I often write about schools and education around this time of the year as students are returning to school and beginning their academic year.
While they are learning their required curriculum and the Six Pillars of Character, a little history lesson about the school they attend could also be included.
"We Remember Our Schools" by the Merced-Mariposa Division of California Retired Teachers Association is a good reference book on this topic. Published in the 1980s, the book features more than 60 schools and school districts in Merced and Mariposa Counties with 40-plus contributors.
In describing the origin of the project, its coordinator Irma S. Morrison writes, "(T)he members of the Merced-Mariposa Division of the California Retired Teachers Association became interested in attempting to record and preserve for posterity some of the information that they as early teachers, students, or settlers had experienced in the growth of our schools."
Merced's very first school was named after the town. Merced Grammar School was built in 1874 on the corner of M and 22nd streets. It was a beautiful two-story brick building with six rooms and a bell tower.
Because of Merced's proximity to Yosemite, the grammar schools in the early 20th century were named after Yosemite naturalists: Joseph Le Conte School, John Muir School and Galen Clark School.
Both Muir and Clark had a local and regional connection. Muir was a resident of Merced County who worked as a shepherd in the Twenty Hill Hollow, six miles north of Snelling, from the summer of 1868 to the spring of 1869. Clark came to Mariposa County in 1853. He was credited with the discovery of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees and was appointed guardian of Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove. Neither Galen Clark nor Joseph Le Conte schools are in existence today.
Then, there are schools named in honor of famous Americans. For example, Herbert Hoover Middle School, of course, was named after an American president.
John C. Fremont School was named in honor of the "Pathfinder" of the American West. Because Fremont's "La Mariposa Spanish Land Grant" encompassed eastern Merced County, he was considered the first landowner in Merced County.
Then, there is the Luther Burbank School named after the famous botanist and horticulturist on a site that was once rich farmland. Tenaya Middle School was named after the last chief of the Yosemite Indians.
In the second half of the 20th century, educational opportunities increased in Merced as more schools were built. It became a custom to name a school in honor of a local educator or community leader.
East Merced School was renamed in 1949 after Charles Wright, a member of the city school board for 27 years. Donn B. Chenoweth School was supposed to have been named Tioga School. When Chenoweth, also a member of the board of trustees, died in 1963, the new school was renamed in his memory in 1964.
There was another attempt to name a new school Tioga in 1968, according to "We Remember Our Schools." Again, it was changed to Rudolph Rivera Middle School in memory of the city school district superintendent who passed away that summer.
Women educators such as Ada Givens and Margaret Sheehy were able to witness the construction and dedication of the new schools named in their honor.
Franklin School, named after Franklin Road, became part of the Merced City School District in 1948.
Allan Peterson School, Leontine Gracey School, Alicia Reyes School, Herbert H. Cruickshank Middle School, Don Stowell School and Joe Stefani School are not included in "We Remember Our Schools" since they were constructed after the book was published.
"We Remember Our Schools" is now out-of-print; however, a copy of the book will be auctioned off at the annual Merced County Historical Society's Bill Kirby Western BBQ at Lake Yosemite on Sept. 11.
Proceeds from this event will benefit the Bill and Tom Kirby Agricultural Scholarship and Courthouse Museum programs. Get your tickets today by calling the museum office at (209) 723-2401.
Sarah Lim writes the Museum Notes column. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.