CLAYTON, Wash. – If it weren’t for the actions of a group of citizens who cared about the heritage of their community, the old Clayton School would have remained a derelict building. Or worse.
The Clayton School, at the corner of Swenson Road and Park Avenue in Clayton, just north of Deer Park on Highway 395, opened in 1915. It is one of the few structures left from the thriving days in Clayton, when the Washington Brick & Lime Co. operated a manufacturing plant there.
The plant, which opened in 1893, was one of the largest suppliers of terra cotta and brick in the Northwest, and employed 60 people, including chemists, draftsmen and modelers. The company’s products were much in demand during the rebuilding boom that followed the great fire of 1889 that destroyed 32 blocks of downtown Spokane.
Clayton was pretty much a company town, with Washington Brick owning local stores and building boarding houses for employees. But fortunes changed and the terra cotta operation ceased there in 1948; brick manufacturing followed suit in 1957. Within a few years, nearly all of the Washington Brick & Lime Co. buildings in Clayton had been razed, leaving one company house, the Moose Lodge (embellished with brick and terra cotta) and the Clayton School as the only remaining physical evidence of its existence.
Old photos reveal that the school was quite elegant. It was designed by Spokane architect Charles Wood, who also designed the Cambern Dutch Shop Windmill on South Perry Street in Spokane. It is an excellent example of the American Renaissance style of architecture, adapted for a country schoolhouse. It measures 72 by 48 feet with more than 6,900 square feet on two floors. It has a low-pitched hip roof with wide overhanging boxed eaves. An adjacent multipurpose building was constructed in 1960 for physical education classes and all-school programs.
Sitting atop the structure is the original 800-pound tin school bell housed within the bellcast hip cupola. The building’s front projecting entry portal is especially eye-catching, defined by a flat cornice with dentils and a large blond brick Roman arch. And the arch is embellished with a large keystone in the form of a ram’s head, reportedly a leftover from the ram’s-head architectural details designed for (and still decorating) the Davenport Hotel in Spokane.
Land for the building was donated by the brick company, and it is said (but not officially established) that it donated the bricks as well. Construction for the two-story brick masonry building moved along quickly, despite problems. Lime deliveries were delayed and it was reported that water well problems made it necessary to haul water to the site in barrels. Still, it opened on time in February 1915.
As population in Clayton declined, the Clayton School District merged with the Deer Park School District in 1955. And when Arcadia School opened in Deer Park in 1972, the Clayton School officially closed. And there it sat for 30 years with leaking roof and crumbling plaster, used for storage and little else.
At the beginning of the millennium, the school district decided to put the structure up for sale. Along came Bill Sebright and a group of area residents who wanted to save it and preserve its educational mission. It was a personal as well as historical mission for Sebright, who attended Clayton School for first through sixth grades and taught there the final year the school was open; he then taught at Arcadia until retiring in 2002.
So work began on two fronts. Under the umbrella of the Clayton Historical Society, Sebright and others made application for listing the school building on the National Register of Historic Places; that listing came through in 2003. And the school district also worked to save the school.
In 2000 the Deer Park School District had begun its Home Link Program to serve parents who home-school their children, and it was running out of room at its Deer Park site. Molly Murphy with the Home Link Program said the school district then eyed the Clayton School with a new thought in mind. They applied for state funding under a program designed to restore old buildings located in impoverished areas. In 2004, the total request of $1.4 million was approved, and refurbishment of the Clayton School began. In fall 2005, Home Link’s second location opened at that site. Between the Deer Park and Clayton locations, Murphy said they serve 450 to 500 students.
The remodel has been wonderful, she reports. The interior of the building was gutted, replacing the former large classrooms with a number of smaller ones needed for the Home Link curriculum. The foundation, brick exterior and interior fir floor hallways were retained – so, except for no longer needing a chimney for a boiler, the Clayton School looks on the outside remarkably as it did when it was in its glory, serving the families working for the terra cotta and brick company.
With its original mission of saving the school achieved, Sebright’s group has expanded to become the Clayton Deer Park Historical Society and works to preserve the history of the region and making it accessible to the public. And the Clayton School has returned to what it was built to do – being a place for educating children.
“I am so glad that it’s been given life again, the kind of life that began long ago,” said Murphy, who had been lead teacher at the Home Link Program at the Clayton School and who will be principal there this fall. “It doesn’t really belong to us. It belongs to the families and to the community. It’s a community school … again.”
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