On a hill overlooking the Skagit Valley near La Conner, Washington is a community called Pleasant Ridge. Settlers began to arrive in the area around the Civil War in the 1860s and gravitated towards the ridge’s elevation as it offered protection from floods.
Until the Depression, Pleasant Ridge was a thriving community that contained churches, a school, and a cemetery. Residents shopped in nearby La Conner and often walked or rode horses to get where they needed to go. They coexisted with local wildlife and enjoyed the bounty that the fertile valley had to offer.
The history of Pleasant Ridge isn’t obvious, though. Only pieces of it remain. If you drive up Valentine Road you’ll find the well-maintained Pleasant Ridge Cemetery quite easily. Then suddenly, through waving maple branches and a rusty wire fence, you realize you’re being gazed upon by an intriguing old building that was surely important in its time. “Come and see,” it beckons. “Come over to the edge of my yard and sit a while.”
For years I’ve been wondering what, exactly, that stone-mounted taupe token of Americana is. It was in the spring of 2012 that I took the color photos in this post. This year I finally asked the Skagit County Historical Museum in La Conner for some background. To my delight they sent a whole packet of goodies complete with photocopies of early pictures and newspaper clippings. Credit goes to them for the information in this post. Much of it comes from the Sue Ann Hackett papers.
According to Early Schools of Washington Territory, 1935, by Angie Burt Bowden, the first school at Pleasant Ridge opened in July of 1872:
This school was held at Albert Leamer’s house and the teacher was Ida Leamer, then only fifteen years old. She had the first teacher’s certificate ever granted in the county.
It was a little log schoolhouse later, and Miss Kate Hinckley was the teacher in the late seventies. Miss Laura Calhoun, now Mrs. Wotherspoon, was one of the scholars about 1879, and she thus describes the school:
“Miss Kate Hinckley was the teacher. This little log building had a stone fireplace at the south end, a sliding window, and one door with a latch. The furniture was mostly benches cut from cedar. There was a table and chair for the teacher. As one came in there was a bench at the door for a wash basin, water, and a tin cup. This was the first school I attended, and there were about twelve or fifteen pupils.”
According to an undated typewritten document from the state Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (below):
History: Pleasant Ridge, Bayview Hill, and the promontory on which LaConner was built, were the only points of land, between which were tideflats and flood plains, generally under water. First settlement in Skagit County was at Pleasant Ridge, concurrently in 1863 by Samuel Calhoun and Michael Sullivan, and they were also the first to drain and dike marshland, producing fertile agricultural lands.
A sizeable and spirited community developed on Pleasant Ridge, with school classes taught there as early as 1872. The present school house was built and in service by 1891, and served until 1930, at which time population on the Ridge was dwindling, and the few school-age children could be transported to the schools at LaConner.
The schoolhouse and the pioneer cemetery on the bill just above it, are the only intact remains of this historic community, other than a few private homes.
Evaluation of Significance: Besides the warm, personal memories of people who went to school there, who taught there, and remember the schoolhouse when it was also used for social affairs in the community, the Pleasant Ridge School building is a well-preserved example of the rural two-room school houses of that period.
A locally based “Pleasant Ridge School Association” has organized with the purpose of restoring and preserving the building, and there is considerable local interest and support. The group has already raised some #3,500.00 through volunteer cash donations, and have restored the roof and part of the foundation.
The document also offers these insights:
Since its closure in 1930, the Pleasant Ridge School building has been left undisturbed in a cleared, fenced field immediately adjacent to the home of a man who had attended school there and did not want the building to be destroyed or put to any disturbing use. The cedar-shake roof and cupola had deteriorated but have been faithfully replaced during the past year with funds volunteered by people who wish to see the building preserved. A small portion of the stone foundation had also deteriorated and has now been restored to original condition.
Front steps need to be replaced and interior walls will need some work. An exterior coat of paint is also in order. Some desks and furnishings are said to be restorable.
Several men experienced in construction have carefully examined the building and declare it to be structurally very sound. The wood floors, reportedly, were kept well oiled during the 40 years it served as a school, and this has helped to preserve them, even with water seepage through the deteriorated rood.
The building sits on the brow of the hill known as Pleasant Ridge – one of the first settled areas of present Skagit County – and commands a nice view from the front porch out across flat, cultivated lands, to Mount Baker in the distance.
Perhaps this information was from the 1970s, when there was an organized effort to restore the property. This article, from a July 1977 edition of the Mount Vernon Herald, asked citizens who were interested in saving the building to meet at the Rexville Grange Hall. The owner of the school said he was more interested in having the building moved than having a lot of people on the property.
This undated article, which appears to be from the late 1970s or early 1980s, says that the school is the last public building in the old pioneer community of Pleasant Ridge. The school’s last teacher, Mrs. Mabel Gansberg, and some former students visited the school at that time. Joyce Johnson, the secretary of the association, said, “It will make a delightful place when it is fully restored. It is truly a beautiful old building of much historical value.”
A well-written history of Pleasant Ridge at the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery website describes more about how the school came to be and the era in which it was active.
…As areas of farm land were diked, barley, oats and hay crops were planted on both sides of Pleasant Ridge; in Beaver Marsh to the east and Dodge Valley on the west. All of the farmers were pleased with the yield from the most fertile land any of them had seen.
In 1871 Michael Sullivan sold the crop of barley he had raised on forty acres of diked land for $1,600.00 at the river bank (Sullivan Slough). The story went clear to Pennsylvania.
As time went on two churches were established on Pleasant Ridge. Joseph Rudene donated land east of the cemetery for the Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church which was dedicated in 1889.
The Bethsaida Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church was built on the ridge facing east in 1890. J. H. Chilberg donated the land. The parsonage building which was located next to the church still stands today. A young people’s hall was added in 1905.
The first school on Pleasant Ridge was held in the home of Albert Leamer and the teacher was fifteen year old Ida Leamer. She held the first teacher’s certificate issued in Skagit County. In the early years classes were held in homes and later in rough cabins.
In 1883, Skagit County separated from Whatcom County and school districts were developed. The largest Pleasant Ridge school was built in 1891 and served the community for 38 years. The first teacher in the new structure was Mary E. Chilberg. The building still stands today.
A teacher’s cottage was located across Valentine Road from the school and was used to house the teacher from the Rexville School at the south end of Pleasant Ridge as well as the Pleasant Ridge School.
Community social life was simple consisting of meetings and entertainments centered around the two churches and the school building. There were spelling bees, debating clubs, dances, potluck dinners, Christmas pageants and parties, and a small orchestra.
People who lived on Pleasant Ridge commonly traveled on foot or horseback along many trails through thick woods of Douglas fir trees and underbrush to visit neighbors and attend social functions. Children making their way to school often encountered deer and black bears. Some of these paths are still in evidence today.
…Today there is still a neighborhood of homes at Pleasant Ridge near the cemetery. But the height of social activity at Pleasant Ridge was 1875 to 1930, before the paved roads that allowed access by automobile to Mount Vernon and beyond.
One of the more interesting recollections about the Pleasant Ridge community and school comes from a Biographical Sketch of A.C. Hilding, M.D., PH.D.
Childhood: My brothers and sisters and I were raised in the country at Pleasant Ridge in a clergyman’s family. We enjoyed the best possible family life under wise and intelligent parents, who taught purpose in life as service to God and fellow man. We lacked the facilities which are now considered essential. We drove horses and buggies; heating and cooking were done by means of wood stoves. The washer and dryer consisted of a scrub board with a tub and outdoor clotheslines. The only indoor plumbing was the hand pump in the pantry. And, of course, there was always very little money. We did not, however, feel handicapped or underprivileged; in fact, we were not underprivileged! Quite the contrary. To live in such a family, motivated and guided by such wonderful parents, placed us in the highly privileged group.
School: We attended school in the two-room schoolhouse on Pleasant Ridge. The first four grades were housed in a “little room” and the fifth to eighth grades in the “big room.” Everyone studied the same subjects. One of the great accomplishments in my life, which I have never forgotten, occurred in that little schoolhouse. In a spelling bee one day, I did not go down on the first word – something new in my life! I did not go down until the second word, which was “palisade,” but that was all right – to have gotten one word correct was a tremendous accomplishment for me.
High School: We all attended high school at La Conner. The three miles back and forth were negotiated in a number of ways. For my part, I usually walked…
This two-room treasure box of memories has stood against the Northwest’s rain and wind for nearly a century and a quarter now. No one has been to class there in about 85 years. According to the Skagit County Assessor’s Office, the property is currently owned by someone in Marysville, and it sits on the same parcel as a quaint old house built in 1901.
Could you imagine having a cool 19th-century building like that in your backyard? Not only that, but you’re just across the street from a historic cemetery where local residents have been buried for 139 years, including three Civil War veterans. No wonder one feels the urge to stop and explore when traveling Valentine Road. The history of the village lingers in the air like static electricity hovers after a lightning strike.
No one seems to know what the current owner has planned for the Pleasant Ridge School. While its nearby neighbor the cemetery is still in use and regularly maintained, the schoolhouse stares northward toward the carpet of tulips that explodes across the valley every spring, wondering if it will be given a second life or allowed to collapse onto the blanket of greenery lapping at its base of boulders.
Given that this hill was the birthplace of modern day Skagit County, I think the schoolhouse should once again ring with the sound of children’s laughter and neighborly potlucks. It wouldn’t be as mysterious, but it would give locals a better sense of their origins and an appreciation for their roots.
Next time you make a trip to the immensely popular tulip fields or go to spend a weekend in La Conner, take a slight detour and take a peek at this proud, aging educational edifice. Perhaps you will be motivated to start the movement that actually does preserve Pleasant Ridge for future generations.
Forests were the first temples of God and in forests men grasped their first idea of architecture. -James C. Snyder
For more information about the history of this area, please visit the following sites:
Skagit County Historical Museum, La Conner
Skagit River Journal – First schools in Whatcom and Skagit County
Local author Joan Husby’s Sun Breaks blog – As I was searching for more information about the school, I laughed out loud when I saw that Joan had written a post on this exact topic just two weeks ago! I’ve been meaning to write this post for years but she beat me to it. I immediately stopped reading it when I found it so that I didn’t subconsciously draw on her efforts. She has a personal connection to Pleasant Ridge and some great photos on her site. Now I’m going to read the whole post…
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