The earliest settlers on the Key Peninsula were single men. By the 1870s, families arrived and children needed schooling. First classes were often held in a home or an already constructed building, but soon, one-room schoolhouses had been built in each community.
These simple structures, with a wood-burning stove, a slate or chalkboard, outdoor privy and hand-washing facility were the beginning of public education.
Lakebay School No. 17, near Palmer Lake, was built of logs before 1890 by the determination of Sarah Creviston. It became the first school registered on the peninsula. Creviston taught her own and a few neighbor children until a teacher was hired a few years later. By 1900, the children became too numerous for that school and moved to a new one, Whiteman Cove No. 118, near the intersection of Whiteman and Bay Roads.
Herron No. 100, begun as Blanchard in 1890s, consolidated with Lakebay in 1908 to become Lakebay No. 311. A new school was built when Home joined Lakebay, and the old school became a residence. The newer building, Lakebay No. 315, is now the Key Peninsula Community Services, senior center and food bank.
Elgin No. 31, now a private residence in Minter, began as a school in Lucinda Minter’s home in 1884. A postmaster changed the name of the Minter post office to Elgin but later the original community name was returned.
No. 32 was assigned to the first Longbranch school in 1885. Longbranch No. 87, at the north end of Filucy Bay, was built in 1898. These two combined to become No. 328, across from the Curl family farm. The gymnasium constructed by Works Progress Administration in 1931 is all that remains, now the Longbranch Improvement Club. No. 87, purchased by the Wyatts, was turned 90 degrees and moved across the road to become a residence.
Vaughn No. 35, also built in 1885, another log structure, is still in existence as a private residence. Some students came by boat from Eckert Island. By 1898, 40 students crowded the single room, so a two-room school, called “Huckleberry School,” was built in North Vaughn, where more families had settled.
Rock Creek No. 48, the second Vaughn school built about 1886, above and west of Rocky Creek, was for children from Carney and Wye Lakes, Rocky Bay and Victor. South Vaughn No. 94 on Lackey Road, built by 1900, was attended by children from “Little Sweden” on Roberts Road.
All Vaughn schools consolidated when elementary school # 321 was built near the high school in 1921. Students from Glencove and Elgin also Attended Vaughn at that time.
Purdy No. 36 and Wauna No. 69 combined teachers and students, meeting at each school for three to four months in order to keep them both open. The Springfield (later Wauna) school, in place by 1885, burned. Another, built a little higher on the same field, is now a private home.
The first Glencove No. 61 school, used from 1891 until 1912, was replaced by another higher on the hill. Students moved to Vaughn in 1941 and the school, remodeled into a home, still stands.
Home School No. 86 began in a tent, the home of George and Sylvia Allen, the day after their arrival, for children of the first three families settling the community. The first building of 1899 burned within two years. Classes were then held in Home Hall until a new school could be built on D Street. That building is now a residence.
Students wishing to continue their education beyond 8th grade rode a boat to Tacoma until 1903 when Vaughn Union High School #201 organized and held classes in the local Presbyterian Church. In 1906, the school was built, serving until 1942 when Vaughn and Gig Harbor joined to form Peninsula High School.
Nicole Niemann-Carr of SunnyCrest Farm has her third story in a national publication.
Previous stories about her life and the history of her home and farm were published in Farm & Ranch Living in 2006 and 2013. One was about calling cows and the next focused on Old Blue, the farm truck her grandfather (“Popa,”as she called him) Chuck Niemann used to drive.
She has also sent photos of son Colton to Hobby Farms magazine, one with his pony and another with a chicken.
The story appearing in the January issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine, “Life At The SunnyCrest Farm,”includes a full-page photo of Colton petting a chicken. He’s the sixth generation to live and farm there. The story is under a series about families and poultry farming’s tie to homesteading, a perfect fit for Niemann-Carr.
Andrew Olson came from Sweden in 1886 and invested in a homestead on land that was then considered Vaughn. Now considered Key Center with a Lakebay address, it’s been in the family for nearly 130 years.
Elmer Olson, youngest of Andrew’s sons, built a home near his widowed mother and married Elsie Bill. In 1929, they started a chicken business and registered the name SunnyCrest Farm.
They built seven chicken houses plus a large incubator house, still standing.
“It’s where we keep the brooder boxes for our chicks today,”Niemann-Carr says.
When she and her husband, Tony Carr, built their home in 2004, it was on the site of chicken house No. 5. Grandma Joyce Niemann had a plaque made that hangs in the Carr kitchen, stating that fact.
Olson was among the first in the area to get electricity, as it was needed for the incubators.
By 1939, the Olsons had dairy cows but continued to sell eggs on a smaller scale. Grandma Joyce got her license at 14 so she could deliver eggs to the local co-op at the Lakebay Marina.
Niemann-Carr recalls helping to feed the chickens at age 6, carrying a broom to ward off the aggressive rooster. He pecked her once, and she thinks Popa put him in the stew pot soon after.
The Niemanns were busy with cows instead of chickens. Nicole, who was enamored with horses, completed college degrees and was married.
She and Tony graduated with bachelor degrees in fitness and exercise science. He worked in construction while she complete her master’s of science in human movement and performance. She teaches Silver Sneakers classes at the YMCA, and Tony is a Gig Harbor firefighter.
“I thought we’d have a cute little house in Gig Harbor,”she said, adding that she wanted to stay near her family.
They soon decided to move back and live on the farm near her grandparents, with her parents just across the road.
When Colton was about a year old, they bought their first six chicks.
“Then it became 12, then 20, and now we have a flock of about 65 different breeds of chickens and sell eggs to a loyal following of customers,”she wrote in her story.
Tony built a main movable hen house that is moved every few weeks to new pasture.
In 2000, they added a horse, two cows and three bottle-fed calves. After four sets of bottle-feeding, they opted to breed their own. This year, the first calf since Popa Niemann raised them was born on the farm.
Niemann-Carr and the family also raise two pigs per year and cultivate a vegetable garden. She enjoys raising much of her family’s food on her historic family farm.
And yes, she plans to write more stories about her experiences.
Since it opened on Sept. 3, attendance at the Red Barn Youth Center in Key Center has nearly doubled, according to Program Director Jeremy Schintz.
Schintz and Laura Condon share the program director duties at the center, and both were hired in August.
The purpose of the Red Barn is to provide a safe place for kids to hang out after school, Schintz said.
“We started out with 10-12 kids every day, now we’re up to as many as 35 kids. In September we had 374; in October it was 504.
“We have a roster with more than 100 kids on it. We have kids that show up every day Monday through Friday. And we get new kids every week,” he said.
The kids follow a set routine when they arrive at the center.
“Basically when a kid comes through the door, we have them sign in and we have about 30-45 minutes of homework time. We have volunteer mentors and tutors who help them with homework.”
Every kid also gets an snack, he added.
“We have a cooking class that makes the snacks for the kids. All these kids eat lunch at 10:30, so by the time they get here at 2:30 or 3 o’clock they’re pretty hungry. So we’re giving them the independent skills of cooking and serving one another. It’s been working out pretty well,” Schintz said.
The cooking program is supported by KP residents, he said. “We have people who just show up with food. We have our needs list on our Facebook page. Be sure to look for Red Barn Youth Center on KP, because there’s also one in Indiana.”
There’s no cost to the kids who come to the Red Barn – everything is free, because organization is privately funded and also funded through special “friend-raising” events.
“And we hope to keep it that way,” Schintz said.
The Red Barn is open every day during the school year from 2:30-6:30 p.m. When school conferences are taking place, the doors open at 12:30.
Schintz and Condon plan to be open a couple days during holiday breaks, as well. “We’ll see how that works,” he said.
The organization works closely with Peninsula School District.
“PSD has been very supportive. They’ve wanted this program to happen for a long time, especially at the middle school and high school levels,” he said
The district has been instrumental in spreading the word that the Red Barn is open, and the school busses stop right at the corner, Schintz said. Parents pick-up their kids for the ride home.
Except for Schintz and Condon, the center is run almost entirely by volunteers –– and they always need more.
Many of the volunteers are retirees, including several retired teachers.
“And we even high school students and college kids. They’re really good at mentoring because sometimes they understand the math better than the retired math teacher does,” Schintz said.
The center runs background checks on everyone over age 16 who volunteers, he added.
There’s plenty of room for the center to grow. There’s a large multipurpose room that that will house a basketball court and other activities that is “just sitting empty while we’re waiting for the county to give us our permits to make it happen,” Schintz said.
“For our private funders to keep supporting us, we still need support every day from the community and we still need more volunteers,” he said.
According to Condon, the Community Service Center, along with the community, have been very responsive in supplying food donations, especially when prompted through Facebook and Red Barn website queries.
“We have been blessed with a giving community and it has been so encouraging with the amount of donations we have received thus far,” she added.
Incoming donations have decreased to where they have had to locate additional sources to fill that void.
Marci Cummings-Cohoe, a local teacher at Vaughn Elementary, suggested placing food bin drops at both Key Center and Lake Kathryn Village to help encourage additional food assistance.
The Red Barn reached out to Kip Bonds, Operations Manager for Stolz N.W. Inc. (Food Market) and were overwhelmed with his willingness to support so many causes in our community.
“We support our community as a way of saying thank you and giving back to the community that chooses to shop locally and support Key Peninsula businesses,” says Bonds.
For information visit redbarnkp.org or call (253) 884-1514. The Red Barn is located at 15821 84th Street KPN in Lakebay.
Arlene Babbitt: “My brothers Gerry and Joe Visell built a giant snowman in 1955. The snow was 6 inches deep and school was closed. Joe said Gerry, 21, carved much of it with an ax. Mom couldn't believe what a cute guy he turned out to be, so had to take a picture of it.”
Ann Craven: “Christmas Eve day 1941, the Army was evacuating Kodiak, Alaska. Some longtime friends of ours were coming to Seattle on a Navy ship. We were living with relatives in West Seattle and were glad to have them with us. Since they got out with only layers of clothes on their backs, we had a lot of shopping and wrapping to do. It was the most exciting Christmas ever.”
Dorene Paterson: “My mom’s family was poor coming through the depression. My grandfather worked at many jobs, with only a third-grade education.
When we were kids, grandpa came over every Christmas with an old sock for each of us with whole walnuts and an orange (and such) in them.
We thought it was pretty weird since we grew up with chocolates and little toys for stocking stuffers. We always gave him big hugs and thanked him. We appreciated it and ate the treats even though we thought it was a strange thing to do. It was good. Not until I read ‘Little House on the Prairie’ to my kids did I realize how much of a sacrifice it must have been back in the Depression days to have those things to make Christmas special for your children.”
Kris Morrison: “As the girls were growing up, we put a wooden manger under the Christmas tree. At the end of each day, we talked about what we did for others, then put a piece of straw in the manger to represent that the good things done for our fellow man prepared the way for the baby Jesus.
As I worked odd shifts and many holidays as a nurse, my girls had years when ‘Santa came to our house first.’ Knowing it would be hard to rouse them from their beds at 4 a.m. to see what was under the tree, I tape recorded a male co-worker shouting, ’Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas’ and stomping around. My husband gathered the kids for their bath while I rushed to get everything set up for Santa. I popped in the tape and went to help with the baths. By the time they heard Santa, they were drying off and rushed out to try to catch him.”
Marianne McColley: “A growing-up tradition was the Christmas Eve lutefisk dinner at Grandma Holman's in Vaughn. There were those who fairly slurped the gelatinous fish with melted butter and white sauce (which gave it its flavor) and those who quailed at the thought of touching it to our lips. We asked to have the meatballs passed instead. The reward for the patience and forbearance of the younger set was that the dishes were done by moms, aunties and grandma. The presents were opened as soon after as possible. The lutefisk scent lingered in the air, definitely compatible with the evergreen aroma of Christmas.”
Kathy Ueland: “Our Christmas mornings are often taped and sent to family out of state to enjoy. Starting when the girls were really young, Mrs. Claus has come early and left each person new slippers and pajamas to open on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, we are each wearing our brand new night clothes and ready to be on camera.
For two weeks prior to Christmas, we make a list of people who are shut in, sick or who we’d like to give a gift from our hearts too.
We make 13-17 different kinds of cookies and package them up in small gift bags to share. This tradition allows us many evenings of cookie baking while watching our favorite Christmas movies, sharing stories and laughs and thinking of the special people in our lives who will enjoy our small treats.
One highlight of Christmas morning was seeing the beautiful clothes my mom had sewn for us.
She always knew our favorite colors and styles. Now that I have children, it is amazing to watch her making special things for her nine grandchildren. That special surprise on Christmas morning is back and even better, watching that smile of joy light up my children's faces as they open their special handmade gifts.”
Ron Schillinger: “My father, Ron Schillinger, was 50 percent German and 50 percent Scottish. His German-side tradition was to go out into the woods prior to Christmas and cut two live Christmas trees. One tree in the house was decorated with indoor lights, ornaments and tinsel.
The other tree was put up outside in the front yard and decorated with outdoor lights and ornaments.
In later years, dad moved the outside tree out onto our dock on Vaughn Bay. I will always remember that the outside tree needed at least four guide wires to keep it up in all the windy weather. I also remember how beautiful a reflection the dock tree made in the bay water. The outside tree decorating became a wonderful three-generation family event: parents, kids and grandkids.”
Jan Coen: I remember our family always trekking up to grandma's house on the hill and all the extended family gathering for a huge Norwegian dinner with lutefisk and all the trimmings. Of course, all we little ones were off at tables by ourselves with the usual tricks of ‘how many olives can you put on your fingers’ and how much lefse you could eat. It wasn't Christmas without the lefse.”
It was an uncomplicated time with far less expectation of loads of gifts, more excitement of being together for a time. I remember being taken to the ‘five and dime’ store and having a whole $3 to spend for gifts. I bought something for each of the family and had enough money. Wrapping each little token gift was so exciting, and presenting the tiny vase or other gift brought such pride. I wish for all families at Christmas that simple joy of family and sharing.”