Our School

  • There's no doubt that Franklin Elementary School is an intriguing part of Spokane history. Architecturally, the brick construction, wavy glass windows, and stone foundation give even the casual street observer a feeling of timeless tradition.

    Modern Franklin

    The Franklin School in more modern times.

    Landscaped with huge, ancient pines, a roundabout cement walkway, and a granite threshold, Franklin continues to be a focal point in this community. Facing the south, Franklin School majestically looks upon the city. Franklin was the product of master architect, Loren Rand. It reflects a neo-Classical influence that made Rand famous for several schools and buildings in the area. Rand's buildings included Lewis and Clark High School, First Presbyterian Church, banks, stores, and high end homes. Although many of Rand's schools have not survived the bulldozer, his stunning design of fluted columns are still noted at Franklin's entrance. The following paragraphs depict the history of this longstanding campus in Spokane, Washington.

    Stepping inside the building, the feel and ambience is immediate. Franklin's tall ceilings, wooden stairways, and hardwood floors welcome students, parents, and teachers. Worn indentations on the stairway landings are testaments to Franklin's long heritage. The single pipe steam radiator system provides welcoming, old-style warmth on cold winter mornings.

    For 100 years, the Franklin School has played a huge part in the surrounding area. Not only has Franklin provided an excellent education to tens of thousands of students, but it has also brought this neighborhood together. Known as the "Franklin Community," the common goals of education, teamwork, acceptance, and love-of-learning remain.

    The Franklin School had an earlier existence in downtown Spokane. Completed in 1889, nearly one hundred years after the death of Benjamin Franklin, the original Franklin school was located on Front and Grant Streets. As the school was preparing to open its doors in September, the Great Fire of Spokanedestroyed 32 square blocks of downtown on August 4, 1889. This was a remarkably sad time for the city with millions of dollars in damages. A distance away from the flames, the newly built Franklin was out of harm's way.

    That building cost $30,000 to build but it did not stay at that location. With a growing downtown and railroad, the original Franklin School was closed down in 1908. The railroad truly wanted the land where the Franklin School was planted however, and there were disputes over a fair price. It was headline news on December 10, 1909, that Judge Huneke's courtroom jury decided that the Milwaukee Railroad would need to pay the school district $115,000 for the building and land. The city ledger showed a final sales amount of $116,777.40 in this condemnation matter. Interestingly, just a decade earlier, the school had been valued at only $5000. Attorney Ed Huneke, Judge Heneke's grandson, explained that in a condemnation matter the railroad, like the State, could claim property--but needed to pay for it. After the railroad purchased the school and land the place was gutted by fire, allegedly the handywork of a firebug. Limited water pressure impaired the task of putting out the fire which started in the basement. The railroad declared $25,000 in damages and the place was demolished in 1910. There is little doubt that those were hustling and bustling times in Spokane's history; a growing city advancing in all directions.

    Old Franklin

    The original Franklin School built in 1889.

    The original Franklin School was located along Front Street (now Trent) directly across from what was then the Northern Pacific roundhouse. This was about six blocks east of Division Street, on Trent along the north side. One can only imagine the distraction of trains and noise that were in close proximity to the school. If nothing else, the temptation to view those monstrous locomotives from the schoolhouse windows would have been great. No doubt, more than one lad put pennies on the tracks to later find them squished. It's fun to note the recorded costs that were needed to operate the early Franklin School for the 1906-1907 school year: furniture, $140.19; telephone, $27.00; repairs, $283.77; teacher's pay, $7,139.12; janitors, $861.70; fuel, $604.47; lights, $18.50; and teaching supplies, $83.69-- for a grand total of $9,601.17. Unfortunately, the original Franklin is completely gone and there are no physical signs that the school ever existed. Now, Washington State University's Spokane branch resides on the land where the original Franklin once stood.

    The old Franklin School has historical significance because it was used as a jail during the infamous Free Speech Fights of Spokane. In 1909, the building had been abandoned and stood vacant and in legal limbo. With the railroad, lumber, mining, and orchard industries nearby, physical laborers were in high demand. Many of these working class people were immigrants, many were migratory, and many others were Spokane citizens. All of them were trying to feed themselves and/or their families.

    In 1909, thirty-one employment agencies lined Stevens Street in Spokane. Known as "labor sharks," most of these businesses were in cahoots with the foremen of various industrial operations. Charging a dollar a job to each worker, these agencies were directing workers to jobs that either did not exist, or to ones that did not pay their workers. The abuses became so dreadful and blatant that the Industrial Workers of the World or the I.W.W. carved a foothold in Spokane. Considered a union organization, members known as "Wobblies," began to speak publicly regarding Spokane's dirty secret. Crates were overturned and Wobblies spoke out on street corners. Rebelling against a squelch ordinance designed to keep them silent, Spokane Wobblies were arrested in great numbers, around 500. Word of these civil rights violations washed across the country. The famous Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to Spokane, published the abuses in The Industrial Worker, and joined the cause--complete with an arrest too.

    Jailers and Guards

    November 12, 1909 Spokesman Review photograph: Armed with rifles, policemen Dugger and Willis guard I.W.W. prisoners at the old Franklin School.

    After the city jail was filled with Wobblies, many more were imprisoned in the abandoned Franklin school. An arrangement with the army offered to hold more at Fort George Wright. Reportedly, three prisoners died after their release from the old Franklin school. Refusing to chop and haul firewood, Wobblies in the school were so cold that they tore molding from the walls to burn for warmth. Some went on hunger strikes. Prisoner James Stark kept a diary describing how the prisoners were badly beaten and abused by the police guards; eyes were blackened, teeth were broken, clothing torn, and there was much blood. As word got out, more and more Wobblies came to Spokane to fight for free speech and the freedom of their brothers. Many Spokane citizens were complaining too about the prison costs and treatment of the Wobblies. In the end, the Spokane authorities relented because of law suits and large numbers of Wobblies. Within a year, the police chief and four policemen were fired, the squelch ordinance was "put on ice," and 19 employment agencies were closed down--the primary reason why the I.W.W. spoke out in the first place. According to Flynn, Mayor N.S. Pratt admitted to knowing that the employment agencies were dishonest and that he had helped many workers get back thousands of their rightfully earned dollars. Importanly, the I.W.W. wanted change through the pen and tongue, and not the violence that was brought upon them. It seems ironic that the chapter of this once beautiful and peaceful school, ended so violently. 

    The new Franklin School at 2627 East Seventeenth Avenue was completed in 1909 at a cost of $45,000 according to newspaper reports. In those early days, and much of the 1900s, grades went from first through eighth. During some years, double shifts and A/B sections accommodated large quantities of students.

    One old timer who lived in the area recalled that when Franklin was being built, horse drawn wagons came up the hill and delivered building supplies along Seventeenth Avenue, a dirt road then. It wasn't until the early 1930's that Seventeenth Avenue was paved. The "Lincoln Park" streetcar was entered into service at about this same time. It held 52 passengers and ran from downtown, along Seventeenth, to Ray Street. Can you imagine riding inside that streetcar with the windows open, smelling the lilacs, and enjoying the ride?

    First Graders 1916

    1916 first graders in a Franklin classroom.

    Besides a sturdy, well-built school, relic treasures of those early days remain. Class pictures, letters, and articles depict a vibrant school dedicated to education, rigor, clubs, and "quiet hallways." Some things never change at Franklin.

    Eight Graders 1918

    1918 photograph taken of eighth graders on the front steps of Franklin.

    The north side of the school overlooks the city of Spokane, now partially obscured by tall pines. From the balcony and north windows, one can view the playground, ball field, and portables like a bird. An iron mesh fire escape with steep stairs still remains, and connects the upper floor with the ground. In fact, up until the mid 1980's this fire escape was still used in routine fire drills. Girls and teachers alike, who wore high heels and/or skirts were faced with the daunting task of gracefully stepping down the steep mesh stairs. Many a past student, and one or two of the dated staff, recall going down those stairs. Today, other routes are used for drills.

    As mentioned earlier, much of Franklin is heated with what is known as Single Pipe Radiator Heat. Here, steam travels up to individual radiators through a large diameter pipe, condenses into water, which then travels back to the boiler through the same pipe. What makes the system so interesting is that while the heating steam travels upward, the condensed water travels downward by gravity back to the boiler through the same port. A small valve on each radiator bleeds the system of air and a soft "chicka-chicka-chicka" sound is intermittently heard. A substantial portion of the basement is dedicated to the mammoth equipment used to heat the building and provide fresh air. This system was a precursor to the Double Pipe Systems that were so prevalent in yesteryears, and remain so today. A more efficient gas boiler now provides steam for the building. The huge air exchangers and plenums put into use nearly a century ago are still working to provide fresh air to the building. A basement tour reveals intriguing technology that is reminscent of the Titanic.

    In the old days, coal was used to heat the Franklin boilers. When coal burns it leaves behind clinkers that are a rough, glassy byproduct. Custodians at Franklin were commissioned to remove the clinkers each day and dump them over the bank behind the school. One such custodian, Mr. Coobaugh, warned students to not touch the clinkers because they were often hot. After years of accumulation, the early playground was largely surfaced with clinkers. Reportedly, many a slice, scrape, bump, and bruise were suffered on the playground of clinkers. The playground has long since been paved, and the playground equipment areas are padded with tanbark. In the main boiler room, coal and clinkers can still be found.

    The bank that separates the upper and lower playgrounds is largely composed of clay. For years, various classes would collect the reddish clay from the bank, shape it, and have it kiln fired as a permanent keepsake. On occasion, it was reported that fossils were found at this location. If you or an ancestor have one of these keepsakes, and would like to share, we'd be delighted to see it.

    In 1931, before the major expansion in 1953, a framed multi-purpose auditorium/gym was added to the east side of the campus. Here, meetings, rainy day recess, plays, and other functions were held. Two narrow, arched, brick entries connected it to the main building. Those bricked archways can be seen today; they are observed from the east parking lot and are filled in with bricks, and are the only physical evidence that the stick framed structure once existed. Unlike the brick construction of the main building, the auditorium was of a different breed. Joan and Don Sayler, who attended Franklin from 1938-1943, were interviewed in 1989. They recalled that their eighth grade school play was held in this room. In fact, that's where they met and, as sweethearts, they later married. For years, a Mrs. Foster taught piano lessons to students for 25 cents a lesson in this room. The framed multi-purpose room was removed in the late 1950's and its spot is now a parking lot. Mark Erickson, who attended Franklin in the late 1950's and 1960's indicated that the auditorium was moved to Ferris High School and was used as the Health classroom.

    Brothers, Robert and Ray Mosher attended Franklin in the 1940's and 1950's. According to Bob and Ray, the wood frame auditorium had a stage on the north side of the building with maroon colored curtains that could be drawn closed. An upright piano sat along the east wall just below the stage and was used for choral events and talant shows. The building had double doors that faced south on 17th Avenue. There were windows above the door and along the Mt. Vernon side. The space was heated with steam radiators that were situated along the east and west walls, had dark stained fir wood floors, wooden benches, and a tall ceiling. The gym was a busy place that could probably accommodate the entire student body in a packed pinch.

    Ray (1949-57) recalled that band practice occurred in this space and was conducted by Mr. Fuller of Lewis and Clark. Ray indicated that the auditorium was isolated from the rest of the school so "...we didn't bother other classes--only Mr. Fuller." Of interest, Ray recalled seeing a couple of Rube Goldberg Machine shows in the auditorium. These unique shows were offered by a local man, Herman Hansen, whose name surfaced when his daughter, Barbara Hansen Sarp (1944-53), read this article. Each year Herman spent weeks creating a new, incredible machine which ran flawlessly. He did this during the time his chidren, Barbara and Colin (1947-56), attended Franklin. In fact, Herman and his wife, Pat, were very active in the PTA and other school functions. Rube Goldberg machines were intricate, complex, and mind boggling. They would perform a simple task like pouring a cup of water or lighting a candle. Rube Goldberg machine

    Humorous sketch of a Rube Goldberg Machine.

    Using marbles, troughs, chains, levers, and other mechanical wizardry, the machine would automatically go through its actions leading up to a grand finale. The entire movement of the machine might take 5 minutes to go through its process. Needless to say, this was hugely entertaining to Ray and the other students.

    Bob Mosher remembered that coed dancing and volleyball occurred in the auditorium. Both Mosher brothers started piano lessons with a Mrs. Florence Ehrenberg. They began lessons at school and then later at Mrs. Ehrenberg's "grand old home" on Cook Street, just south of Altamont Street. Bob also indicated that a Miss Davis taught voice at Franklin and a couple of other schools.

    Bob recalled that his kindergarten class (1945-46) was held in a converted coat closet on the west side of the original building. He also recalled that classmate Bo Brian, lived in the house along Mt. Vernon Street, that later became the kindergarten house where brother Ray attended.

    The basement of the original school was a busy place too. Storage rooms, and the boys and girls bathrooms were down there. With bathroom pass in hand, many a student have vanished into the bathrooms-only to be retrieved later by a teacher, returned to the classroom, and asked to work. Along the east end of the basement, Ray Mosher recalls that tumbling classes were held there. He also remembers the basement being used for bomb/fallout drills. Today, the basement is used for a variety of activities, including the Science Fair. Mr. Potts, the head custodian, waxes the cement floor to a beautiful shine.

    Franklin was a booming school and in 1941, parent groups helped purchase the house along Mt. Vernon Street and the land behind it. Money for this project was partially obtained through card parties, dinners, dances, and socials. The procured land became the grassy ball field and the house was transformed into a kindergarten. Parents helped convert it and they built the miniature furniture used inside. Since the district did not sponsor a kindergarten, a fee was charged to parents for this service. Before the purchase of the house, kindergarten was held in a cloak closet.

    In years past, it was mandated or expected that teachers would remain "unmarried" and "without child." If a teacher decided to marry, she would need to quit teaching. The idea was that a given teacher's attention should be solely focused on students...and nothing else...not even a mate or family. Besides that, what on earth would young minds think if their teacher was married or, worse yet, married and morphing pregnant! Of course this was a double standard involving the genders and one that would not last. Recently, I was told that the issue simply revolved around childhood diseases and the dangers of pregnancy, schools, and germs. This could be so. Diseases, such as chickenpox and measles, were far more dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babes of yesteryear. Fortunately, times do change. The first teacher at Franklin School to get married and remain teaching was Beverly Byers-Donner, and the year was 1945. This was a postwar time which may have influenced this longstanding attitude. Vaccinations were on the scene too. Now, it is not uncommon for professionals to teach right up to the end of their pregnancy.

    For decades, a bust of Benjamin Franklin remained on the stairway landing between the first and second floors. Over the term, jillions of students filed past his smirking face as they rounded the corner to go up or down the stairs. His nose shows wear and tear where students amused themselves by touching it as they walked by. Some even put their pencils in his nostrils... and the scars remain. Now, the same bust safely resides on top of a glass case above the entry stairway. As an aside, pendulum or wind-up school clocks were used to keep time in the school. Lucky and privileged eighth graders, were honored with the duty of setting the clocks once a month. Today, integrated clocks keep (near) perfect time, and security systems monitor the entire campus.

    In the fall of 1952 nearly 500 students were attending Franklin School. It was the only school in the district that incorporated double shifting so everyone could be taught. In this same year there were 53 kindergarteners taught by Gladys Hoagland. Newspaper accounts reported that Franklin was bulging. More room was needed and in 1953, a $280,000 expansion to the west was completed. The new wing included classrooms, lockers, a library, multi-purpose room, and kitchen. The kindergarten class returned to the main building at some point after 1953, and the converted kindergarten was torn down sometime in the 1960's.

    In 1989, marking 100 years after the first school was constructed, Franklin educators brought students closer with its past. Students were commissioned to interview old alumni. Several old-timers came forward with fascinating memories, some of which are reflected here. They spoke of the education that they received at Franklin, the personalities of the teachers and principals, and the caring environment that shrouded this campus. They spoke of a booming era, a certain innocence, and how a nickel would buy a huge chocolate bar. Many of those alumni went on to become physicians, politicians, and other important leaders who attribute their educational foundation to the Franklin School. One such leader is the Honorable Dirk Kempthorne, former Governor of Idaho, and Secretary of the Interior. Another is longtime writer Doug Clark, of the Spokesman Review (perhaps some of Clark's ideas were hatched from his early days at Franklin).  As a matter of fact, Clark's name is still etched in chalk on the auditorium wall; an infraction that nearly cost him his graduation according to Clark.

    Doug Clark Filet

    Doug Clark, Alumnus and Spokesman Review Columnist.

    Others include Mt. Everest climber, Dawes Eddy and reporter, Randy Shaw. Still, many others raised families in the area and helped build the city we know as the Lilac one. A Spokesman Review article published June 10, 1928 extolled the Franklin School's commitment to the teaching of self-reliance and group cooperation. Still today, the caliber of education promoted at Franklin produces students who are smart, cooperative, and caring people.

    With a history of growth, two portable classrooms on the north side were added to the upper playground area in 1955. A third, larger one was added at some point. In the summer of 1986, an additional classroom was added upstairs, and smaller rooms housed a guidance center. Due to a change in the district's educational structure, the guidance center left Franklin and was consolidated elsewhere. In 1987, part of the lower hallway was divided and turned into an additional room. It now houses a meeting area and teachers' room. The school's original kitchen remains as part of this area.

    The same classrooms that taught students a century ago, are still doing their job in timeless surroundings. While times and teachers may have changed, the need for the Three Rs have not. Tens of thousands of Franklin alumni and parents would certainly agree. Franklin's tradition is evident here, even today with busy classrooms, bustling hallways, and responsible youngsters. In 2004, Franklin earned the National Blue Ribbon Award and, since 1982, Franklin has hosted the parent participation program, APPLE.

    In 1985, the Spokesman Review reported on Franklin School's participation in the "Million Cranes For Peace." Headline news announced, "President Reagan will be the recipient of a Thousand Cranes." Students here folded 1000 origami cranes as part of the project which were sent to President Ronald Reagan. The message was clear...Peace.

    Students and adults are delighted by Franklin's history, especially where a common building, neighborhood, and goal knit many generations together. Students here enjoy reviewing pictures, comparing present day landmarks, hearing stories, and pondering an earlier time at Franklin too. Oral histories offered by alumni are fascinating and offer a glimpse into a different era at Franklin...and a changing world. Students, teachers, and others can relate to such information because of the building and culture that holds people together. Some of the current students here have parents, grandparents, or great grandparents who also attended Franklin. Nearly everyone in this community knows at least a few people who attended this great school. Since the current building was erected in 1909, and even before that, everyone at Franklin School has had the same goal--to learn and to have fun. And besides that, it was Benjamin Franklin who said, "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."

    Centennial parade
    Franklin Centennial Parade

    On May 21 and 22, 2009, Franklin celebrated a century of teaching and learning excellence. There was an Alumni Reception and a mammoth street parade and festival. The events attracted hundreds of people and the occasion was remarkable. See pictures of the Alumni Reception or the Parade.

    We can use your help!

    Do you have any Franklin School memories, stories, or photographs that you would like to share? We would be delighted to add your memories to the growing collection of photographs and oral histories. Click here for oral history ideas and a format. Please email or mail your memories, pictures, or other artifacts to:

    Brian Shute, Ph.D.
    Franklin School Historical Society
    Franklin Elementary School
    2627 E. 17th Avenue
    Spokane, WA 99223-5100


    Lucia Gilbert 1890-1900
    Carolyn MacKay 1900-1901
    Lida Putnam 1901-1906
    Georgia Meek 1906-1908
    D.B. Heil 1908-1909
    Meb Tower 1909-1911
    Frances Weisman 1915-1918
    Gleanor Worcester 1918-1923
    Oda Most 1923-1924
    Pauline Drake 1924-1928
    Bess Turner 1928-1939
    Austin Henry 1939-1944
    Lewis Stevens 1944-1945
    Walter Wildley 1946-1954
    Clifford Hardin 1954-1961
    Margaret (Peg) Tully 1961-1964
    Howard Martinson 1964-1969
    Lloyd Breeden 1969-1976
    Seth Huneywell 1976-1978
    William Reuter 1978-1980
    Elva Dike Mote 1980-1988
    Linda Haladyna 1988-1994
    Mike Cosgrove 1994-1997
    Sonja Ault 1997-2002
    Mary Seeman 2002-2006
    Mickey Hanson 2006- Present

    Article by Brian Shute, Ph.D.