Chambers Prairie School – Oldest Operating School Building In Thurston County



By Emmett O’Connell

The historic Chambers Prairie School is the oldest currently operating school building in Thurston County. For decades it was the center of the Chambers Prairie (and later East Olympia) community.

The Prairie Hall wood frame building broke ground in 1914 and opened two years later. The long construction period was apparently due to the isolated and rural nature of the community. It just took that long for materials to get to Chambers Prairie.  In the first year 38 students were split between two teachers (Miss Jennings and Miss Christensen) and eight grades.

There are other former school buildings still standing in Thurston County that are older than this 1914-vintage building (such as the Black Lake school built in 1910), but Chambers Prairie is the oldest still operating as a school.

The building currently houses the private Olympia Waldorf School. The organization behind the school, the Olympia Waldorf Education Association, was founded in 1985. Five years later, after years in rented spaces, they moved into the historic Chambers School building. The Waldorf School’s presence on the site expanded with a new middle school building in 1999 and a Kinderhaus in 2007.

The community of Chambers Prairie was established in the 1840s and was named after brothers Andrew and David Chambers who settled the area. It was previously known as Eatons Prairie and kept the Chambers moniker for almost 100 years.

Both the unincorporated community and school changed names in 1933 when they became East Olympia. The name change apparently benefited the larger city of Olympia to the north. Because some passenger railroads did not come through Olympia, but rather much further south, the train depot for Olympia was confusingly located in Chambers Prairie.

The East Olympia School District was formed in 1937. The need for a school district was at least in part to help fund an expansion of the current school. In 1938, the current north/south running wing of the school was constructed. That expansion swelled the teaching ranks at the school from two to three. Those three teachers split duties between first and second grades, third and fourth, and fifth through eighth. By the 1950s, the school added a fourth teacher.

Don Trosper in “A Rich Heritage, Tumwater Area Schools Since 1845” describes some of the color in the early years at the Chambers Prairie School:  The school building was heated by a wood stove. Next to the stove was the school’s only drinking fountain. Whenever a spark jumped out of the stove, which happened occasionally, whoever was closest used the water from the fountain to splash the ember.

The East Olympia district  eventually brought in two neighboring districts and then consolidated with the Tumwater School district in the 1960’s.

The original prairie school building was in use by the Tumwater district until the late 80’s when  another (much larger at more than 40,000 square feet) East Olympia school  was built less than a mile south.

The original school name was put back in use when the neighboring North Thurston Public Schools district built another Chambers Prairie school, three miles up the railroad northeast.

Resources and Additional Reading
Olympia Waldorf School: About Us
Chambers Prairie School historic register listing
A Rich Heritage, by Don Trosper

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