State

Birth of Ceres school district result of a father's foresight

In 1859, Harvey Davis thought it was time for his children to receive an education (within a decade he would have 15 children living at his home). So, he decided to form his own school district. The Davis School District eventually would become what is now the Ceres Unified School District.

The school was where Hatch Road now crosses Highway 99 and had nearly 30 students by the 1860s. The first trustees of the new district were James C. Peacock and J.F. Hinkson. Trustees of that era didn't just oversee the school's curriculum and its teachers. They also had to go out and knock on their neighbors' doors to collect the local school tax.

The school year tended to run from early spring through late summer.

The early days of the schools saw teachers come and go, with many of them serving only one term before moving on to other types of work. That would change in 1870 with the arrival of Mrs. Aurelia Chapin, and coincidentally would also see the construction of a new schoolhouse for up to 50 students, though early classes were much smaller.

Mrs. Chapin, described as "a widow with two children" stayed on the job though the early years of the new town of Ceres and its expansion. She was called the town's "first teacher" by Mildred Lucas in her history of Ceres.

In 1874, the people of Ceres succeeded at getting the school moved from the country to their new town, reasoning that since most of the students came from the town the school might as well be more conveniently located there. The school was moved to "northeast section of the present Triangle Park near the corner of North and Third."

By 1884, the classroom was too small. Three years later -- after the city's first school tax election -- a two-story schoolhouse was erected by the site of the old one-room school. With the town's expansion and more students entering the school, graded classes began in 1887.

Ten years later, the Davis School District's name was change to the Ceres Unified School District.

The next decade would see more students, to the point where the school was overflowing with students and another new school was deemed necessary.

In 1908, Ceres opened its own high school, though its classes were held first at the Grange Hall and later in the elementary school that was no longer in use. The old schoolhouse was left behind in 1910 when a new grammar school was opened with eight teachers and 294 students.

Today, Ceres has 11 elementary schools, two junior high schools, two high schools, a charter school, two continuation high schools and an adult education center. All of which have their origin in Harvey Davis' 15 children and their need for an education.

Sources: Mildred D. Lucas, "Amber Grain to Fruited Plain: A History of Ceres, California and its Surroundings, 1776-1976" and Helen Hohenthal and John E. Caswell, "Streams in a Thirsty Land: A History of the Turlock Region"

McAndrews is a docent and board member of the Great Valley Museum. He can be reached at columns@modbee.com.

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