DuPont School 1866;
Museum Photo Collection
DuPont School c1940s
(Museum Photo Collection)
DuPont School c1953
(Museum Photo Collection)
DuPont School &
Laughbon High School c1970
(Museum Photo Collection)
Chloe Clark Elementary opened August 2001
Pioneer Middle School opened August 2008
Schools In DuPont
A Chance to Learn: The History of DuPont Schools
by Jennifer Crooks (reprinted with permission)
Schools in the area that is now DuPont have gone through many stages during the course of their history. Stretching from the dawn of American settlement in the area to the huge impacts of the opening of the DuPont Powder Company plant and the creation of Fort Lewis, the school system has shifted in form many times.
At Fort Nisqually, Hudson Bay Company children went to boarding schools far away or were tutored at home, if formally educated at all. The first “school” in the Western sense in the area was created at the Methodist mission, lasting from 1839 to 1842. About fifty Native American students attended during this time.
A school district in the future site of DuPont would not be established for two more decades. Called School District #7, this number signified that the area was the seventh place in Pierce County to create a school district (the first, Steilacoom School District #1, being set up in 1855.) The exact date of School District # 7’s creation is unknown, but it first received funds in 1860 from the county for $111.58. This money came from both a levy and Justice and District court fines. It is unlikely the district was very old at this time.
The school district continued to receive county funds and grow. By 1865, there were 26 students listed, but the school likely forfeited its funds that year because class was not held the minimum of three months. By 1866, there were 34 students in School District #7, ranging in age from four to 21. They were taught by a single teacher paid $38 per month. The children came from about ten families, both American settlers and former Hudson Bay Company employees, living within a five to six mile radius of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Nisqually. Classes had to be held in the private homes of these families, but with increased numbers of children this was getting to be too difficult.
So the community decided to build a schoolhouse. About $300 in donations were collected to buy building materials. O. H. White, then clerk of the School Board, took his wagon down to Chambers Creek mill, picked up lumber, and brought it to a site near the current location of the manager’s house at the front of DuPont Village/Old DuPont (100 Brandywine). This land was available because it was part of official government-designated school land in the local township. Volunteering their labor, local families quickly built a small school out of rough lumber. This construction most likely took place in 1866, though it could have been a bit earlier. Because there was no money left over for furniture besides a cast iron stove for heating, Steilacoom School District #1 generously donated surplus homemade desks. Although small and primitive by today’s standards, the building sufficed for decades to come.
The first person hired to teach in the new building was a Mrs. Settle (first name unknown), a widow. She did not complete the three month session since she married James Ross, a storekeeper at Steilacoom. Married women were typically banned from teaching during this period (while married men were not.) Alice Gove, a former student of the district and only 19 years old, finished the term as teacher. Like Alice, many teachers who taught during the early years were nearly the same age as their oldest students. For example, Hiram McAllister, who taught in 1869, was nineteen as well.
The school continued to grow and by the 1870s there were over 40 students. Teachers occasionally boarded with Edward Huggins at Fort Nisqually Factor’s House. Instructors changed frequently, serving an average of three months, but the longest lasting one taught around six months, the shortest only three days. Pay averaged around $36 and $42 a month. Overall from 1866 to 1899 31 teachers at the area school educated a total of 122 Students.
In 1885 (historian Delbert McBride says 1889), a replacement school was built two to three miles from the 1866 school site at what is now the edge of the Fort Lewis Golf Course on land donated by Daniel Mounts. Mounts supervised construction of a larger, better built schoolhouse that would serve as the area school for the next twenty years. This structure was in a more central location for families. Previously some students had to walk four miles to school one way every day.
In 1906, the DuPont Powder Company came to the DuPont area, causing both a population shift centered around the new plant being built and a rapid increase in the number of students. School was temporary held in the old Factor’s House which was then a club house. However, in 1908 (or 1907), a 30 feet by 60 feet one room tar paper shack was constructed, divided into two rooms by a cretonne curtain. It was located near the gate of the DuPont plant. Drinking water was carried up from Sequalitchew Creek for the new school. The 1885 schoolhouse was moved downhill and converted into a ranch house for Henry Tiedeman. This house was sold in 1923 to Carl Gaul and in 1938 to Frank Mounts. By the early 1970s, however, the building had burned and was in ruins.
In 1911, a new school building was completed at a site that is now home to Barksdale Station, a commercial development. This area would be the home of the DuPont School complex until the late 1980s. The newly constructed 1911 building, a three room frame structure, also had an exciting modern feature: gas lights.
However, this school would prove too small with an influx of students from around and in the newly built army post of Camp Lewis in 1917. In response, the district for $40,000 built a new school in 1917 on the grounds of the 1911 school building. The lovely Federal-style brick building, housing four classrooms and an auditorium, would become the nucleus of all further schools until its demolition in 1989. The building was so nice that it was considered one of the finest school buildings in the state at the time. This structure would remain as the DuPont school, with many additions and changes, until the 1970s.
In the meantime, demands on the school continued to grow with the expanding student population. In 1920, with the school barely three years old, three more classrooms were added as well as a furnace room for $65,739.00. Camp Lewis was expanding and in 1920, students from Camp Murray (a nearby National Guard post) began to attend the DuPont School as well. But the 1920 building addition was not enough so three portables, converted from surplus Camp Lewis barracks, were also added at that time for a gymnasium, industrial arts shop and three more classrooms. Playground equipment was brought in and the old three room building remodeled to serve as a kindergarten (one of the first in Pierce County), lunchroom and home economics classrooms. This cost so much that the district was unable to pay off its debt until 1949, though the Depression most likely lengthened that time.
Also during the Great Depression, a DuPont Pre-school was started. Mrs. F. T. Beers, wife of the DuPont Company manager, led a small preschool that grew out of the large “cradle roll” at the local DuPont Presbyterian Church. It did not last long, but from the 1940s to the mid-1950s the Woman’s Club ran a preschool in town.
During this time there was a period of stability in student enrollment. In the 1920s, most teachers boarded at Mrs. George Kinney’s at 301 Brandywine, and ate their meals at Mrs. Tom’s Hamilton’s at 202 Brandywine because the School Board had ruled that all teachers must live in town.
But the approach of World War II caused a new increase in the population of Fort Lewis and thus placed more demand on the existing school system. This was heightened because in 1936, the DuPont School District #7 made an agreement with the Commanding General of Fort Lewis, making DuPont School District #7 the official school for kindergarten through ninth grade for children on the Fort. In 1938, to better accommodate the increased number of students, a gymnasium, science laboratory, library and more classrooms were added to the existing building. The portables were also removed at this time. After World War II began, the numbers of new students from military families only increased. This put even more strain on the DuPont School facilities. In 1942 a cafeteria, music room and six more classrooms were added. A circular Federal style porch was added to the west side of the building as well.
The school’s connection to the Fort continued, growing only stronger. In 1953, the DuPont School District’s name was changed to the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District. Students in the area attended elementary school on the base, junior high (middle school) in DuPont and high school at Clover Park High School. DuPont-Fort Lewis split jurisdiction of the Fort elementary schools with Lakewood’s Clover Park School District. Of the five elementary schools on the Fort, Clover Park operated two while DuPont-Fort Lewis operated three. The DuPont managed schools included Greenwood (1953), Clarkmoor (1957), and Parkway (1957). In 1958, an administrative building for the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District was built on federal property to meet the need for more office space. This building would later serve for a time as DuPont City Hall.
However, the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District lacked a high school for students in grades 10 through 12. These students had gone by private carrier to Tacoma (Lincoln High School until 1933 and then Stadium High School from 1933 until World War II). During World War II, the Washington State Rationing Board declared the students should be bused to closer-by Clover Park High School in Lakewood rather than Tacoma, to save gasoline and tires, which were being rationed. DuPont High School students would continue to attend Clover Park High School until 1961.
In June 1961, the DuPont-Fort Lewis School Board authorized construction of its own high school, Wendell B. Laughbon High. Built onto the existing DuPont School, area students were given a choice to attend it or Clover Park High School in Lakewood. The school (and nearby stadium) were named for Wendell B. Laughbon, a man who had dedicated his entire career to the DuPont School District. Graduating from Cheney Normal School (E.W.E.C.) in 1926, his first job was as a teacher at the DuPont Junior High School. He taught Industrial Arts, Health and Physical Education, as well as being a basketball coach and lead Boy Scoutmaster. In 1935, Laughbon became the principle of the Junior High School and in 1938 he was elected to district superintendent. This position he held until his retirement in 1964. Laughbon High School opened in 1961 for 10th grade, while 11th and 12th graders were added in 1963 and 1964. Laughbon’s first graduating class was 62 students.
The creation of a DuPont high school caused a feud with the Clover Park School District. The state refused to accredit the new high school even though the National Accreditation Association of High School and Higher Education did. Since the ruling of the Association was more important than that of the state in college applications, no students had trouble getting into higher education. Legislative and court battles started in 1964 and ended 12 years later. The conflict ended when federal funding was revoked from Laughbon High, forcing the school to close, holding its last graduation in 1973. Remaining high school students were given a choice of where to finish their high school years, most choosing North Thurston High School in Lacey. After the closing of the High School, the Fort Lewis students were required to attend Clover Park schools, not DuPont schools. Also, Clover Park School District #400, as per the decision of the Pierce County Committee on School District Organization, was given the DuPont Schools and property on Fort Lewis in 1973.
While the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District had 1,900 students in the mid-1960s (97% of them military dependents), when it was trimmed of all Fort Lewis students, there were left 77 elementary and junior high school students from the DuPont/Nisqually area. School was held in the former high school building, but it proved too expensive to maintain for a smaller group. The school district had changed forever.
In 1975, the people voted to consolidate DuPont School District #7, Anderson Island School District #24 and Steilacoom School District #1 into a single school district named Steilacoom Historical School District #1, which included kindergarten through eighth grade. Thus, DuPont School District #7 had its last day on June 11, 1975.
However, the DuPont School building remained. In the late 1970s, the City College (now University) of Seattle leased part of the DuPont School for a branch site. In 1978, the private Evergreen Lutheran High School (part of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran High School Association) leased another section of the building. Evergreen Lutheran bought portables to use for a boys’ dorm and the Johnson Brothers grocery (now home to the DuPont Community Center) as a girls’ dorm (it was then apartments).
However, this situation was not to last. In 1985, the city of DuPont rezoned the school site, as part of a comprehensive land-use plan, as commercial, not municipal. In spring 1988, the school property, 8.2 acres as well as the buildings, was sold to Weyerhaeuser Company for $600,000. Part of this fund, $247, 342, was used to purchase land for a future school site. Evergreen Lutheran moved out to Federal Way (eventually settling in 2012 in a fine campus in Tacoma) and City College moved to its Tacoma branch. The Laughbon High School building was demolished in January 1989.
Currently, there are two schools in DuPont. Chloe Clark Elementary School opened in 2001, with Gary Yoho as the first principle. It had grades kindergarten through fourth, with 180 students. Chloe Clark Elementary is named in honor of Chloe Clark, a teacher at the first Western-style school in the DuPont area. The second school in DuPont, Pioneer Middle School, opened on August 28, 2008.
Currently, Chloe Clark Elementary covers grades kindergarten through third. Grades fourth through fifth attend school in Steilacoom and return to DuPont to attend Pioneer Middle School for grades sixth through eighth. A Steilacoom High School was built in 1981, so the students can finish grades ninth through twelfth without going to Lakewood.
The history of schools in DuPont is full of changes and transformations, many of which were influenced by much larger forces outside of local control. However, one constant has been a dedication to education and learning. This remains a continuing, powerful—and life-changing force.
Broeckel, Alvin R. “An Historical Study of the DuPont-Fort Lewis School District Number Seven, 1865-1969. A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the School of Education Pacific Lutheran University. In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree Master of Arts in Education.” December 1970. DuPont Museum School Files.
DuPont Museum “School Timeline” Exhibit Signs.
Iafrati, Ruth R. “Chronology of Events—School District Boundary Issue.” February 21, 1997. DuPont Museum School Files.
Iafrati, Ruth R. “A Short Story of District #7 1866-1975.” June 1988. DuPont School Museum Files.
Munyan, Mary G. DuPont—The Story of A Company Town. Puyallup, WA: The Valley Press, 1972.
Steilacoom School District Website: https://www.steilacoom.k12.wa.us/