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Brighton School

RVHS Photo: 1994.005.0001

South Seattle has many schools with interesting histories. Our children attend newer, rebuilt schools, such as Muir and Whitworth, or older schools like Columbia (Orca). Once a building is rebuilt much of its history can be lost.

The Rainier Valley Historical Society seeks to keep memories of our “goldenrule days” alive. A recent acquisition of the society includes a photo album from Brighton School.

The volume includes pictures of championship softball teams from the 1940s and graduation classes, with names, from 1927 through 1945. These priceless photos were protected by a sturdy wooden cover, which prevented their destruction in the fire at Brighton in 1946. Historical society volunteers were able to separate the photographs, make copies of them and add them to our collection.

The photograph above is of the Brighton School, built on land donated by Judge Everett Smith, opened on the southeast corner of 51st Avenue and Graham Street on January 1, 1901. 

It must have been an exciting day when Miss Pearl Groat opened the doors on that winter morn. Students came from all over to attend first through third grades at the new school, while the older children completed their elementary years at Columbia. By 1904-1905 school year it was necessary for the third and fourth graders to attend school in the basement of the Brighton Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Rainier and Brighton.

Evidently, over the next few years the population grew, and by the time the area was annexed to the Seattle School District, in 1907, students also attended Dunlap, Van Asselt and Rainier Beach schools. 

Older students traveled to Broadway High School, known then as Washington High. The number of students necessitated the use of the Franklin grade school for the Rainier Valley students in 1907. This annex site at 18th and Main was used until 1912 when the current Franklin High School was built. 

 Given this set of circumstances a child attend first and second grades at Brighton, third and fourth at the church, finish elementary school at Columbia, attend Washington for two years and finally complete highs school at Franklin. Whew! And we thought life was easier back then!

Even if a child stayed at Brighton he or she would have moved around a bit. The first Brighton closed in 1905 when the new school opened at 4425 Holly Street.

The post-World War I years saw pupils again fill the old school, affectionately called “Little Brighton,” with first and second-grade classes for a time. The old building was finally sold and moved in 1943, which proved to be unfortunate since the “New” building, now 40 years old, was partially destroyed by fire on Sept. 22, 1946.

Nearly 300 students were in need of a classroom that fall. Portables and neighborhood schools absorbed these kids until the school could be rebuilt.

At least by the 1940s transportation through Rainier Valley was relatively easy. Parents undoubtedly told their children tales of the “good old days,” trudging through muck and snow to get to school – and their stories probably were stretched only slightly.

Prior to 1891 early settlers reached the area by traveling on a corduroy road, a wagon-train trail, which traversed Beacon Hill on its way to the city of Seattle. A trip across the hill would have taken one to two hours to complete. Horses would have been left at the Montana Stables on Washington Street while residents shopped for provisions and socialized with the folks in town. Much of a day would be spent by the time they returned from their excursion.

Eager for progress, some of the settlers were happy to see Mr. Edmiston and others invest in a company that platted the Columbia area and sold lots for $10 down and $1 a week for 300 weeks, no interest. But a streetcar line had to be built to get the potential buyers out there.  The line started at the waterfront, up Washington St. by cable car and then out to Columbia City in 1890. The next year to Rainier Beach and then on the Renton. 

The inaugural run was made on Jan. 1, 1891. The line ran from Seattle to Rainier Beach along what is now Rainier Avenue. The fare was a nickel to travel from downtown to Dunlap’s addition.

Turn-of-the-century students at Brighton, and other neighborhood schools, would cross pasture-land and woods on their way to school each day. Wooden fences were constructed around the school, to keep the cows out as much as to keep the children in.

Mothers in the community united in a campaign to get the land cleared for a playfield at Brighton. They must have had a time of it, cleaning their children’s clothes and shoes after they had traveled to school and back across the fields, streams, cow pastures and woods. 

Think of that as you pick your children up in your car after they have been at school! But that is a topic for another story.

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 12/2/1998

By Mary Ann Balch


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