Education proved a challenge on the remote San Juan Islands. The one-room schoolhouse on Orcas Island was opened in 1888, a year before Washington became a state. Peter Freshette donated 1.8 acres of land to the school district for the construction of the school. Pleasant Valley School (later renamed “Crow Valley School”) taught grades one through eight and had the capacity to serve up to 52 students, though class sizes were generally far less in any given year.
When the school opened its doors in 1888, it was only the 11th school district in San Juan County. In 1893, the school saw its highest level of enrollment at 47 students. However, since the length of a school year was largely dependent upon the funding available to compensate teachers the term lasted only 63 days that year. In all, this one-room schoolhouse served the children of what was formerly Pleasant Valley on Orcas Island, for thirty years.
Typically, school terms were two to five months long. Teachers were paid approximately fifty dollars per month for their educational service. Educators of Crow Valley were usually female, and they served roles outside of the structured classroom as well. For example, teachers often worked as bus drivers for the school district.
While the bus afforded some students transportation to and from the school, many students had to walk. A local Orcas Islander, Ray Kimple, remembers having to walk 2.5 miles to school and back each day. This trek was a muddy and wet one for much of the school term. Ray recalls stripping off his shoes upon arriving at the school. The teacher would gather all the students’ shoes and make a circle of muddy footwear around the wood stove so they could dry.
Grace See Howell taught briefly at Crow Valley and regarded the student body as kind and cooperative. “I have never known nicer, more well-behaved children,” she recalls. Howell also remembers the diversity of students in her classroom, several had Indian, French, and Spanish ancestry.
The one-room schoolhouse closed its doors in 1918 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The Crow Valley School now serves as a museum on the island. Sadly, many of the original items have been stolen or destroyed, including the desks. However, much of the schoolhouse has been restored thanks to the work of Richard Schneider and Bud McBride. Today the schoolhouse is part of the Orcas Island Historical Museums and is open regularly for visitors.