Neighbors taking good care of Old Delphi School

jdodge@theolympian.comMay 1, 2014 

A photo of the Old Delphi School provided by Hans Littooy.

COURTESY OF HANS LITTOOY

The Old Delphi School is filling up this week — not with students but with items for the spring rummage sale that raises money to maintain the 104-year-old, one-room schoolhouse.

The white-and-red-trim building is on the Thurston County, state and national historic registers and is one of the best surviving examples of one-room schoolhouses that used to serve rural families all across the state.

In its heyday, the school served roughly 15 students a year, grades one through eight. Some students walked to school, others rode horses.

It’s not clear if there are any surviving graduates of the school that served the Delphi Valley population from 1910 to 1942. Three did attend the school’s 100-year birthday party four years ago, noted Shane Jewell, treasurer of the Delphi Community Club. His wife, Macy, serves as club president. The couple live across Delphi Road from the schoolhouse and serve as caretakers for the school and 3.46 acres, which includes a remnant patch of south county prairie alive on a midspring day with blue camas flowers and yellow cinquefoil.

The school property is also home to a 800-foot-deep, dry-well monitoring station operated by UNAVCO, a nonprofit geoscience research group studying the Cascadia subduction zone boundary, the place where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is slipping under the continental plate. It’s the birthplace of what would be the most devastating earthquake scientists can imagine striking the region.

The Jewells opened the doors to the school for me Wednesday, talked of its history and pointed to some of the special features that date back to a day when one-room schoolhouses were commonplace, as were the young unmarried female teachers who rarely stayed for more than a year or two.

“The teachers were always single women at a time when a woman’s place was in the home,” said Macy Jewell. Talk about a small world: as Mary and I conversed we realized we were classmates at The Evergreen State College in 1975-76 in a program called “Broadsides and Broadcasts.”

I stuck with journalism and in 1976 she founded Reflections Custom Etching, a stained glass and etching design studio. She was soon joined by her husband in the business, which has expanded to include work with stone, metal, brick and other media.

When a car accident wiped out the original gate to the schoolhouse property, Shane Jewell designed a new rustic metal gate that has the look of antiquity fit for the setting. He also designed and carved a rock monument that sits outside the school. It notes that the original schoolhouse on the east side of Delphi Road served from 1895 to 1910, then was replaced on the west side of the road by the one that housed students until 1942.

“A fire could burn the school down, but this rock monument could be here for hundreds of years,” he said.

Under the Jewells’ leadership, the community club has made great strides in preserving the historic schoolhouse, which was deeded to the community club in 1944 to serve as a community meeting hall.

Throughout the 1980s, the 750-square-foot meeting room was the scene of many contentious discussions of new, countywide zoning changes, ultimately ending in support for measures to protect the rural Delphi area.

The converted schoolhouse is available to rent for community events, including weddings, family reunions, birthday parties and memorial services.

In the past 25 years, the building has received a major makeover while still preserving the historical character of the structure. The interior walls and ceiling have been re-plastered and painted. Both bathrooms were remodeled. A saggy foundation was repaired. The porch roofs were replaced and a roof tower replete with a bell were added to reflect the original design.

But look closely and the old schoolhouse comes back to life. The original fir floor is dotted with ink stains. The original sash windows still open and close on the north-facing wall. The original slate chalkboards still line the south-facing wall.

The next big project will be replacing the roof this summer. The Delphi Community Club will receive a $5,000 grant from the Thurston County Heritage Commission to help pay for the project once it’s completed.

Money raised at the rummage and plant sale will help pay for the roof project.

The sale is set for 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Many of the plants donated to the sale were grown by Macy Jewell. Baked goods will also be offered for sale.

The Old Delphi School address is 7601 Delphi Road SW, Olympia. For more information about the schoolhouse and available dates for rental, visit delphicc.org or call 360-943-6437.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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