District #43: Eureka
Seven miles south of Yelm, John Algyer , formerly of Eureka, California, homesteaded a farm in the latter half of the 19th century. Other families, the Smiths, Morrises, and Langdens, among them, followed. In the late 1880s the families constructed a school for their children. When it was formally organized in 1907 it was identified as Thurston County District #43. Locally it was known as the Eureka school.
Cleora Paine, who arrived in the area in 1889 (the year of Washington statehood), remembered that the people in the area were building a schoolhouse that year. John Alyger and his wife had donated an acre of land for that purpose and residents provided lumber and sweat equity to make their schoolhouse a reality.
According to the authors of Yelm Pioneer and Followers,1850-1950, the Eureka school was located near where Solberg Rd. intersects with 148th Ave. The school would have been located nearly in the center of the nine square mile district. John Algyer’s generosity with his land also had the effect of minimizing a student’s walk or ride to school. Still, any children on the edges of the district would have had over a mile and a half trek through the rain, forests, and mud, so common in the state. Undoubtedly, some were forced to walk uphill and through the snow, thus giving credence to the stories of our ancestors.
Records show that the school was open as early as 1891 when Elmer Ralston opened the doors on October 5. Students thus began their school year which would run through the end of Ralston’s contract five months later. Then he left the school. In fact, teacher turnover, would be a dominant feature of the school. Unable to support a family on four months pay teachers were constantly on the move from district to district and in and out of the fledgling profession. In the seven years from school opening through 1898, nine different instructors taught there. N. Morris, George Weber, R. N. True, and A. B. Smith were among those that served on the board of directors.
The Eureka District combined with the Willow Lawn District and eventually they were incorporated into the ever growing Yelm School District. (This probably happened sometime after 1913) The school is reported to have burned down in 1932.
The Eureka Church
The school also served as a church for ten years. The Eureka community worshipped there until John Algyer donated another acre of land for the erection of a church. The church was dedicated in 1899 and was affiliated with the Methodist church. J. W. Blackwell recalled in a letter in 1933 that when he arrived at Eureka in 1907 he found a “small church building . . .and a few faithful members.” Rev. Blackwell’s day of “rest, as he ironically referred to it, involved his walking seven miles from Yelm to Eureka, where he taught a Bible class and preached a sermon at 11 a.m. Following service at Eureka he packed lunch and ate it as he walked to Rainier where he repeated the process.”
Church attendance dropped off after World War I. Some of the original founders of the church had died, some families had moved looking for better livelihoods, and others headed north to the Yelm Methodist Church.
The Final Years
It is unclear when the Eureka school shut its doors or the church for that matter. The church was torn down in September 1931 and the lumber used for improvements at the Yelm Church. When Edgar Prescott wrote Yelm’s First Church he interviewed Cleora Paine, a former member of the Eureka congregation, who recalled the end:
“I went away to the city. . . . I was gone for several years and when I came back, our church was gone and our school was gone. I went around to my sister, and I asked “What in the world have has become of our church?”
She continued, “They had torn it down and used the lumber to complete the second story of the parsonage at Yelm. . . . And our bell was gone. They had given it to the Yelm church.”
There is a brief historical coda for the Eureka School. On August 14, 1946, the Yelm school board voted a resolution “authorizing return of grounds of the Eureka School Dist#43, to the original owner. The resolution “was approved and signed.” The Eureka school had come full circle.
(Information about the Eureka Church is from: Prescott, Edgar. Yelm’s First Church. Tacoma: Privately Printed, 1980)
Timber Cruiser Map of the Area – On this map in the northeast corner is the property of John Algyer. This would have been where the school was located. South of there the Eureka Church is sketched on the map.
School Districts– The Old Fashioned Way – Map of Eureka District with other districts around it