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April 2, 2013 > History: Higher Education in Washington Township

History: Higher Education in Washington Township

Reverend William Wallace Brier was a pioneer pastor and founder of Alameda Presbyterian Church (now Centerville Presbyterian Church). He wrote a letter to his friend, the Reverend Horace Bushnell, a famous minister and college professor, inviting him to come to California to discuss founding a university. Bushnell responded saying he would visit Briers at Centerville. Bushnell arrived in 1856, stayed with the Brier family and preached sermons at Centerville.

Reverend Bushnell was also a friend of the Elias Beard family and he stayed with them at their home in Mission San Jose. He believed that California was in need of a school of higher education as they had back East, and spent much of his time while here seeking a site for the University of California. He referred to his search as "a most pleasant and refreshing one." He wanted to explore the Alameda Creek Canyon, which he called "a fearfully wild place" so he got Mr. Beard to take him fishing. His hike was interrupted by a noise he thought was made by a grizzly, but he continued up to the "Sunole Valley."

The next day Bushnell drove a pair of mules 10 miles and walked 12 miles to a spot he called his "College Paradise." He was joined by an engineer with tools to measure the flow of water to this favored spot. Bushnell continued his search, but alas Berkeley was chosen for the site of the university.

The first institution of higher learning in Washington Township was the Washington College of Science and Industry established at Washington Corners (now Irvington) in 1872 by local farmers and educators including W. F. Lynch, Albert Lyser, William Horner, Origin Mowry, Henry Curtner, S. I. Marston, Heman Crowell and H. W. Dixon. The site was donated by E. L. Beard and the first building erected at a cost of $80,000.

Opened by Reverend and Mrs. Harmon, as a coeducational college, a number of local residents including graduates of Washington Public School at Irvington received their advanced education here. Courses included bookkeeping, calligraphy, commercial letter writing, Latin, Greek and advanced English. Live-in quarters were provided for girls on the first floor and boys on the second. There was also a gymnasium for exercise. In 1883 it was operated under the auspices of the Christian Church and then converted into a girl's seminary in 1896, called Curtner Seminary.

The main building burned in 1899 and the school was closed. W. W. Anderson of Hopkins Academy in Oakland, assisted by local residents, erected a new building on the site in 1900 and opened a Military Academy that prepared students for leading colleges. It operated until World War I and was described in 1904 as a "first class accredited school."

Archbishop Joseph Alemany erected a building at Mission San Jose for a seminary to educate priests. Classes began in January 1883 but the seminary was forced to close two years later. Mother Pia Backes purchased the property for the Dominican Sisters of San Francisco. The convent and school were dedicated to Saint Joseph and the name changed to the Josephinum in 1892. The Sisters opened a two-year Normal School in 1908. Queen of the Holy Rosary College was established in 1930 and the School of Music in 1947.

The Sisters of the Holy Family purchased the Palmdale property in 1948 and moved the Novitiate there from San Francisco. The new Novitiate was dedicated by Archbishop John J. Mitty in 1949 with special blessings from the Vatican. The College of the Sisters of the Holy Family moved here from San Francisco in 1971 to join the Novitiate and Motherhouse. The college had 143 students, and a total of about 300 in the religious community in 1975. The college provided a major in theology for the sisters and training for lay teachers.

Residents of Newark and Fremont joined together to start their own local college. Voters approved the Fremont-Newark Junior College District on December 5, 1965. Dr. Stephen E. Epler was selected to be the first superintendent, and Wesley Sears the first president of the Board of Trustees. They hired administrators and faculty, leased some of the buildings at Serra Center for Girls on Washington Boulevard and prepared to open in September. The school, officially named Ohlone College in June 1967, opened with 20 full-time instructors and over 1900 students. The first class of 20 students graduated in June 1968.

A citizens committee studied sites for a campus and four were recommended. After prolonged debate, trustees purchased the Huddleson Ranch, passed a bond issue and designed a campus. Portable classrooms were not quite ready when school opened in September so chemistry classes were held at Our Savior Lutheran Church for a while. Six classes met in the old Mission San Jose School from 1969 to 1974. Evening classes met at Newark High School. The new campus opened in September 1974.

Several private colleges have been established in the Washington Township in recent years, some are technical or business schools and others designed to serve special educational needs. It is apparent that schools will change as needs and resources demand different types of educational institutions.

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