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Adelphia College: Short-Lived Home of Capitol Hill’s Swedish Brothers and Sisters

Adelphia College building, 1905. From MOHAI.

In 1905, a college was founded near the corner of Roanoke and Interlaken to serve one of Capitol Hill’s many diverse communities, specifically its Swedish community. Derived from the Greek word adelphos, which means "brother", Adelphia College brought Capitol Hill’s Swedish brothers and sisters together through secular and religious education. And although Adelphia only existed until 1919 its influence is still present in the local Swedish community.

Adelphia was founded by Swedish-Baptist businessmen, whose “dream envisioned an academy, a four-year college, a school of theology and a commercial department.” This founding came at an opportune time when Seattle’s Swedish community was booming; approximately 150,000 Swedes settled in the Pacific Northwest from 1890-1910, attracted to the labor opportunities at the Ballard mills, Coal Creek mines, Seattle docks, and many other developing areas in the county.

Because of this boom, Swedes saw the opportunity to educate, unite, and empower one another from within a close-knit community. The Swedish Club, now located in Westlake across from China Harbor, formed at the start of this boom in August 1892. It was founded by young Swedes at 1st and Bell Street, where it housed gatherings, concerts, and the local Swedish newspaper, Svenska Pressen. At the tail-end of the population boom, Swedish Medical Center, a key pillar of Capitol Hill today, was founded in 1910 by Dr. Nils August Johanson as the first modern nonprofit hospital in the city. Its original home, shown below, was actually located in Capitol Hill proper before moving to its current home on First Hill. The Swedish community thus had many occasions, causes, and mediums to stay connected and informed, and Adelphia College, founded between the two, ties the three together, creating a remarkable legacy.

Swedish Hospital nursing staff in front of the original location at 1733 Belmont Ave in 1910.

The state approved the establishment of the college in early 1905, with Charles "Carl" J. Erickson leading the helm as its building contractor. Erickson had already made quite the name for himself in Seattle as a contractor, with prominent contributions to the city in the form of regrades, lighthouses, railways, ships, a Navy dock, and more. So the construction of Adelphia College was a great way for Erickson to give back to his Swedish roots and community, augmenting his role as superintendent of the non-affiliated Adelphia Church. A few years later in 1910, Erickson and his team would begin digging out the Montlake Cut, an initial solution to the rising waters of Lake Washington, not to mention facilitating the economic development of the lake through the trade of lumber, fish, and coal.

Contrasting with the Montlake Cut, which didn't fully open until 1916, Erickson and his team built the college quickly. When Erickson was nearly finished building the college, its beginnings circulated in Swedish news across the country. The Omaha-Posten, a newspaper serving Swedes in Nebraska, featured the following article in an issue from April 1905:

“A Swedish educational institution will be built in Seattle, Wash., by a company, which is incorporated under the State Washington's laws under the name 'Adelphia College Education Society' ", [at the] head of the company stands the Swedish Baptist Conference in Washington, which decided at its last annual meeting to establish a school in this area. They walked without delay to the work with the taking of Saturday preparations and insured themselves a land area of ​​20 acres, [centrally] located. According to the plans made the costs will be between $50,000 and $100,000.”

Many Swedes came together to celebrate the grounding of Adelphia as well. The Pacific Tribune, a paper for Swedes in Seattle and Tacoma, documented the celebration for the cornerstone laying of the institution in September 1905, roughly translated as follows:

“Then the celebrations started [at 2pm]. There was a large crowd, amounting to several hundred people gathered at the building site...the star banner (American Flag) and the blue & yellow flag (of Sweden) swayed and welcomed them.The weather was lovely, a characteristic autumn day at Puget Sound with clear skies and gentle, refreshing fans of air from the big ocean in [the] West.”

Adelphia College students, 1905. From UW Digital Collections.

The records regarding the daily life, operations, and detailed history of Adelphia College are few and far between in Seattle, as all archival records now reside at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois (a former seminary founded by the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America). However, we do have access to some bits and pieces; for instance, Adelphia promoted itself as an institution preparing for the future of its students by offering them courses deemed practical at the time such as bookkeeping, typewriting, short-hand, penmanship, and music. This emphasis on the future also included preparation for American naturalization. Alfred J. Lawrence, an Augustana College alumnus and teacher at Adelphia, published the following letter in Vårt land, a Swedish newspaper based in Jamestown, New York:

“To be a good citizen one must know the basics of [the] country you live in, and before anyone...gets citizenship...he has to submit to hearing the country's constitution and governance. It is therefore timely…[that] some of our Scandinavian educational institutions, such as Adelphia College in Seattle, furnished a special course in civil science, United States Constitution, and the basic principles of English for those seeking naturalization...these courses come to save those who seek naturalization.

...Finally, I advise…[those] who intend to become citizens to [be prepared] well either way [in] any school course or...home study so that when he once shall take out his national letter, he then not through shown ignorance decreases the good judgment, our Scandinavian homelands enjoy here, namely, that they provide America the most intelligent emigrants.”

With national pride and the American dream in mind, Adelphia College was committed to educating the growing Swedish community, even beyond Seattle’s borders. Moreover, their commitment to education even extended beyond the borders of local Swedish communities. In the midst of the Chinese Exclusion Act period, Adelphia opened its arms to one hundred Chinese students directly coming from the mainland. Understandably, this was a controversial notion, but the college addressed it with grace in a January 1912 issue of the Pacific Tribune:

The question then arises: Was the action wise? Seen from a beyond, from a general human point of view it is so. It is in agreement with the name of the school, it is noble. It is not a question of taking knowledge [or] bread from one's own and give it to strangers, for...the same teaching as at Adelphia is available to many other educational institutions. ...And we hope that Adelphia [College] by opening their gates for children of China to come...will seem more transformational than it was possible for the educational institution according to the original plan...If we can annually send home to China a number of young, breathtaking Chinese Seattle "boosters", then this should work [to benefit] trade relations between Seattle and their communities...The decision was bold and grand.”

Aside from education, Adelphia College had thriving extracurriculars for its students, including a skilled competitive basketball team that made it to multiple issues of the Seattle Daily Times. The institution was also home to a debate team that competed with other local schools about relevant topics, which were open to the public.

Seattle Daily Times, issues from May 13, 1910 and October 25, 1915 mentioning Adelphia College. From GenealogyBank.

World War I set a precedent in the financial, emotional, and physical turmoil a war could instigate, and the effects inevitably hit Seattle. Low attendance rates devastated the college, and in 1918, Thomas C. McHugh and his wife Ella, devout Catholics and successful entrepreneurs, bought the foreclosed school building at Interlaken. Under the guidance of Father John McHugh (no relation, just a surprising coincidence), Thomas and Ella donated the property to the Jesuit Seattle College to fulfill “a promise to God”, as Seattle College was also falling under hard times due to the war. The McHughs purchased Adelphia with $65,000 in cash and some unknown short-term pledges, about $1.1 million today, excluding the pledges. It is wistful to imagine that Adelphia College could have been blessed with a similar fate, given that Seattle College was facing the same financial difficulties until the McHughs came along.

The newly acquired Interlaken building was dedicated to Seattle College in 1919, and 143 students began their classes in the new building that fall. Unlike its predecessor, the college offered both high school and college courses. Classes, student life, and fun continued as usual at Adelphia Hall for over a decade, even featuring visits from celebrities: hall of famers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig stopped by in 1925 (Babe Ruth even taught kids to hit fly balls into the street), and Irish President Eamon de Valera gave a speech there in 1930. The Seattle Prep Panther, the student newspaper, has done their homework on their school history. A detailed timeline, published as a digital magazine, can be viewed here.

Babe Ruth demonstrating a fly ball.

It wasn't until the 1920s and early 1930s when the college moved back to its original campus at Broadway and Madison to differentiate and physically separate itself from the high school program. The college students were thankful to have their own building apart from their younger counterparts, and this institution would become what we now know as Seattle University. As a result, the Interlaken building then became the Seattle Preparatory School in 1933, maintaining its Jesuit roots and administration.

Adelphia campus shortly after being reopened as Seattle College, 1919.

Seattle Prep was housed in the Adelphia building for many decades until its recent demolition and remodeling, completed in 2014. Adelphia Memorial hall, now sleek and modern, still honors its roots and history - the cornerstone of Adelphia is visible in the school plaza alongside some of the original schoolhouse bricks displayed around campus.

Adelphia Memorial Hall today. From Seattle Prep.

Original cornerstone of Adelphia College. From Seattle Prep.

Like its cornerstone, the story of Adelphia still lasts to this day. In 2011, Converge Northwest, a Baptist group with roots in Swedish Baptism, revived Adelphia in the form of a one-year discipleship program. In addition to bible studies, this successor program also teaches youth fundamental life and occupational skills.

Charles J. Erickson, the lead contractor in the construction of the college, also carries on the legacy of Adelphia through his name, as he was knighted by King Gustav V of Sweden for his efforts in expanding the Swedish cultural landscape abroad. Thanks to the archives at Seattle First Baptist Church, of which he was a member, we were able to obtain a letter Erickson wrote in his later years that reflected on the legacy of his work:

"Having come to a new and strange land, without any money and with a most limited education, it had long been my hope and desire to do something for others in like circumstances should that be my privilege. So, together with an associate, there was a site purchased and later several buildings erected and there came into being the preparatory school which carried such work for a period of thirteen years under the name of Adelphia College. These buildings still are a part of the cultural [assets] of our city. Apparently the need of such an institution was not entirely a conception of my own, for in recognition thereof I was in 1911 entirely surprised to be decorated by the King of Sweden as a Knight of the First Class in the Royal Order of Vasa."

Though the Adelphia Discipleship now takes place in Ravensdale, 34 miles away from its initial home in north Capitol Hill, and Erickson passed in 1937, the vision of Adelphia’s founders is still alive and well, demonstrating not only the power of culture, faith, and legacy, but the motivation history can offer in empowering the present.

**CHHS relies on donations from supporters like you! Donations cover our research costs, cloud storage, website hosting fees, and help us pay our writers! Consider making a donation at or become a member at** **And for more Capitol Hill history consider purchasing a copy of Jackie Williams' book The Hill With A Future: Seattle's Capitol Hill 1900-1946 at **

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