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October 15, 2013 > History Column: One Room Schools

History Column: One Room Schools

By Phil Holmes

The Board of Supervisors divided Washington Township into three school districts. The Alvarado area was number one, Centerville area number two and Mission area number three. No names Ð just numbers.

We have no evidence that any English language school was held in our area when it was part of Santa Clara County, so we will assume that the following private schools were our first:

John Horner erected a small, plain unpainted building fitted with homemade desks and benches in Centerville in 1850. School classes and Church meetings were conducted in English here. The building was often referred to as ÒHornerÕs School House.Ó

Harvey Green taught school in the Naile adobe on the Overacker property for a few months in 1852. Miss Sarah Scott taught a private school for a while the same year in her parentÕs house. Rev. W. W. Brier held school in an adobe building in Mission San Jose in the summer of 1853. The term was three months long, paid for by subscriptions. Students were small boys and girls who later became prominent citizens.

The first school in Irvington was held in a room in the G. M. Walters home. It was taught by M. M. Spencer and only lasted about a year. Spencer was only paid $20 per month and had no boarding privileges. Alvarado was reported to have a private school in 1853 with tuition of $5 per month for its five pupils. There were probably other private schools.

Determination of the first public school in Washington Township could create some discussion and maybe an argument. It could be argued that Alvarado was first, Centerville, second and Mission San Jose, third because that is the way the numbers were given out.

Rev. W. W. Brier was elected Alameda County Superintendent of School in 1853. In his report for the year, he noted there were few publicly owned schools. He stated that $425 had been spent on Òrents and repairs to school houses.Ó We do not know which buildings might have been referred to. Sometimes buildings were rented or ÒloanedÓ until a school structure could be erected.

The first public school in the Alvarado area was reported to have been in the Captain Marston home on Horner Street in what was then Union City.

The first Centerville school house was built Ònear the lagoon behind the Crosby place,Ó which would be near the present BART station. It was later moved to the Overacker Ranch for several years. The building later became part of BellÕs Ice Cream and Cycle Shop and even served as the bus depot.

Mission San Jose apparently had no school until the Pinheiro Building was erected in 1858 near the present junction of the 680 Freeway and Mission Boulevard.

MowryÕs Landing District was formed in 1856. The first reference to a building is one erected in 1874 that burned down a few years later. A new building was erected in 1884 by Origin Mowry, John McDavid and local settlers. This is apparently the only surviving one-teacher school that resembles a school building; it is facing demolition.

The Alviso district was established in 1856. A small building was erected on land donated by Manuel Ferreira and John Beard. A larger building was later built to house upper grades and the library.

Lincoln School District was organized between Alviso, Centerville and MowryÕs Landing in 1866. Lincoln had only five students in 1943 and was said to be the last one-room school. MowryÕs Landing School closed in 1939; Lincoln was closed in 1945 and moved to make way for McDonalds. It suffered some neglect and was finally demolished.

Washington School District (now Irvington) was formed at the request of John Horner and others in 1862. Charles Shinn wrote that several Irvington area men got together and erected a small house near the railroad warehouse at their own expense. Most sources say that the Horner school building was moved to Irvington for its first public school.

Higuera District, later Warm Springs, formed in 1863 when school was held in a Òshed-roofed shantyÓ 12 X 14 feet. A regular schoolhouse was completed in 1864.

Cosmopolitan School District was formed in 1868 for students in the Decoto area. A building was erected on land donated by J. G. Clark. A new school was built in 1883, and the old building became part of the May house.

The first Niles school was built on Vallejo Street in 1875. This building was replaced by a two-story structure in 1889. The old school building was sold to the Congregational Church, moved and remodeled into Òa very pretty little church.Ó The railroad company eventually used it for a section house.

ItÕs hard to believe that the first high school in Washington Township began in just one room. Twelve elementary school districts voted in 1891 to form Union High School District No. 2. School opened on the bottom floor of the Masonic Hall in Centerville in January 1892. The high school survived in this one room until the first building was completed in March 1893

Other one-room schools that operated were Sheridan, Rosedale, Mission Peak and Stony Brook. All of these were small schools in rather isolated areas. The only one-room, one-teacher school that survives today appears to be the MowryÕs Landing School now at Ardenwood, and it is facing demolition. There may be parts of other schools that survive within other buildings.

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