I may not have mentioned this previously. I’m a freelance travel writer. I love the research that goes into an article. And I can ever so easily go down the internet rabbit hole which was exactly how I ended up on the National Register of Historic Places website.
It began with an article idea about architectural styles that I pitched to a regional magazine and they liked it. Then I began to research and found myself in the murky depths of online digital archives with links about strange architectural style names: Carpenter Gothic, Brutalism and Slick Skin anyone? Anyone?
However, in the pursuit of the history of one particular building, I found myself on the National Register of Historic Places and wondered how many sites in Kitsap County had been awarded that designation. Surprisingly it turns out there are 19 and they’re as varied as the county itself. There were 20 but one of the sites, the Sidney Hotel in Port Orchard, built in 1891, burnt down in 1985. Apparently they take away your active designation when you cease to exist.
The National Register is maintained by the National Park Service. The list includes districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that have been identified and documented as being significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering or culture. There’s a fairly lengthy state and federal process involved in being named to the list so kudos to our 19 recipients. In alphabetical order, here are Kitsap County’s sites deemed worthy of the title:
The Agate Pass Bridge in Suquamish
Bremerton Elks Temple Lodge (currently called the Catholic Services Max Hale Center)
Camp Major Hopkins on Bainbridge Island (currently called Camp Yeomalt)
Coder-Coleman House in Bremerton
Filipino-American Community Hall on Bainbridge Island
Fort Ward Historic District on Bainbridge Island
The Hospital Reservation District in Bremerton
Jackson Hall Memorial Community Hall in Silverdale (also known as Silverdale Scout Hall)
The Marine Reservation District in Bremerton
Masonic Hall in Port Orchard
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton
Charles F Nelson House in Olalla
Officers Row Historic District in Bremerton
Old Man House Site in Suquamish
Point No Point Lighthouse in Hansville
Port Gamble Historic District in Port Gamble
Puget Sound Radio Station District in Bremerton
Shelbanks in Bremerton (also known as Kean Cabin)
U.S. Post Office in Bremerton
You may be wondering why the three Reservation Districts in Bremerton are in bold? It’s because I’m as intrigued as you are about their history and anticipate a future blog post about them. What exactly is a Radio Station District? Why is there a Hospital Reservation District? Will the internet rabbit hole reveal the answers?
If you haven’t ventured into Port Gamble’s little gem of a historical museum, you’ve missed a western shores of Puget Sound educational treat. Located in the basement of the 1916 era Port Gamble General Store, the Port Gamble Historical Museum is often mistaken for the better known Sea and Shore Museum located on the upper floor of the store, even by locals.
No. Not the same at all. Follow the sidewalk and stairs outside to the back of the General Store to find the unassuming entrance of the Historical Museum. Designed in 1972 by Alec James, who designed the Royal British Museum in Victoria, Canada, the museum is not a quaint, small town operation. Its a professionally designed museum packed into a small space that showcases the 125 year plus history of the Pope And Talbot Lumber Mill and company town that it built.
Upon entering, visitors first see a recreation of the interior of the ship, Oriental, whose Captain, William C. Talbot and crew came from East Machias, Maine to settle Port Gamble. The ship creaks and groans and the porthole displays a moving ocean, enough to make one seasick if you watch it long enough. Captain Talbot’s actual ship log can be read in a glass display case in his quarters.
Recreation of the interiors of important buildings using the actual furniture, dishes and silver wear was part of the design. The lobby of the long gone Puget Sound Hotel is there complete with music from its hey day as the social gathering place. The bedroom of settlers, Cyrus and Emily Walker has been recreated using period furnishings and specially commissioned wallpaper that copied the original found in their bedroom. There is a replica of the inside of the Pope and Talbot sales office and a S’Klallam Native American dwelling, the original settlers of Port Gamble.
Display cases showcase period fans and wedding dresses, Native American baskets and tools used by the men and women who worked in the mill. There are letters, records and photographs of the non-Native men and women who settled and made Port Gamble their home.
Give yourself time when you visit. The museum, though not the multi floor bohemoth of the Royal British Museum, is a place that needs savoring. The volunteers who keep the museum running are very informative and, if you ask, will show you the back room that houses all of the archived and unlabeled artifacts that have been donated, unearthed and found in attics and crevices of the historical homes and buildings that make up Port Gamble.
Children six and under free
May 1st through September 30th: 10:00 a.m. to5 p.m seven days a week.
October 1st through April 30th: 11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday/Saturday/Sunday.
Mrs. Nell Skinner taught one term at Mcdonald School. Then the school board told her they were against hiring married women so she was out of a job. She ran into the same opposition from the Illahee district but when she told them she had a sick husband and three children to support, they relented and hired her. To get to her job each day she would walk to Captain Anderson’s place and was rowed across the bay to Fletcher Bay. Then she took the little steamer Chickaree from the Fletcher Bay dock to the Illahee dock. After landing at Illahee she walked up to her school and made a fire in the wood stove to heat up the room before her pupils arrived.
In 1902 after graduating from the eighth grade, Chloe Sutton took the State Teachers Examinations, passed and received a certificate to teach. Her first school was located between Brownsville and Keyport.
My second year of teaching at Kitsap Lake School I served the children a hot lunch. Hot cocoa was always served on Mondays and I cooked vegetable soup at my cabin. I bought the soup bone and meat at Silverdale on Saturdays and cooked the stock. Each child brought a potato and 15 cents each week for lunch supplies. Eliza Jane Hanberg
On May 14, 1931, the Bremerton School Board adopted the following resolution: That a married woman having private means of support, income producing property or other property capable of producing an income, or a husband who is physically able to support her, shall not be hired as a teacher by the district.
Excerpts from The Way It Was in Kitsap Schools, Kitsap County Retired Teachers
The local newspapers have been busy covering public education issues in the county over the past month. South Kitsap School District lost its bond election to build a new high school for the second time. The North Kitsap Superintendent is under fire for ignoring teacher and community input. Central Kitsap School District has a bus driver shortage. And I’ve been reading a fascinating book that appears to be the sole resource of collected historical information and archived memories on Kitsap County’s public education history. What was it like back in the day?
Schools in the county were built before Washington achieved statehood and were mostly situated at population centers near lumber mills. Unlike today where the county is served by five school districts: South Kitsap, Bremerton, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island, each early school in the county was a school district. By the time Washington was declared a state in 1889, there were already 615 students in the county and 24 schools located in 24 school districts. As the population grew and shifted, more schools were built. At its peak there were about 34 K-8 school districts in Kitsap County.
The first school was built in Port Gamble in the current North Kitsap School District, though the building that housed the school was used for “public worship, social enjoyment or fraternal communion and to educate the children.” Given the multi-purpose use of the building, Bainbridge Island lays claim to the first building erected as a school which was built in 1860 at Port Madison on Bainbridge Island. The third school was built seven years later at Seabeck in what is now the Central Kitsap School District.
Those earliest schools only served younger students. It wasn’t until 1902 that the first high school opened in Kitsap County. The school was located in an existing elementary building in Bremerton and in its first year there were four students who attended – three ninth graders and a tenth grader. By 1905, there were 61 students wanting to attend high school so Bremerton School District and adjacent Charleston School District voted to create a merged Union High School and agreed to open it in a Lutheran church in what is now downtown Bremerton. By 1908 the only high school in the county had it’s own building and a student population of 106. Students in the rest of the county who wanted to go to high school either attended high school in Bremerton or in Seattle or Vashon and boarded with family or friends.
In 1920 six of the fourteen school districts in what is now the North Kitsap School District joined forces to build Union High School. Over the next ten years, the remaining eight districts joined them and by 1930 a bigger high school was built. Port Orchard built its first high school in 1921 after a similar history of its eighteen school districts voting for one consolidated high school. Silverdale’s districts opened their first high school in 1925. Bainbridge’s eleven school districts opened a high school in 1916.
First Keyport School
Inside Keyport School
The school buildings changed as the county populations shifted. Some of the first schools took place in local residents’ homes such as the first Bethel School school in Port Orchard and the Bangor School near Silverdale. Others took place in a tent such as the Harley School on Bainbridge or a grocery store where the first Bremerton School operated. The earliest schools were small one room board and batten or log buildings constructed by volunteer labor on donated land with no insulation, no plumbing and a wood stove for heat. Water was usually carried in by the teacher or students from a neighbor’s well and the lack of heat often meant that the school only operated during the warmer months. The 1891 Crosby School in what is now the Central Kitsap School could only afford to stay open three months a year. Blackboards, books and desks came from donations and the local community raising money at basket socials to buy equipment. When the school building became too small it was sometimes dismantled and the materials used in the building of a bigger school or abandoned only to be reincarnated as something else as my previous post on an early Keyport school illustrates or the land and building was returned to the resident who donated the property.
The earliest teachers were unmarried woman and men (who could be married); some who had only just graduated themselves from the 8th grade. They performed multiple duties beyond teaching; they were also the school janitors, cooks and according to the Rules and Regulations of the State Board of Education, air quality monitors: Every public school teacher shall give vigilant attention to the temperature and ventilation of the school room and see that the atmosphere of the room is changed frequently.
The county rule regarding the married status of female teachers didn’t change until 1942 when a regulation was passed entitled War Emergency Teachers. Because male teachers were called to military service, the change allowed districts to hire married women during the duration of the Emergency. Despite what would now be an illegal hiring practice, women who taught managed to serve in school leadership capacities. Most famous among them is Elizabeth Ordway who taught at the first schools built in the county and then became the Superintendent of County Schools in the 1880s and Jane A. Ruley, the first African American teacher in Kitsap County hired by the Sheridan School District in Bremerton in 1887 to open its first school.
Unlike today when collective bargaining determines teacher salaries, the first Silverdale teachers recalled that their salaries were determined by having them bid for how much they wanted to get paid with the job usually going to the lowest bidder. The average monthly salary of the county’s first teachers ranged between $30 and $40 per month and much of it was used to pay room and board to the families they lived with while teaching. In some of the first schools, such as the small 20 feet x 28 feet Seabeck School, an apartment for the teacher was part of the building and some students whose commute by boat or walking was too distant or dangerous boarded with the teacher when school was in session. (School transportation didn’t involve bus driver shortages back in the day. There are plenty of anecdotal memories in the book about students swimming to shore from overturned boats and getting charged by bears while commuting to school and teachers sinking in quicksand while walking home.)
In researching this post I discovered a website with old class photos from Kitsap schools in the early to mid 1900’s. Who do you know in these photos? What memories exist in your family records about early schools in the county?