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The 8 Oldest Schools in Seattle Are Ancient

Mother and pupil and kids holding hands going to school in first class with schoolbag or satchel walking to school bus, Parent and son,sister preschool

The 8 Oldest Schools in Seattle Are Ancient

Seattle, a city with a rich cultural history, traces its roots back thousands of years to when Native American tribes, primarily the Duwamish and Suquamish people, first inhabited the region. Notably, in 1851 Arthur A. Denny pioneered the founding of Seattle by bringing his scout party to establish an original settlement called “New York-Alki.” 

However, due to unbearable conditions, including a lack of resources at that location, they decided it was best to relocate to areas that are at the current downtown Seattle with more dependable climatic conditions as well as bountiful supplies. During this fascinating period, the word “Seattle” was coined as a tribute to Chief Si’ahl, also acknowledged as Chief Seattle, the leader of both the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes.

The city’s educational history traces back to the mid-19th century, with the establishment of the University of Washington in 1861. Public education quickly expanded with the formation of numerous schools, such as Yesler School and Central School, most of which don’t exist today. 

This post explores the eight oldest schools operating in Seattle today. We’ll highlight their founding dates, transitions over the decades, current academic offerings, and notable figures that attended the schools. 

University of Washington

1410 NE Campus Parkway, Seattle, WA 98195

The University of Washington is a large public four-year research university in Seattle that is the flagship university for five other universities in Washington state. The school was founded in 1861, making it one of the oldest universities on the West Coast. It had an elementary and high school section that served as the first public educational facility in the city. 

Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens recommended the formation of a university in the state in 1854. Arthur Denny, one of the Seattle founders and a member of the territorial legislature, managed to petition the legislature to vote for the establishment of a university in Seattle in 1858. 

Denny, alongside other pioneers, donated 10 acres on Denny’s Knoll to serve as the new university’s campus. John Pike was the school’s architect and builder. The school began operating on November 4, 1861, as the Territorial University of Washington. The school struggled initially, closing three times; in 1863 for low enrollment and in 1867 and 1876 due to funds shortage. 

In 1889, a special legislative committee was formed to find a new campus for the university and save it from encroachments, settling on land in Union Bay. The school shifted to the new campus in 1895. The university’s regents tried and failed to sell the old property, settling on leasing it instead. 

The two world wars brought military action to the school, with some facilities let out to the government to support the war. After World War Ⅱ, the school opened its School of Medicine in 1946, which remains one of the best medical schools in the nation. The school opened additional campuses in Tacoma and Bothell in 1990. 

The University of Washington is associated with many notable alumni and faculty, including 21 Nobel Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright Scholars, and other members of distinguished institutions. Some of the well-known figures include Bruce Lee, an actor, and martial artist; Joe Sutter, head of the Boeing 747 design team; and Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, a Grammy Award-winning jazz musician. 

University of Washington Sign
Established in 1861, the University of Washington has been a cornerstone of education for over 160 years.


The University of Washington in the News!

UW made a few headlines in the summer of 2023. Mainly with their sports program but a few more stories are coming out in the News for this Northwestern university.

Judge approves suit against UW over COVID-era tuition (July 6th, 2023)

University of Washington Athletics Selects REVELXP as Official Experience Provider (July 26th, 2023)

The University of Washington develops new fire-resistant, recyclable bioplastic capable of degrading in backyard (July 16th, 2023)

Holy Names Academy

728 21st Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112

Holy Names Academy is a private catholic all-girls college preparatory school serving students in ninth through twelfth grade. The school was founded in 1880 by the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. It is the oldest continually operating K-12 school in Washington state. 

The school began in two buildings at Second and Seneca Streets, with 21 students, one boarder, and a music student. The school’s growth forced it to relocate to a new building at Seventh and Jackson Streets.

The city’s growth at the turn of the 20th century and the 1904 planned regrading works forced the school to move again to what would become its current campus in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Construction began in 1906 and was completed in 1908. The chief architect and builder Albert Breitung designed the building in a Baroque Revival style.

The new school building accommodates all 12 grades, a boarding section, and a normal school for training teachers. It had 155-day scholars and 127 boarders. The normal school was shut down in 1930, the elementary unit in 1963, and the boarding section in 1967. 

The school has received numerous upgrades and renovations over the decades, including a chapel, music department room, locker room, and gymnasium. The school formed an advisory board in 1972 to facilitate the planning and fundraising for extensive renovation works after the Seattle Fire Department found the seven-decade-old building out of compliance. 

The advisory board evolved to become a functional Board of Trustees. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary shifted the managerial roles to the Board of Trustees in 1985. 

The school currently serves roughly 700 girls in grades 9-12. Holy Names Academy has nurtured numerous notable alumni, including Lynn Kessler, a Washington State legislator and House Majority Leader; Kathleen Ross, founding President of Heritage University; and Meagan Flynn, a supreme court justice in Oregon. 

Members Of Female High School Volleyball Team
With a commitment to excellence and a dedication to the success of each student, it's no wonder why the Holy Names Academy continues to lead the way.

©Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Seattle University

901 12th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

Seattle University is a private Jesuit university serving over 7,500 students in undergrad and graduate programs. The school is the largest independent university in the Northwestern United States. Its history traces back to 1891, when Adrian Sweere, S.J., took over a small parish elementary school. 

The school was named after the surrounding Immaculate Conception parish and didn’t offer a college education. In 1898, the school was renamed Seattle College and operated as a high school and college. Seattle College granted its first bachelor’s degree 11 years later. 

The school shifted its campus from First Hill to Interlaken Blvd in 1919 but returned permanently to First Hill in 1931. The same year, the college created a “night school” for women. The school changed its name to Seattle University in 1948. 

Numerous notable figures have called the university home, including

  • Linda N. Hanson, 19th President (2005–15) and president emerita of Hamline University
  • Duff McKagan, a bassist of Guns N’ Roses
  • Mohamed Alabbar, founder and Chairman of Emaar Properties known for large-scale projects such as the Burj Khalifa
  • John Spellman, 18th Governor of Washington
  • Elgin Baylor, NBA Hall of Famer

Seattle University sits on a fifty-acre campus in the First Hill neighborhood in downtown Seattle.

A group of university students at the library busy studying
Established in 1891, Seattle University continues to be one of the premier educational institutions in the Northwest.


John Stanford International School

4057 5th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98105

John Stanford International School, Latona Campus, is a top-rated public elementary school serving the Wallingford neighborhood. The school is under the Seattle Public Schools District. The school was founded in 1891 in a church annex as Lake Union School. 

The name was soon changed to Latona School. The current landmark school was built in 1906 as one of the nineteen wood-frame schoolhouses in the district. The buildings were designed by James Stephen, the school district’s architect. 

The school district added a three-story brick Renaissance-style building to the existing structure in 1917. The school established the Alternative Elementary program in 1975 and the Escuela Latona program in the 1980s. 

The school building was adopted as a historic City Landmark in 1998, carrying out a restoration project in 1999 for the eight-decade-old building. It reopened in 2000 as the John Stanford International School, Latona Campus. 

The school serves roughly 450 kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school offers a unique dual emersion program in two languages, Spanish and Japanese. Students spent the first half of the school day learning in English and the rest of the day in their respective dual immersion languages. The school maintains long waitlists due to the popularity of its bilingual programs.  

John Stanford International School offers a world-class learning experience for students from all backgrounds.


Seattle Pacific University

3307 3rd Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119

Seattle Pacific University is a private Christian liberal arts university in Seattle. The school serves roughly 3,443 students in undergrad and graduate programs on its 43-acre campus. The school was founded in 1891 as the Seattle Seminary by the Oregon and Washington Conference of the Free Methodist Church. 

The school was to train missionaries for their overseas service. Seattle Seminary changed its name to Seattle Seminary and College in 1913 and later to its current name in 1977. The school has remained in its original site since its inception and has had numerous upgrades. 

Petersons Hall is the second-oldest building on campus, built-in 1904. The structure currently hosts the School of Education and the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. It also has a sewing lab in its basement. Other landmark buildings in the school include Demaray Hall, Moyer Hall(1953), Gwinn Commons(1962), and Ames Library(1994). 

The school has served numerous notable alumni, including

  • Gaylord T. Gunhus, 20th Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army
  • Doris Brown Heritage, a five-time world cross-country champion
  • Jean Stothert, mayor of Omaha, Nebraska
  • David T. Wong, co-inventor of Prozac
  • Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari, Qatari Minister of Finance
  • Joseph Kearney, former athletic director at the University of Washington and Michigan State University

The Washington State Board of Education accredited the school in successive steps from 1921 through 1936. In 1936, it also received accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) and retained the accreditation to date. 

A university student looking at the camera smiling while working on her laptop.
Seattle Pacific University is one of the oldest schools in Seattle. Established back in 1891, it continues to provide students with a high quality education and valuable life experiences.


Seattle Preparatory

2400 11th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98102

Seattle Preparatory is a private Jesuit high school in Capitol Hill, Seattle. The school has a close history with Seattle University. It was founded in 1891 at St. Francis Hall on the Corner of Sixth Avenue and Spring Street. The new school had taken over from the co-ed diocesan school, Immaculate Conception. 

The students undertook a rigorous curriculum that mirrored the Ratio Studiorum, a rigid educational pedagogy established by the Jesuits in 1599 that included lessons in Greek, Latin, math, literature, religion, and science. By 1984, the school was no longer co-educational and would remain so until the 1970s. 

In 1894, the school moved to a new location on land purchased by the Province from Arthur Denny. It changed its name to “Seattle College” in 1898, though it only remained a college preparatory school and offered high school diplomas. 

In 1918, T.C. and Ella McHugh bought the Adelphia College, a Swedish Baptist seminary and school on North Capitol Hill, and donated the property to Seattle College. The school shifted to the new “Interlaken Campus” in 1919, Seattle Prep’s current location. 

In 1929, Seattle College(later named Seattle University) separated from the Seattle College High School and returned to First Hill Campus in 1931. In 1933, the Seattle College High School was renamed Seattle Preparatory School. Seattle Prep held its first graduation for female graduates in 1975 after becoming co-ed again. 

The school added more buildings as its population surged, including Fr. Christopher McDonnell SJ Hall in the 1950s, Peyton Hall in the 1960s, McHugh Gymnasium in the 1980s, and Ignatius Hall in the 1990s. 

Some notable figures that have attended the school include Tom Gorman, a professional tennis player; John McKay, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District Of Washington; and John Spellman, former governor of Washington. 

Happy college student writing equation on white board in class. Satisfied young girl solving math problem on whiteboard with classmates in background watching her. Proud high school student writing.
Ready to take on the world. Seattle Preparatory is a place of learning, inspiration and opportunity.

©Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

Ballard High School

1418 NW 65th St, Seattle, WA 98117

Ballard High School is a top-rated public school in the Seattle Public Schools district. The school traces its origins to 1901 and remains the city’s oldest continuously operating public high school. 

The Ballard School District added grades eleven and twelve to the existing Central High School, creating the first four-year high school in the Ballard area. The school was located at 5308 Tallman Avenue. It had three faculty members, including the principal, with the first graduating class of four holding their commencement on June 23, 1902.

The school was later renamed Ballard High School, with the student enrollment rising to 80 by 1905. Ballard became part of Seattle City in 1907, with the school shifting to the Seattle Public Schools system. 

Ballard High School moved to its current location during the Christmas of 1915. The school could accommodate 1,000 students, with 300 of them transferred from Lincoln High School. The school building was remodeled three times over the decades, in 1925, 1941, and 1959. 

The decades-old structure was demolished in 1997 due to asbestos contamination. The students were moved to the old Lincoln High Building as the construction of a new campus continued. The Lincoln building was also undergoing remodeling to convert it into a middle school, and Ballard High had to squeeze itself into using half the building. 

The construction of the new Ballard High School building was completed in 1999. The school returned to 1418 NW 65th Street to a campus that could hold over 1500 students. The school currently serves roughly 1,681 students in ninth through twelfth grade. 

Some notable figures that attended Ballard High include Thomas Alberg, a venture capitalist; Don Bies, a professional golfer; Jean Smart, an accomplished actress; and George Irvine, a former ABA player. 

A group of cheerful high school students on a break.
With roots dating back to 1901, this spot has seen generations of smart young people learning and growing.

©Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

Lincoln High School

4400 Interlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103

Lincoln High School is a public school under the Seattle Public Schools District with an interesting past. The school was at one point the largest in the district in the 1950s yet was later shut down in 1981 due to a declining population. Lincoln High’s history traces back to 1907.  

In 1906, Seattle Schools board officials decided to start a new high school in Wallingford, as Broadway High, the only public high school in the city then, had exceeded its capacity. Construction of a 30-room brick building with Jacobean architectural styling began and was completed in 1907. Locals had suggested the school be named Interlake Avenue, but the school board settled on Abraham Lincoln, after the nation’s 16th President. 

The school opened in September 1907 with 900 students. The student population had nearly doubled by its second year of operation, with every available space occupied by classrooms. The district began a major construction project in 1914 to expand the school. The school needed an additional 10-wooden annex by 1920. 

Lincoln’s congestion issues eased after the establishment of Roosevelt High School in 1922, which cut attendance in half. After World War Ⅱ, the school continued to experience exponential growth and was at one time the largest school in the city, housing 2,800 students. 

The school had operated as a three-year high school from its inception until 1971, when it converted to a four-year format. In 1981, the school was shut down due to dropping enrollment rates, the building age, and the school’s small campus size. 

The building remained in use over the next forty years, housing different Seattle Public Schools as their primary buildings underwent renovation; these include Ballard High in 1997-1998, Latona Elementary in 1999-2000, Roosevelt High in 2004-2006, Garfield High in 2006-2008, and Hamilton Middle in 2008-2010. 

The district decided to re-establish the school in 2017, comprehensively refurbishing it in 2017-2019 and opening it in the fall of 2019. The school has now reached full capacity for all four grades. 

Notable alumni that attended the school include Kay Bell, an NFL player; Phyllis Lamphere, former President of the Seattle City Council and Helene Madison, a three-time Olympic gold winner. 

Group of High School Students - Schools in Florida
Lincoln High School – a place of learning, where minds are sharpened and leaders are developed.


Invest in Your Child’s Future: Choose a School in Seattle 

Seattle has a fascinating history tracing back to the early 1850s. Its education system began a decade later, with numerous schools springing up. The University of Washington is the oldest continuously operating school in the state. 

The schools highlighted have decades of long-standing traditions of academic excellence, with some, such as John Stanford Elementary and Ballard High School, continuously ranked among the best schools in the state. They would be excellent picks for families searching for a new school in Seattle with a proven history of academic success. 

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