Arlington's first school opens at Kent Prairie in May 1884.

  • By Janet Oakley
  • Posted 10/13/2007
  • Essay 8328

In May 1884, Kent Prairie School opens. The year before, settlers in north Snohomish County had petitioned the county superintendent of schools for a second time to form a school district of their own. At first denied, they went on to create a subscription school on leased land at Kent's Prairie in what will become Arlington. When Kent Prairie School opens it is the first school in this part of Snohomish County.

Schools on the Stillaguamish

The 1880s was a time of growth in along the Stillaguamish River. As settlers moved up to the "Forks," the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork of the river, many promoters of the hoped-for town that would become Arlington realized the importance of a school to attract families to the area. Creating another school district, however, was no easy matter. The superintendent of county schools had just allowed the formation of District 13 in November 1882 for Norman, located about 10 miles downriver to the west. This school district, like most nineteenth-century Snohomish school districts, encompassed hundreds of square miles. The little Stillaguamish River settlement at Norman had about 12 people living in it. That was  too few heads of household to permit another split. But this did not prevent these upriver settlers from petitioning again for their own school district.

On September 15, 1883, they filed a petition with the new county superintendent of schools, Mrs. E. C. Granger, and presented their case for splitting off from the larger school district. Their petition was denied the next month. "After due notice and hearing, the above petition," Granger wrote, "was not approved [,] the five signers not all ‘heads of families’ as required by law" (Superintendent Records, p. 128). She recommended that the petitioners make a new petition. Which they did. Writing in Stanwood on April 28, 1884, she approved the division of District 13. The following month, four new school districts were authorized, one of which was District 16, the first one in the north Snohomish County and future Arlington.

Humble Beginnings

Once the district was approved, the settlers moved to get their school built. They found 400 acres of land covered with cranberry bogs for lease from J. L. Kent of Kent’s Prairie a mile or so from present-day downtown Arlington. The people of the district paid for Kent Prairie School by subscription. Lumber for the school was cut at a sawmill at Utsalady, loaded into a shovel-nosed canoe, poled up river to Gifford’s Landing, and packed by horses to the prairie. The finished school had split cedar walls and roof, and a fir puncheon floor. It was also the most expensive building in the north county, costing $150.00 to build.

The school opened for three students in 1886 under teacher John McEwen. It most likely ran for a term of three and two-thirds months. Later that same year, J. L Griffith, a highly respected educator with a first certificate degree would serve as teacher. The following year District 22, known as Stillagaumish, was formed, followed by districts 26 at Trafton on the North fork and 27 at Oso in 1888. But Kent Prairie was first. By 1890 when the railroad arrived in Arlington, the school was still running, though too small for the educational needs of the families.

Today, Kent Prairie Elementary stands around a block away from the original, a reminder of Arlington’s pioneer past.

Sources: History of Snohomish County, Washington, 2 volumes ed. by William Whitfield (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), p. 544; William Whitfield, Arlington Centennial Pictorial History (Hamilton, MT: Oso Publishing Co., 2003); Kenneth L. Calkins, Name on the Schoolhouse (Olympia: Washington State Retired Teachers Association, 1991); Snohomish County Public Schools, 1868-1893, Superintendent’s Records of Official Act,  Box 1, stack 0999, Washington State Archives, Northwest Regional Branch, Western Washington University, Bellingham; Angie Bowden, Early Schools of Washington Territory (Seattle: Lowman and Harford, 1935), p. 383; Janet Oakley interview and tour of Arlington with Lauren Kraetz, Arlington, October 15, 2007.

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