MUKILTEO – When Capt. George Vancouver landed on the shores of Point Elliott in 1792, he and his men were taken aback by the expanse of wild roses growing near the shoreline.
The name given to the place, Rose Point, was coined by Gen. William Broughton, a member of Vancouver’s expedition. In the 1890s, when a prominent Everett architect designed a Victorian-style school just up the hill from the beach, it was appropriately named Rose Hill School.
Rose Hill School didn’t stand the test of time. It burned to the ground in 1928.
Then, like a flower, it blossomed again.
As a school or a place to gather, Rose Hill School – later renamed Rosehill School and now called the Rosehill Community Center – is one of the last-standing icons of Old Town Mukilteo’s heritage. The history of the old concrete school, and the wooden school that preceded it, tells a story of the region’s growth and the architects who designed some of area’s most long-standing buildings.
One of the most controversial issues in Mukilteo is whether to renovate Rosehill or tear it down and build a new community center. The Mukilteo City Council is in the midst of public hearings to gather feedback on what to do with the building.
On Wednesday, about 25 people went to the community center to hear an architect lay out options. Mayor Joe Marine said the city needs to make a decision because of safety concerns with the aging building.
“We cannot continue to put off this decision,” he said.
But the building and what to do with it divides the town.
“If you look around in Mukilteo, you’re not going to find another building that’s touched so many lives,” said David Dilgard, an Everett Public Library historian who attended Rosehill School in the 1950s. “If you lose that, it’s just a shame.”
The original Rosehill School, which featured a wooden tower that suggested the onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, was built by Fredrick Sexton. Born in England, Sexton was one of the first architects to arrive in Everett during the railroad boom of the 1890s.
It was Sexton who designed Everett’s first brick building, which was also the city’s first bank – the Bank of Everett – on the southwest corner of Hewitt Avenue and Pine Street.
The first few years of the 1890s saw tremendous growth in the region. In Everett, capitalist Henry Hewitt Jr. had purchased hundreds of acres for the city, and work crews constructed shipyards, hotels, mills, homes and other buildings.
In that climate, Rose Hill School opened with 29 students in 1893.
By the time the school burned on St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, 1928, the school had 260 students and featured 11 rooms and an auditorium.
Beverly “Bevo” Ellis, who lives in Everett, was a child in Mukilteo when the school burned down. She wrote about the experience for the Mukilteo Historical Society.
She remembers men, women, children and barking dogs all heading for the fire. “When the cupola where the school bell hung was burning furiously and sparks were flying, the timbers gave way and the bell fell into the fire pit below, giving out one last mournful gong. This I remember most of all,” Ellis wrote in her article.
Firefighters believed the blaze was caused by a short circuit in the building’s electrical wiring.
Rosehill principal Erwin Black and Snohomish County Superintendent of Schools W.F. Martin went to Arlington and Pilchuck to get textbooks. Meanwhile, Rosehill students resumed their classes at the city’s four churches and at the Royal Neighbors Hall, which is now the Mukilteo Boys &Girls Club.
Within a week, the Mukilteo School District had plans for a new school.
The district selected architect Earl Wilson Morrison to design their new school. Like Sexton, Morrison also built several buildings during a boom time in the area’s history. Relying on the design of a school he was building in Everett, Morrison quickly drew up plans for a $60,000, two-story building with a basement and an auditorium that could double as a gym. Concrete would be one of the primary building materials, to make the school more fire resistant.
The new school opened to students by September the same year.
Many people who worked at or attended the new school still live in the area. State Rep. Brian Sullivan and Mukilteo City Councilman Bruce Richter are among the former students.
Larry Ames, 80, was Rosehill’s last principal. After finishing his naval service during World War II, he used the GI Bill to jump-start a career as an educator. He moved to Mukilteo in 1953 and got his first teaching job at Rosehill.
Last week, Ames sat beneath the sun outside the Rosehill Community Center, overlooking the same beachfront that had once inspired Vancouver’s crew. A slight breeze blew through the trees.
“I came over here for an interview. It was a day just like this,” said Ames, wearing a plaid short-sleeved shirt, tinted glasses and a green baseball cap stained with white paint. “I thought this would be a nice place to live.”
Concerned over the growing number of students in the district, officials replaced Rosehill with Explorer School in 1973.
After the move, Rosehill stood empty for at least three years, until a group of Mukilteo residents stepped in and negotiated for the city to acquire the building in 1977, according to the Mukilteo Historical Society. The group acquired a $100,000 state grant to renovate the building in 1978, replacing the roof and windows, remodeling the restrooms and adding a wheelchair ramp.
The building has never stood empty again.
“That’s why I love this building,” said Mukilteo resident Pat Kessler, who recently finished compiling a book about Rosehill’s architect, Morrison. “It just magically keeps on staying.”
Many features of Rosehill Community Center remain unchanged since 1928. There’s the archway around the building’s main entrance, hidden by the trees on Lincoln Avenue. There’s the large safe in a main floor office where Ames remembers working as principal. An original blackboard spans the front of a second-floor classroom.
State officials have said Rosehill could someday be placed on the state’s historic register if the roof is restored to its pre-1970s appearance, Kessler said.
The last time the building underwent repairs was in the mid-1990s. The building has been neglected because city officials over the years couldn’t decide whether to keep it or tear it down, Kessler said.
“I’d love to see the building historically restored, and I would love to see it be the keystone for some downtown renovations here,” she said.
Ames said he’d like to see Rosehill preserved. However, he said, he understands that he may be witnessing the final page of Rosehill’s long history.
“I like historical kinds of buildings, I have a good time when I visit them,” Ames said. “I also realize situations occur when you can only keep some things around for so long.”
Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.