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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Sterling school, 1883-1940

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal ©2002
            Do you recognize any of the students in this 1890 photo of Sterling School? Please email us if you do. This photo was originally supplied by Burlington pioneer Jess Knutzen and was featured in the fine 1975 Skagit County Historical Society book, Skagit Settlers, edited by Margaret Willis. You can buy copies of the book at the History Museum in LaConner.

      As settlers began moving their families here to join them and after young couples married and began having children, the pressure to provide public schools mounted in small villages all over the new Skagit county in 1883. The very early settlers before 1883 sometimes chose to educate their children at home, in which case a wife or bride who was well educated or who had been a teacher was a godsend. An example is Dr. Georgianna Batey, who married pioneer David Batey in 1880 and joined him near Ball's Landing, the town that was renamed Sterling in the early '80s. Researcher Roger Peterson has found instances where she taught both her own children, those of other settlers and Indians in their home. Other settlers who were wealthier or not tied to their farms 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, he chose Sterling as the first location of a school since it was still the major upriver market center at that time before Mortimer Cook built his store at Sedro. 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 Jesse 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. Typical subscriptions one month totaled $50.10.

      Do you recognize any of the students in this 1884 photo of Sterling School? We like this photo because, even in its worn condition, you can see details of the faces. The teacher is either Eva Wallace or Lelia Turner, who replaced her after a month, but we cannot identify the adult men.

      By the 1885 term, more people were settling near Mortimer Cook's new townsite and east of it, so that winter session was held in a new split-cedar, one-room house was built by George Wicker and others on the David Batey ranch near the future location of the Goodyear-Nelson mill. In November another election was held at the Batey homestead to form a new district, number 27. The school moved back to Sterling in a new school cabin for the 1886 Spring session. In the summer of 1886, the district was divided, with the eastern half from Skiyou to Lyman becoming the Wilson district. The Sterling school was conducted in a new log structure and records of the Boyd family indicate that R.O. Welts, future county superintendent, was their teacher that year. 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 at the border with Wilson. The Sterling district continued its own grade school until 1940.

We hope that a reader will be able to share details about the Sterling School district , students, buildings and teachers for the period from 1883 to 1940.

            Sterling school, circa 1910. Children of Joe DeBay in the photo include: Rose DeBay, far left; Sam DeBay, seated second from right; Albert DeBay, standing to the left of Sam, hat to side. Can anyone identify the rest of the children? Photo courtesy of Allen Lyons and Marsha DeBay Lyons. Please email and help us identify these students. And ask at the Sedro-Woolley Museum for the story of how the school bell was saved from this last school at Sterling, which was closed in 1940.

      Also see these features about Sterling and its settlers. Some are from our old website and the links will not work. Please return here for links. These stories that started on our old website in 2001 are being updated with new information from our research and from readers and will be completely updated, starting in May 2004, with your help.

Story posted on Sept. 3, 2001, updated on March 19, 2004
Please report any broken links or files that do not open and we will send you the correct link. Thank you.

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