CAMANO ISLAND — The 100-year-old schoolhouse where Linda Demetre sets up her easel holds a local history as colorful as her oil paintings.
The schoolhouse is coming up on its 100th birthday. Earlier this month, it was added to the Washington Heritage Register, a statewide list of historical locations.
The school was built in 1916 by pioneers in the logging community of Mabana near the south tip of Camano Island. At the time, there was no bridge to the island, just a wharf where boats moved more timber than people.
“If the walls could talk,” Demetre said during a visit to the schoolhouse last week. “There’s so much history here.”
The 73-year-old artist lives nearby and spends much of her time at the schoolhouse, a white building with red accents — the doors the roof, the window frames. It is tucked into the woods off South Camano Road. When sunlight streams through the windows and highlights the wood floor, red rugs and white walls inside, she’ll paint all day long.
“I can just get lost,” Demetre said. “I’ll be painting and six hours later realize what time it is.”
She applied for the heritage register to protect the schoolhouse for future generations, she said. Some of the most influential figures in the island’s history left their legacy there.
Nils Anderson, a Swedish immigrant nicknamed “Peg Leg” after losing his leg in logging accident, owned the tidelands on the south part of Camano Island in the early 1900s and established the community of Mabana.
The school opened as Anderson Hall and the first teacher was Nils’ 18-year-old daughter, Pearl. Nils and Pearl Anderson went on to be county and state leaders.
Pearl in particular was a trailblazer. She became superintendent of Island County schools at age 24 and later served as a state representative and then senator. By then she’d married and was Pearl Wanamaker. She was the state superintendent of public instruction for 16 years and oversaw the elimination of one-room, multi-grade schoolhouses and formation of junior and senior high schools. She’s also known for her fight to get the Deception Pass Bridge built during the Great Depression.
“She was really quite the pioneer lady,” Demetre said.
In 1926, the Mabana school merged with Algers Bay and Triangle Bay schools. By 1936, older students rode the bus to Stanwood. The school became a community hall. Nils Anderson donated it to the Ladies Aid Society in 1962.
It was run-down when Jackie Longo bought it in 1984 and converted it into a home with the expertise of a Seattle architect, according to Demetre’s research. She stayed true to the original building while upgrading electric and plumbing, installing a bathroom and kitchen and lowering the attic to create a loft. The main classroom remains and the bell on the roof still has a strong, clear ring.
“I’m the sixth owner, but everybody’s kept its integrity and really kept it natural,” Demetre said.
She bought the schoolhouse on a handshake deal. She’d been leasing a building behind it as an art studio and her landlord decided to sell three years ago.
Now her paintings hang around the old classroom. A man and woman dancing and an idyllic red barn scene flank a blackboard with an alphabet above it. The space is a balance of history, art and nature.
Demetre sees deer, raccoons and eagles outside her windows and can catch a glimpse of water between the thick trees.
“It’s a bit on the wild side, and we’re going to keep it that way,” she said.
The school is full of connections between past and present, Demetre said. Volunteers with the Mabana Flames Fire Auxiliary meet there sometimes. During her research, Demetre learned that the group, formerly the Women’s Auxiliary, held a fundraiser at the school shortly after it opened and collected $5 to donate to Syrian refugees.
“I’m so glad we got this registered as a historic site,” Demetre said. “I think we owe it to our heritage to preserve these old buildings.”
Demetre was a flight attendant for 37 years and went to art classes and museums around the world. Now she juggles her art with volunteering and being a busy grandma to 5-year-old twins and an 8-month-old baby. She’s been married for 27 years to the next door neighbor she fell in love with at an opera. They moved to Camano Island in 1989.
Demetre sells her art at galleries and during events such as the open studio tour put on by the Camano Arts Association in May. She likes to paint in the quiet of the old school but wishes the walls could share the stories they hold.
“It’s kind of magical here,” Demetre said. “I never take it for granted, I tell you. I think it was meant to be.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.