Special Reports

Students still walk historic hallways

Whatcom Middle School students will be living the city's centennial history this school year.

Built in 1903, the three-story Halleck Street school whose motto above the main entryway exhorts students to "Waste Not Thy Hour," is the oldest existing school building in Bellingham School District.

Today's Whatcom Middle School students wouldn't recognize their campus in 1903. First of all, the building itself was about a third the size, and as Whatcom High School, the students themselves were bigger.

An extensive addition tripled the school's size in 1916, and in 1937, the students got smaller when the school became Whatcom Junior High School. It's been Whatcom Middle School since 1967.

By the time Whatcom High School moved to its current location, it was already 13 years old. The first Whatcom High was a wood-frame building on Dupont Street, where the school district's administration building now sits.

Today's students would probably recognize the names of several of today's Bellingham schools that were in existence 100 years ago:

• The first Silver Beach School was built in the early 1890s, but was consumed in a forest fire in 1894. Today's Silver Beach was built in 1954, 1978 and 1994.

• Geneva School was built in 1890 on the east side of Austin Street, south of Cable Street. In 1982, Geneva School moved to the north side of Cable. Other students still use the old Geneva School site, now home to Whatcom Hills Waldorf School.

• Youngsters who attended Larrabee Grammar School 100 years ago walked another block up the hill to 20th Street and Donovan Avenue. Larrabee moved down the hill to 18th Street in 1920.

• Lowell Elementary students now play on the site of Fairhaven's first public grade school, the 14th Street School, which was built in 1890. Lowell was built in 1914.

• When Columbia Elementary was first built in 1890, the school was surrounded by tall trees instead of stately homes. The three-story brick building lost its pointed spire in 1908 and was torn down in 1936. Columbia kids go to school today in what was originally an addition built in 1925.

• Today's Fairhaven Middle School has housed students from every grade level. The building began in 1903 as Fairhaven High School and, until 1915, housed an elementary school. Great-grandparents of current Fairhaven students might remember New Year's Eve of 1935, when most of Fairhaven High burned down. It was rebuilt and became a junior high in 1937, then a middle school in 1967.

Witnesses to the fire told stories of people in their New Year's Eve finery standing in a foot of running water, weeping at the site of the burning school.

Many current Bellingham School District administrators know how those spectators felt - they watched the same thing happen to Kulshan Middle School on July 25, 1993, when the school burned just weeks before it was to open. It was rebuilt and opened in time for the first day of school in August 1994.