Few residents are aware that our community is named after a tramp. This is not Charlie Chaplin, the famous Little Tramp, but our own Tramp, Judge Arthur Eugene Griffin.
Judge Griffin, namesake of our school district, fire district, and community, was a colorful figure who was called “The Tramp” by many of his family members. The nickname referred to his wanderlust ways, rebellious streak, and varied careers, including cook, merchant, post master, inventor, lawyer, judge, gold prospector, rancher, and investor.
Griffin’s tenuous connection with Charlie Chaplin extended beyond their similar nicknames. Perhaps Chaplin’s most famous movie was the 1925 hit, “The Gold Rush”, depicting the Little Tramp’s adventures at the Klondike or Yukon Gold Rush. Our namesake was bitten by the gold bug in 1897 and was one of tens of thousands who sought their fortunes in the Yukon. The Little Tramp climbed the famous Golden Stairs of Chilkoot Pass to reach the fabled gold fields. Our Tramp rode a horse over the nearby White Pass on his journey to the goldfields.
Arthur Griffin was born during the Civil War in 1862 at New Haven Township, Olmstead County, Minnesota. His parents were farmers. Griffin graduated from the Chicago Business College and immediately left the Midwest to seek his fortune without returning home as a prodigal son. His first job was as a cook for a Canadian Pacific Railroad survey crew. The Tramp had started his wanderlust ways.
Several years later, while passing through Enumclaw on a railroad car, Griffin took note of a good location for a store next to a saloon and boarding house. He and a partner later built Griffin and Blake Store at that site. Griffin soon was smitten by and married Gabrielle Paumell, a young French woman who was the first teacher in the community. When residents wanted to incorporate the settlement into a town, they asked Griffin to “draw up” the necessary documents. Griffin borrowed some books from a Seattle lawyer and drafted the necessary papers. After this initial success in the legal field, Griffin studied for and passed what constituted the Bar Exam in those days. He eventually became an expert in Indian law and wrote a number of short Indian stories and legends. The Griffin School Library has a compilation of these stories entitled Washington Indian Fables.
The Griffins eventually moved to Seattle. After the steamer S.S. Portland docked at Seattle’s Coleman dock with over a ton of gold from the Klondike in July of 1897, the alluring gold bug bit Griffin. He joined the stampede to find gold. Many of the thousands seeking Yukon gold traveled through Seattle and purchased their supplies there. This surge of economic activity not only put Seattle on the road to prosperity but was the catalyst to pull the nation out of its worst economic depression. Griffin opened a law firm with two other attorneys in a log cabin in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada. He both prospected and practiced law.
After returning to Seattle from the Gold Rush, Griffin practiced law, became a superior court judge in King County, and made a number of investments. Of particular importance to us was his ill-fated attempt at ranching on Schneider’s Prairie. Griffin purchased much of Schneider’s Prairie in 1917. He expected to make a fortune during World War I when the price of wool skyrocketed. However, his purebred Ramboulet sheep soon died of lung worms. Griffin then tried raising registered Holsteins, but the prairie’s thin grass and wild flowers were too meager to support the cattle. Finally oyster beds where diked and he grew Pacific Oysters. This venture apparently was not successful when the market for oysters fell. Griffin then subdivided the land in a final attempt to make money on Schneider’s Prairie.
The Schneider’s Prairie District No. 33 school house burned to the ground in August of 1926. As a temporary measure, grades one through four were moved to the then abandoned schoolhouse of the prior Frye Cove School District No. 52 off what now is Gravelly Beach Loop NW. Grades 5 through 8 were held at the second story of the old Grange Hall. The Grange had organized in 1909 and had a two-story building with an outside stairway to the second floor. Griffin donated five acres to the Schneider’s Prairie School District for a schoolhouse and grounds as part of his subdivision. Residents must have seen the deeding of the land as a grand gesture because they renamed the school district Griffin School District. The new school opened in March of 1927 with three rooms.
A new schoolhouse was constructed in 1969 and 1970, eventually becoming a 12 room building. The new school building was constructed in phases with different grades moving into the new building as space became available. First, in early 1970, grades 6-8 moved out of portable buildings into the partially constructed new schoolhouse and grades 2-5 moved from the old schoolhouse into the portable buildings. The principal, kindergarten and grade 1 remained in the old building for the remainder of the school year. During the summer of 1970, the old building was torn down and rooms were added to the new building on the site of the old schoolhouse, allowing all grades and administration to be located in the new building by the 1970-71 school year. In 1977, a new junior module was added and grades 6-8 moved out of the 1970 structure into the addition. In 1989, six more classrooms, a gym, music room, kitchen and cafeteria were added. In 1991, two portable buildings were added supplying an additional four classrooms. In 2004 a new addition and other remodeling was completed.
The wanderlust Tramp, Arthur Eugene Griffin, died in an auto accident at the age of 86 in 1947. A large portrait of our benefactor is in the Griffin School library.
Copyright 2014 by Steve Lundin
Reprinted from the January 1999 issue of “Neighbors“, the newsletter of the Griffin Neighborhood Association. Revised 2014.
Steve Lundin is a long-time resident of the Griffin community located in northwest Thurston County. He received a B.A. degree from the University of Washington and a J.D. degree from the University of Washington Law School and recently retired as a senior counsel for the Washington State House of Representatives after nearly 30 years. He is recognized as the local historian of the Griffin area and has written a number of articles on local history and a book entitled Griffin Area Schools, available from the Griffin Neighborhood Association at a cost of $10.
Lundin also wrote a comprehensive reference book on local governments in Washington State entitled The Closest Governments to the People – A Complete Reference Guide to Local Government in Washington State. The book costs $85, plus shipping and handling. It is available on the web from the Division of Governmental Studies and Services, Washington State University, at http://dgss.wsu.edu/ or from WSU Extension at www.pubs.wsu.edu.
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