Collins #12 (aka Freedom)
Introduction: The westernmost limit of the modern Yelm school district borders that of North Thurston along the Yelm Highway near Pattison’s Lake. Along the Yelm highway, just east of Eaton Creek stands a white, two story family residence sitting among some trees on the south side of that road. This building was the last of the school houses in the Freedom, or Collins, district #12. For decades the building serviced the children of the Freedom Community. (Today often referred to as the Evergreen Valley area)
The Freedom District was originally organized in 1854 and was one of the first districts in Thurston County. The first school was made of logs and located on the corner of the Marcus McMillan homestead. Mrs. H. R. Kagy, longtime resident of the Freedom Community wrote about the school in the 1930s. She quoted at length the memories of Flora Parsons who had attended that school:
It was a low straight building with the door in one (this description was…..there) end and a large cobble stone fireplace in the other end. The chimney was made of sticks and clay. There was a row of small windows on each side. The seats were benches along the side of the wall, and there were six or seven clumsy home made desks with a shelf for books. One low bench had a back and could be moved around. It was used by the smallest children. There was no well on the grounds so each child carried his own individual water bottle which was placed on a bench in one corner of the room. When we wanted a drink all we had to do was walk over there and find our own bottle. My recollection is that we were permitted to drink when ever we wished. There was quite a rivalry among the pupils as to who had the finest bottle. There was a ball around in front and teeters on the fence back of the house.
According to Parsons about a dozen children attended the school during her time there. The log cabin was abandoned in 1869 when a new frame school was erected on the property of William Parsons, southeast of Long Lake. The first teacher at that school was Maggie O’Neal, daughter of Abijah O’Neal of Yelm.
With most of the students living in the southern end of the Freedom District the above school was moved. This time it was located near old Fort Eaton on the road to Yelm. H. R. Kagy recalled that event:
The building was blocked up on rollers and hauled to the new location. It was somewhat wrecked but was repaired and used until the present building was erected. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent in that old school building. The days were never so stormy but what we were glad to walk a mile and a half to school rather than miss a day. The old log forts were our play houses. Two of them were still standing at that time.
In 1917 a new school was built. That building still stands on the south side of the Yelm Highway. The school contained two classrooms and usually employed two teachers. One of the teachers there was Harry Southworth.
The Collins District was eventually broken up with part of it joining the North Thurston District and part of it being consolidated with Yelm District #400. Yelm School Board Minutes from November 29, 1950 contain the following:
Collins school board Mrs. Boyles, Phil Layne, and H. F. Hastings met with the Yelm board to discuss the proposition of consolidating the Collins school district and the transfer of some of Collins to Lacey. After considerable discussion it was decided that Yelm board would all try to be present at the reorganization hearing on Dec. 11, 1950 at the courthouse in Olympia. The Yelm board also indicated that should consolidation take place they would be willing to maintain two teachers at Collins as long as the attendance warranted it.
Collins continued to operate within the Yelm District for several years, but by the mid 1950’s the school was headed for the same fate as the Lackamas School. Board minutes from 1955, read, in part, “A group from the Collins area came to protest any action to close the Collins School. After and extended discussion Chairman Phillips called for a motion to decide the issue.” They were unsuccessful in their attempt to keep the school open. The Yelm board of directors had decided it was more cost effective to bus the students from the Freedom Community to Yelm Elementary, than to keep the building open. Eventually the building was sold to a family, marking the end of the Collins District.