History of Our School
Prior to 1855 the site of Graham Hill Elementary School was part of the Duwamish Tribe’s territory. They lived and thrived here in the abundance of this region. In 1855 the Duwamish, under the leadership of Chief Si’ahl (Sealth), exchanged 54,000 acres of land for a reservation and other benefits promised by the United States Government.
Graham Hill was named after Walter Graham, who moved to Seattle in 1853. Graham came from New York and, at the age of 27, took up a claim along the shores of Lake Washington. His property included the uplands near Seward Park, which was called Graham’s Peninsula. In 1856, Graham built a home on the hillside and planted an apple orchard. He married Eliza Mercer, daughter of Thomas Mercer. Walter’s brother, David Graham, who arrived in 1857 and became Seattle’s fifth schoolteacher, married his former pupil and Eliza’s sister, Suzanna Mercer.
In 1865, Graham sold a portion of his land to Judge Everett Smith, who then donated one acre for a school. The first school near the top of Graham Hill was called Brighton School and was opened in 1901. There was just a foot path up to the school from Rainier Avenue. The one-room schoolhouse held grades 1-3, while grades 4-5 were housed nearby in the Brighton Church. Brighton School was an attractive building with a columnar front porch and a well-lit classroom.
Brighton School was closed in 1905 with the opening of a new school with the same name on Holly Street. The older, original building later became known as Brighton Beach or “Little Brighton” in 1907-1908 when it operated as an annex to the larger school. It also served to ease classroom overcrowding at Brighton School during WWI. The old one-room schoolhouse was removed from the site in 1943, and the Seattle Parks Department acquired a lease for a playfield where the schoolhouse formerly stood.
As the population if this part of the city grew, it became apparent that a school was needed at the site, so the 99 year playfield was canceled. In September 1957, five portable buildings opened on the site for K-2 students. East Brighton, as it was called, operated once more as an annex to Brighton. In each successive year, another grade was added until the school became a K-6 in 1961.
By this time the school was large enough to have its own principal. The name Graham Hill School was chosen by the community to commemorate Walter Graham and the location of his farm. Plans began for construction of a new building on the property adjacent to the portables, which were no longer adequate for the increasing enrollment.
The new brick building was completed at the end of the 1960-1961 school year
Under the school districts desegregation plan, Graham Hill (K-3) was paired with James Baldwin (K, 4-6) from 1978-1988. After the plan was dismantled, Graham Hill became a K-5 school.
In 2004 the new addition was added providing a new library, several new classrooms and additional office space. The following year, 2005, Graham Hill received a grant to improve the playground. This included play structures, landscaping and an art installation.