Steilacoom Historical School District No. 1

Steilacoom Historical School District No. 1 is the oldest organized school district in Pierce County. It was first organized in 1855 and embraced a large share of the western portion of the county to include the land areas across Puget Sound and the islands in it. By 1877 the first of several recorded reductions in the size of the district occurred. Acting on a petition by the residents, the County Superintendent approved the removal of Fox Island and the land across the Narrows to form School District No. 14. The following year it was again divided and District No. 17 was created. In 1882 the district was again reduced in size and Anderson Island was designated as a school district. The district is unique in its development, having been reduced in size to approximately six square miles until it became smaller than other districts that were organized years later and then remaining independent during periods when consolidation into large districts was both desirable and necessary for financial support of adequate programs. Part of the reason the district remained independent is because the area contains enough industry to support adequately the needs of the school on a smaller tax levy than most of the school districts in the county.

The first school to be held in Steilacoom was taught by Mrs. Sherwood (Lydia Anne Wright) Bonney in the living room of her log house during July, August and September of 1854. The first school building was erected in 1858 on the corner of Starling and Frederick Streets on land donated by Lafayette Balch. The location was then changed to the old Pierce County Court House located on Main Street between 6th and 7th Streets. In 1890 a large two-story wooden building was erected on the present Pioneer School site. This was torn down in 1916-1917, when the present main building was constructed. An all-purpose building was added in 1952. When an additional school was required, Cherrydale Elementary, located at Galloway and C Streets, consisting of six classrooms, library/multipurpose room, kitchen and office opened, in September 1962. At this time the name "Pioneer" was chosen by the board of directors from suggestions of community members for the former Steilacoom School.

Due to rapid growth, additions to both Pioneer and Cherrydale were necessary during the period 1965-68. Again, due to rapid growth, Saltar's Point Elementary, consisting of ten teaching stations in the academic building and an all-purpose building, was dedicated in September 1972. This school was located at Third and Beech Streets.

Thus far during its existence, the district had remained a non-high school district serving only students through the 8th grade. This meant that students of grades 9-12 were served by the neighboring Tacoma School Distinct and then later by the Clover Park School District which was financed by a process called "participative finance."

The DuPont-Fort Lewis School District No. 7 was experiencing some financial difficulty and on 21 January 1975 voters in the Steilacoom, Anderson Island (which consisted of Anderson and McNeil Islands) and DuPont-Fort Lewis school districts consolidated with Steilacoom. The occasion, termed as "historic and momentous" by Dr. James Thrasher, Superintendent of Intermediate School District No. III, was the birth of a new school district. Its designation as Steilacoom Historical School District caused the State Board of Education to allow the retention of the "Number 1" designation.

Recognizing that the district was experiencing steady growth, it was determined that a study should be made which would culminate in giving direction on how to proceed. On 19 August 1975, the Pierce County Committee on School District Organization granted the district a two-year moratorium from the financial participation in the Clover Park School District building projects during which time a study would be made to determine if the district should emerge as a high school district.

The decision to recommend the development of a secondary program was most critical, controversial and time consuming. The school board at its regular meeting on 5 May 1976 gave unanimous approval for the recommendation to establish a secondary program and instructed Superintendent Blair Taylor to proceed with the necessary steps towards this outcome. Formal application was made to the State Board of Education for approval of a program for grades 9 through 12 on 3 November 1976. On 28 January 1977 the State Board gave preliminary approval, with final approval dependent on proof of local funds being available for the construction of the proposed high school building. As a form of further encouragement, the State Board approved a matching rate of 65% for the state's contribution toward the facility. Because of organized opposition outside the district, passing a bond issue to raise the required $3,955,000 proved not to be an easy task.

The school board made a wise decision in hiring a special consultant, "Gummy" Johnson whose expertise in passing levies was well known. Under his demanding direction and the leadership of community residents Dr. Fred Miner and Charlie Buchanan, the levy finally passed on the third try. The construction of the Steilacoom High School became a reality and the doors opened in school year 1981-82 for grades 9 and 10. Grades 11 and 12 were added one at a time until it became a four-year high school.

The district experienced two teacher strikes with a one-day strike being staged during the 1982-83 school year and a nine-day strike held at the beginning of the 1986-87 school year.

A much-needed central office was constructed across the street from the Pioneer Middle School during the 1986-87 school year.  Prior to that time the central office had been housed in the Middle and High School buildings.

With the proposal of the Weyerhaeuser Company to develop a port in DuPont, the district saw fit to sell the former DuPont School site in 1987 to Weyerhaeuser at a nice profit plus acreage for a future school site in a planned 3,000 acre development.

During the 135 years of existence the Steilacoom Historical School District has been administered by only three superintendents. Blair Taylor who served the distinct from 1941 to 1976 had the distinction of becoming the first male teacher and the first superintendent. Upon Mr. Taylor's retirement, Richard L. Wilson became the second superintendent and served from 1976 to 1983. Mr. Wilson was replaced in the 1983-84 school year by the present superintendent Dr. James L. Maw. Each of the three have made significant contributions to the growth and development of the Steilacoom Historical School District whose future for growth is both exciting and challenging.

District #7 -- DuPont Schools

The year was 1865 when the first school was built in District #7. The region, then a part of Washington Territory, was inhabited by settlers and employees of the Hudson's Bay Trading Post which was located on the Fort Nisqually site. The school was located at the front of what is now known as the Village of DuPont and stood close to where the DuPont manager's house was built.

The first mention of District #7 comes from records of 1860, when the district received an apportionment from the county of $111.58. This came from a levy of $1118.32 plus $110.00 in court fines from Justice and District courts. There were 26 pupils listed in 1865, but the district received no funds from the county, apparently because school was not held for the minimum of three months. Records indicate that Distinct #7 began in 1866.

An entry in Huggin's Journal indicate that a new one room school was built in 1885 on Mounts Prairie (presently the Fort Lewis Golf Course) two or three miles from the original school. The second school was more centrally located for the children who had to walk so many miles to receive the limited education offered them during the few months that school was in session.

Time marched on, and in 1906 the E. I. DuPont de Nemours Company of Wilmington, Delaware, purchased land for a powder plant.  Because the population center was now near this plant, the school was moved temporarily to a room in the Fort Nisqually factor's house that was on the DuPont property. At this time the building was also used as a club house.

The third school house was a two-room structure built in 1908 in Old Town, the temporary residence area for powder plant workers and their families. The location was near where the DuPont gate now stands. This school was a 30 x 60, one-room tar paper shack divided in half by a curtain. Drinking water from Sequalitchew Creek was carried by the bigger boys.

As the DuPont Powder Plant grew people living in Old Town gradually moved to the present village and a new school was built in 1911 on land donated by the DuPont Company at the entry to the village. It was a three-room frame building which still housed some classes in 1938, long after a brick building was built.

Two specific events had a direct impact upon the student enrollment for District #7. The first was the building of the DuPont Powder Works. The second was the opening of Camp Lewis.

At the beginning of World War I it was necessary to construct a new building because of an increased school population. The new school was a brick building in federal style which contained four classrooms and an auditorium and was considered to be one of the finest school buildings in the state.

An agreement was made in 1936 by the Board of Directors of the DuPont District with the Commanding General of Fort. Lewis whereby all students residing on Fort Lewis, from kindergarten through the ninth grade, would continue to attend the DuPont schools. With this agreement the DuPont school was the official school for Fort Lewis children. It was again necessary for the district to increase and modernize its facilities. A gymnasium, industrial arts shop, a home economics room, a science laboratory, a library and additional classrooms were added. This addition opened in 1938. The last brick portion was added in 1941. This was the circular porch to the west of the front of the building.

Additional office space was necessary and an administration building was constructed on federal property in 1958. This building is presently being used as the DuPont City Hall.

After the elementary schools were built on Fort Lewis, all elementary children in the district attended school on Fort Lewis with junior high students of Fort Lewis, DuPont and Nisqually attending school in DuPont.

The Board of Directors on 1 May 1961 officially authorized Wendall Laughbon, District Superintendent, to begin the first year of the senior high school by September 1961. The 11th and 12th grades were added by 1963-64. The new high school was named Wendall B. Laughbon. Mr. Laughbon came to the district as a teacher in 1926. He became the school principal and later the district superintendent.

A dispute over a boundary line between the two districts which ran through Fort Lewis resulted in the DuPont-Clover Park feud. Finally, after twelve years of battle, court cases and legislative action the referee, in the form of the Pierce County Intermediate School District III, ruled in favor of District No. 400 and the demise of District No. 7 was inevitable. The last graduation class of Laughbon High School was 1973, and that fall high school students from DuPont and Nisqually chose the district they wished to attend, with most going to North Thurston High School in Lacey.

After the high school closed all the Fort Lewis children were required to attend Clover Park schools. This left 77 elementary and junior high students from DuPont and Nisqually to be educated. A principal was hired to start school in September 1973 and school was held in the former high school building.

This was not to be for long as operational and maintenance costs were too high for the small number of students. A committee consisting of the school boards of Anderson Island, Steilacoom and DuPont met in December of 1974 to tour the buildings with a proposed merger of the three schools in mind. This was accomplished the following year and the "Last Day of School" for DuPont children attending school in their home town was 11 June 1975. The name of the new district was changed to Steilacoom Historical District #1. District #7 was no longer in existence.

Weyerhaeuser purchased the school property and in January 1989 the beautiful old brick buildings were demolished.


M. E. Bonney Shorey, "The First School in Steilacoom," William P. Bonney, History of Pierce County. Chapter 70.

In January, 1854, I returned home one morning, to find a surprise in mother's bed, a little baby sister. There were eight of us children to love her, but none loved her more than I.

A house of five rooms-more rooms than could be furnished-made our next home. About this time people thought there should be a school started; and mother was asked to be the teacher. After considering how it could be managed, she decided to undertake it. She was duly examined and passed satisfactorily.

The unfurnished room in our house was used for the schoolroom. The furnishings consisted of benches and mother's kitchen table, which served as a desk for anyone that had writing to do. This was the first school in Steilacoom. Mother taught through the months of July, August and September then Miss Eveline Babb took over the school, and it was moved into the church and was continued through the months of October, November and December. Elsewhere will be found the list of pupils that attended this school.

M. E. Bonney Shorey, "The First Steilacoom School," in "A Pioneer Story," William P. Bonney, History of Pierce County. Chapter 70.