Danville Grammar School

San Ramon Valley Historical Society Plaque # 19

Education for their children was very important to our early San Ramon Valley pioneers.  They set up home schools at first, then put schools in modest buildings (sometimes labelled “shacks”) and finally voted to set up grammar school districts and tax themselves for land purchases, teacher salaries and school buildings.

In Danville the first school house was built in 1858, a mile south of town. The first Danville Grammar School trustees were R. O. Baldwin, James O. Boone and Jonathan Hoag. Baldwin remained trustee as long as he lived.

Evidently the Danville Grammar school district was created at that time (perhaps in 1865). Another school building constructed on Front Street which was closer to the growing village.  It was referred to in a May 1867 Contra Costa Gazette:

A social reunion is to be given at the new School House near Danville for the benefit of the building fund. The desks have not yet been placed on the floor and it offers a tempting invitation to dancers. Good music, good company and a good time may be anticipated.

 This building burned down in 1870. Then the original school building was moved to Front in 1871 and was used for twenty-five years.  The accounts of these first buildings can be hard to decipher.

Danville Grammar School with A.J. Young to the right
Danville Grammar School with A.J. Young to the right

In 1895 Danville Grammar School District voters supported a $5000 bond issue to create a new, classic school house on Front Street. And Danville citizens had high expectations for it.

A Contra Costa Gazette article on Aug. 31, 1895 stated

We…want our school house to be one of the most prominent

buildings in the valley, located on such a street and facing

in a direction to attract attention from any transient traveler

or tourist through our valley.  Let everybody know we have

an interest in education by looking at the building. 

Dedicated in 1896, it had a bell tower, an elevated class room with a second room behind the steps. Teacher A. J. Young taught in the old and new school houses from 1883 to 1900.  A Contra Costa Gazette article on Sept. 1, 1896, commented on the transition.

Mr.  P. Madson has commenced to move our old school house off from the school lot and Mr. A. J. Young has led his little band into the new building, which is very much more comfortable… a second teacher for the lower grades is already being talked of.

School dedication 1896

With this handsome school building, Danville’s downtown was complete. Trailing north from the school house was the Danville Grange Hall (1874), the Danville Presbyterian Church (1876), general stores, blacksmiths, barber shop, saloons – everything to serve a farming community. The space around the school, Grange and Church was ample enough to host frequent picnics.

By 1904, 80 students attended the school. When Hazel Arthur (later Wiester) taught in 1911, there were 8 ½ grades with 64 children. Since by that time state law required 2 teachers for that number of students, she taught grades 5-8 and Maryann Burell taught grades 1-4. There was no running water in the school. Arthur recalled there was an organ, a good-sized library and a huge pot-bellied stove located in the middle of the room.

DanvilleGrammar

This plaque helps us remember the value pioneers gave to schooling their children. And its dedication means that the Historical Society has recognized 5 of the 6 grammar schools in the San Ramon Valley – Alamo, Sycamore Valley, San Ramon, Tassajara and now Danville. Green Valley School is the only one remaining. The school building shown on the plaque, served students from 1896 through 1922 when a modern elementary school was built south of the high school.

On October 18, 2006, the San Ramon Valley Historical Society dedicated a plaque honoring the Danville Grammar School.

 

Beverly Lane 2019

Sources:

Wilson Close, History of the Danville Grammar School (handwritten) from Museum archives; Contra Costa County History Center, Schools notebook, Vol. IV (compiled by Bernard Freeman); Contra Costa County History – books published for 1882, 1917, 1921