The idea of creating a local community and technical college in Grays Harbor was spearheaded by a fellow named Ethan B. Hatch in 1929, and with strong citizen support the new school incorporated on Aug. 7, 1930. In its first 30 years, the college was forced to move three times before finally establishing its own dedicated campus in South Aberdeen. Here is the story of Grays Harbor College’s road to Cardiac Hill.
The newly-minted Grays Harbor Junior College found its first home in the old Market Street School on West Market Street where Franklin Field is today. Opened on February 9, 1903, with a flag raising, the 72-foot by 64-foot footprint stood two stories with two classrooms on each floor and an ample garret for gymnasium purposes, Three years later, with the population of the city’s school-aged children increasing, a second, similar, school building was constructed just to the west with the two connected by a walkway. At the same time, Aberdeen’s three elementary schools, the Market Street School, the West End School, and the East End School were renamed Franklin, A.J. West, and Whitman, respectively.
In 1930, McDermoth Elementary School opened on North K Street and the Franklin students were funneled there. The timing was fortuitous for the embryonic Grays Harbor Junior College as it was looking for a location. Renting the Franklin building for $25 a month, the college was established and expanded young minds until 1934 when the structure was condemned and demolished to make way for the present-day park.
With no where else to go, the eyes of the college turned to the hills, particularly Terrace Heights where a second home was found. The building was originally built in 1892 as the A.D. Wood High School and served in that capacity until 1910 when the J.M. Weatherwax High School opened on east Third Street. The old school was then rechristened Terrace Heights Elementary, which existed until 1935 when the school district condemned the building for its use and rented the structure to Grays Harbor Junior College as their second campus. After 10 years of higher education at this new location, the 53-year old building was condemned for good and in the summer of 1946 was razed, with lumber and timbers used in the construction of an annex to the Central Park School.
With the Junior College, still only just 15 year old, officials there once again looked to the School District for a facility. However, this time things were different. In 1945, the college ceased as a private institution and became part of the Aberdeen School District, providing greater financial stability.
This time, the college relocated to the Samuel Benn School, where it would stay until 1958, when the current campus was established.
The Samuel Benn School — the college’s third home — had been constructed in 1917 in front of the home of Aberdeen’s founder, and the school’s namesake, fronting on East Third Street between F and G streets. (This was actually the second Sam Benn School. The first one opened in 1914 on the block bounded by Bay/Railroad/Martin/Conger Streets in the west end and was later renamed A.J. West Elementary).
Around 1960, the Sam Benn home was demolished and the Sam Benn Gymnasium was erected on the site in 1964. The old Samuel Benn School/Grays Harbor College was razed in the 1960s and the location was known as the ‘’practice field’’ to generations of Aberdeen High Bobcats. Today the location of the old school is roughly where the student commons are in the new Weatherwax High School building.
While the college was settling in at its third home, work began in earnest to find and fund a dedicated, permanent college campus. This was achieved and in 1958 Grays Harbor College finally opened in its ‘’forever home’’ on a hill overlooking South Aberdeen.
In conjunction with Grays Harbor College’s 90th year, the Grays Harbor College Foundation is raising funds for student scholarships. Those interested in donating may go to the foundation’s website at www.ghc.edu.foundation, or send a check payable to the GHC Foundation and mailed to 1620 Edward P. Smith Dr., Aberdeen, WA 98520.^
Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and attended Grays Harbor College from 1983-85. It really is a great school and deserves the community’s support.