Then she slowly walked up and down the aisles carrying a white sugar sack bag which was filled with wrapped gifts. We were told to reach in, and pick out a gift as she stopped by our desk.

That was a fun day. There were books and games of all kinds, as the packages were torn open.  What I had drawn was a tiny cup about two inches high and with the circumference of a silver dollar.

I set it on my desk and looked around at the other desks with their picture story books and moveable games. Kids were enjoying them so. One game was a set of six or more different colored fish, which looked like they were made of isinglass, and could be fished up with a midget fishing pole that had a magnet at the end of the line.

My teacher must have seen the disappointment on my face.  She called my name as she held up what appeared to be a book and asked me if I would like to trade. I shook my head “NO.” This coming Christmas that cup will be 74 years old.

Another student who enrolled in the early days of the new school was a first grader named Frances Anderson, who became the legendary Edmonds educator. Here are a few of her remembrances of her early education.

 “You had to go out to the outdoor facilities in all types of weather if you needed to use the bathroom.”

I remember getting ‘switched’ in the first grade.” 

“I don’t know how the teachers did it back then…teaching all those grades”.

“As students we enjoyed the field trips and long walks along the tide flats as we looked for clams, cockles, mussels, sea worms, barnacles, sea biscuits and other sea life.”

“Getting up the hill to the school through the muddy streets was really hard for some of the younger students.”

This photo, taken approximately 15 years after Frances Anderson enrolled in the first grade, still shows the muddy streets that students had to traverse every day. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum)

In another article, Adrienne Anderson Swanson recounted her remembrances of the school’s early plays.

Crepe paper dress/costume. (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

“The subjects and materials used in those early-days school plays were so different from what is done now. They were so simple, but really beautiful.  Mostly operettas, with lots of singing and such colorful crepe paper costumes, which were designed, and put together by the mothers, grandmothers, or anyone available. They were all homemade. Imagine a mother having to fashion a paper dress that would make her scrawny daughter look like a flower or a fairy.

With a large number of children and mothers, the little dressing room area overflowed into all areas backstage. You might say that it was a cauldron of nerves and threatening stage fright. The mothers were there to get their children into their costumes and maybe to be back again to make a change for another scene. Long before the curtain went up there was a steady humming of mothers’ voices, consoling, encouraging and commanding: ‘Stand still; turn around; don’t bend over; quick, step into this; you know your lines, so don’t worry; put your foot in here.’ Then back to their folding chair on the main floor to watch their offspring.” 

From humble beginnings with a single classroom next to a stable in a barn, with children from only two families, to having a new three-story school building with over 100 students enrolled… the Edmonds school district, although still somewhat primitive, made tremendous strides in its first few years.

This article was researched and written by Byron Wilkes. Thanks go out to the Edmonds Historical Museum, the Sno-Isle Genealogy Society, and the Northwest Room at the Everett Library for their assistance in researching this article.

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