On June 26, 1915, East Seattle School on Mercer Island celebrates the completion of its first year as the primary center for education on Mercer Island. The program includes folk dancing, games, and the awarding of diplomas to the first graduating class. Over the following years, East Seattle School will serve as both an educational institution and a community center, regularly hosting University of Washington extension courses and civic activities. After the reorganization of the island's schools in 1981, East Seattle will be deemed no longer needed, and is permanently closed to students in 1982.
A New School
Construction of East Seattle School was completed in 1914, and it welcomed its first students, 81 in number, that September. It replaced the East Seattle School District School, known to all as "the little white schoolhouse," which was built in 1890 on land donated by C. C. Calkins (1850-1948). In 1888 Calkins and a business partner had recorded the first plat on Mercer Island, calling it East Seattle. The little school was located in what is now part of Secret Park, and would serve the northern portion of the island for the next 24 years. The opening of the new school came just in time; before 1914 was over, the original schoolhouse burned to its foundations.
The two-story East Seattle School was built in Mission Revival style, with a central section housing administrative and support offices, and two identical wings having a total of six classrooms and two activity rooms. Sometime before 1937 two shed-like structures were added, one to the north wing and one to the south wing, which were characterized as play-sheds. In 1938 a grant from the federal Works Project Administration was used to build a gymnasium on the south end of the building. The building then remained essentially unchanged until the 1990s.
Near the end of the first school year, "parents and friends of children on the entire island" ("Mercer Island Notes," June 6, 1915) were invited to meeting at the school to organize a Parent-Teacher Association. The meeting began at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 9, and by the time it ended a PTA had been formed, and Mrs. Fred Greene Clarke elected president. The association quickly pitched in to help organize the school's first graduation, after which it would not meet again until the following September.
A First Graduation
The celebration of the completion of East Seattle School's first academic year was covered by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which noted that a "program of folk dances and games was given to a very appreciative audience." While the facts are somewhat scanty, it was also reported that "Miss Evelyn Lane was conducted to the throne in a bower of spirea and roses by the four pages and several dainty flower girls" ("Mercer Island Notes," June 27, 1915). The article does not indicate what Miss Lane's title was.
The last event of the day was the awarding of diplomas to the first graduating class, the honors being performed by someone identified only as "County Superintendent Dunham." Finally, the report stated that "Mrs. Hicks, the principal of East Seattle School, is deserving of thanks for the beauty and success of the affair" ("Mercer Island Notes," June 27, 1915).
A School and More
In the ensuing years, East Seattle School would not only be the central educational center on Mercer Island, but also a place where community events and group meetings were held. At the time it was built, it is probable that the school was the largest public building on the island, and the school district made it readily available for activities of all sorts.
One of the first events after the second school year began in September 1915 was a PTA-sponsored party. In the afternoon of October 30, students from the first four grades put on various entertainments for their classmates. In the evening, from 7:30 until 10, the four upper grades (5 through 8) joined with the high-school students for a masquerade party. The students also prepared "joke bundles" to be auctioned off ("Club Notes," October 26, 1915)
In celebration of the completion of the school's second year, the students put on an outdoor musical play, "Midsummer Eve," in which the entire student body participated. It was reported that "Sixteen of the girls were dressed in paper to represent pink and green roses, and twenty of the boys were dressed in green suits to represent wood elfs [sic]" ("Mercer Island Notes," June 18, 1916). There were 10 students in the graduating class, and several from other grades were recognized for perfect attendance with no tardiness.
Not every event at East Seattle School was celebratory. In April 1917 America entered World War I as a combatant. As casualties increased, the military faced a shortage of medical supplies, and across the nation women pitched in to help. Mercer Island was no exception, and on Sunday, December 30, 1917, the first "East Side Surgical Dressing Circle" met at the school, working from 9 a.m. for 5 p.m. to produce surgical dressings. This activity would continue on a near-weekly basis until the war's end in November 1918.
There are few events or meetings recorded at the school during the 1920s, although many no doubt took place. One thing that did impact East Seattle School came on November 19, 1923, with the opening of the East Channel Bridge, which connected Enetai in Bellevue and Barnabie Point on northeast Mercer Island. This 1,200-foot-long, 20-foot-wide span opened up the island for increased development, increased population, and a need for additional schools.
In November 1934 it was announced the Miss Anna L. Wicks (1867-1934), the school's first principal, had died after a long illness. A graduate of DePauw and Purdue universities, she had been involved in Mercer Island education since 1908, having moved from Indiana that year to teach in the "little white schoolhouse." Better news came four years later, when the federal Works Project Administration allotted $14,436 for the construction of a gymnasium at East Seattle School, and an additional $5,563 was granted in August 1940 "for unidentified improvements."
Mercer Island up until 1941 had two school districts. At the island's southern end was King County School District No. 191 and Lakeview School. Opened in 1918, Lakeview replaced a school that could accommodate only eight students, and provided classes for both upper and lower level grammar-school students. In the north was King County School District No. 28 and East Seattle School. The combined student population of the two schools was approximately 180.
Recent state legislation had authorized the merging and rehabilitation of rural school districts, and on August 29, 1941, Mercer Island residents voted 147-22 in favor of merging school districts 28 and 191 to form District 400. From that point on, Lakeview's upper level students were bused north to East Seattle School.
The End of East Seattle School
Two months before the district consolidation, on July 2, 1941, the 6,620-foot Lake Washington Floating Bridge (also called the Mercer Island Bridge and, after 1967, the Lacey V. Murrow Floating Bridge) was completed. Mercer Island was now connected to the mainland to its west, and its population began to grow rapidly. More schools were soon needed, but it would take time. Two elementary schools were added, Lakeridge in 1953 and Island Park in 1956. But the most significant additions would not come for nearly 20 years after the district consolidation. In 1958 Mercer Island High School opened its doors, and in 1961 Mercer Crest Elementary did as well.
The fate of East Seattle School as a school was not definitively settled until 1981. Faced with declining enrollment island-wide, the Mercer Island School Board adopted a comprehensive and sweeping reorganization plan. The proposal reconfigured existing schools to create four elementary schools -- two (Lakeridge and Mercer Crest) for grades one through six, and two (West Mercer and Island Park) for kindergarten through sixth grade. A single middle school, Islander, would serve seventh and eighth grades (later adding sixth grade as well), and ninth through twelfth grades were consolidated at Mercer Island High. A report on the plan in The Seattle Times noted, "The old East Seattle School at the west end of the island and Tarywood School at the south end will no longer be needed" (Reorganization ...").
East Seattle School was closed the following year, and in 1983 its contents were auctioned off. A year earlier, the property and buildings had been leased to the Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club (Club), and in 1984 the Club purchased the property for $352,332. After owning the property for 23 years, the Club sold it to a Mercer Island couple for $6 million (well above the appraised value at the time) and entered into a dollar-a-year lease-back (for a term of either 10 or 12 years; sources vary). When the lease was up or nearly so, the owners, organized as OB Mercer Island Properties LLC, applied for a demolition permit. After much study, including an Environmental Impact Statement, and some heated public debate, the permit was granted, and in early 2021 the last vestiges of East Seattle School were gone.