Wheel Vector

The Founding and Early Years of the San Ramon Valley Union High School

By Inez Butz

Miss Butz gave this talk on the San Ramon Valley Union High School to the Danville Grange on May 1, 1984. It has been transcribed from her handwritten script by Beverly Lane. Subtitles have been added.


If you were present at the business meeting two weeks ago, you will recall that, on being asked if I still planned to speak on early organizations of the valley, I said that I had changed my topic to the founding and early growth of the San Ramon Valley Union High School.

It wasn’t lack of historical material that caused me to change my topic for there are sufficient records on hand and available for a detailed paper such as I have written on that topic, but rather than from conversations with some of the younger generation (30, 40, 60 years old, I came to realize that that piece of valley history is not generally known and that the date 1909, the year of the founding of that high school is, one might say, on a par with 1865, 1783 and 1215. As with my original topic of early organizations, there are records on hand that are available for the study of the founding and the early development and growth of the SRVUHS.

I have here on the table two minute books of the Danville Grange dating from Dec. 18, 1897 to June 1, 1912 that contain pertinent information. This third book, which has been rescued from fire on two occasions, is the District Clerk’s Record Book of the SRVUHS District, Contra Costa County, Cal., with an opening date of March 31, 1910 and it concludes with the minutes of a meeting held on April 30, 1923. It contains as well in the last few surviving pages the disbursements of the school district thru Dec. 1914 and apportionments received thru Jan. 1915.

The Union Academy

As historical educational background for the year 1909, I speak first of a local landmark (sign) on the west side of Danville Boulevard opposite El Portal Road and the Methodist Church. It marks the site of the Union Academy that stood on a sizable plot of land (I believe it was 10A) immediately behind that land mark, during the years 1859-1868.

That academy had been erected by the so-named “Contra Costa Education Association”, an Alamo Cumberland Presbyterian Church project. The association was composed of John M. Jones, Silas Stone and Robert Love, all active Cumberland Presbyterian members. The first church founded in Alamo in 1851 early recognized the need for a high school in the valley. There were several grammar schools, Green Valley, Sycamore Valley, Tassajara, Alamo, Danville and San Ramon but no high schools. The Union Academy was built by the CCE Association and was a three storied building where both boarding students (– in number – 16 boys, 6 girls) and day students were enrolled. It is a record that 45 were enrolled in 1860.

These students were divided into four sections of studies, each more advanced than the one before it and the first section studied reading, orthography, primary geography and primary arithmetic at a charge of $3.00 a month. Section 2 began grammar and fractions in addition to the studies of section one, at a charge of $4.00 a month; section 3 studied algebra, physiology and history of the United States, at $5.00 a month. Section 4 added major scientific studies, of course, and high branches of mathematics at a charge of $6.00 a month. If Greek or Latin was taught as well, the charge was $7.00 a month. Board for a student at the academy was $5.00 a week and laundry was done for $1.00.

The school was somewhat advanced for its time and met opposition from some people of the valley, especially in that it gave instruction in piano music with the instrument at $8.00 a month. The Rev. David McClure, a new Presbyterian who was headmaster of the school, played the violin and at school parties or festivals he would entertain on that instrument. Too, he was a believer in the benefits to be derived from calisthenics and such classes were a part of the school.

Rev. McClure was followed by Rev. Braley of San Jose, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister. The Academy was a success, it was answering a real need in the valley but unfortunately it burned to the ground in 1868 and was not rebuilt nor was a public high school built in the valley.

The Twentieth Century

At the turn of the 20th century the California State Law read that children between the ages of 8 and 14 must attend school five months of a year. This meant that in a fashion a child received an assured but scant grammar schooling. Miss Charlotte Wood, who taught at Sycamore School at that time, told the assembled Grange members this fact early in 1904, following an earnest discussion on the need and a request of a high school

In those early years Danville had no Chamber of Commerce. The organization that answered that role in the community was the Danville Grange. With the exception of a few merchants and the preacher and the teacher of the rural schools, the citizens of the valley were farmers. Danville Grange had been chartered in 1873 as a subordinate Grange of the California State Grange and of the National Grange in Washington D.C. It served a dual purpose: it aided the ranchers and farmers in agricultural matters and, since with few exceptions every one in the valley belonged to the Grange, it was in reality the area’s Chamber of Commerce.

In Oct. 1904, the Rev. Mr. J. G. Anderson, the new pastor of the Danville Presbyterian Church and his wife joined the Danville Grange. He was installed as chaplain of that order in Jan. 21, 1905, and at the same meeting be began urging and I quote from the minutes “the improvement of the valley”. At his request a committee of three was named. Said committee as named by the Worthy Master C. J. Wood was Rev. Anderson, C. E. Howard and R. O. Baldwin. S. F. Ramage was later added to the committee. The minutes of Feb. 18, 1905, carry the information that a new Valley Improvement Assoc. had been formed by a resolution, carrying five areas of valley improvement. Said resolution was moved, seconded and received a majority vote.

The five areas of improvements for living in the valley were
(1) an electric railway
(2) telephone service
(3) a high school
(4) road making
(5) tree planting

This association – not a part of the Grange as I have already said but a separate entity – had by early 1909 secured telephone service and an electric railway (in the planning stages, ed.). The next project was the high school. In the Grange minutes of June 19, 1909 a resolution stating that

whereas there is no high school in this area, most of the children are being denied this educational advantage,
resolved that every effort must be made to secure a high school here in the valley, in Danville.

Planning for a high school

A committee of five was named, authorized and instructed to hold meetings of the general public, to secure proper information and procedures to secure a high school for the area and to contact all necessary authorities to establish a high school in the valley. At long last in Nov. of 1909 (the original meeting on the high school had been June 19, 1909), Mr. W. N. Hanlon county superintendent of schools met with the general public at a large meeting in the Grange Hall and told them that a census of 200 students was necessary to establish a high school. If Lafayette and Center District (i. e. Walnut Creek) would join with Danville, Alamo, San Ramon, Green Valley, Sycamore Valley and Tassajara, there was a possibility of 452 children. The taxable property of such a district was $2,322,838 with a net tax rate of 15 cents on each 100 dollars of each district.

Through the holiday months of November and December and with travel over unimproved rural roads, often muddy, the committee took the census of each district. Lafayette and Central did not wish to become a part of the unified district. Tassajara, not receiving sufficient signatures to the petition, had to be omitted. See if the citizens of the valley at a regular authorized election would vote to have a high school in the valley, the unified district would be composed of Alamo Danville, San Ramon, Green Valley and Sycamore Valley.

At the Grange meeting dated January 15, 1910, Mr. C. J. Wood, master of the Grange, announced that that day he had received the necessary and proper papers and notices, calling for an election in regards to the establishment of the unified high school district and to elect a board of trustees.

The election was held and at the first meeting of the elected trustees of the union high school district, said meeting being held of March 31, 1910, Mr. J. Baldwin was elected president and Mr. Will E. Stewart secretary. It was moved and carried unanimously that that high school be located in Danville.

That first board consisted of the two I have named (Baldwin and Stewart) and C. J. Wood, William Meese, A. H. Cope and David Bell. Please understand these were all local residents, ranchers and farmers and small town people, the majority of whom had had but elementary schooling. They as trustees of the five districts had committed themselves to establishing and maintaining a high school. There was work to be done. Not only to get the school going, but orchards had to be pruned and sprayed, farm work had to be done and spring roads were often nigh impassable.

Temporary quarters

The first formal meeting of that body of trustees was held on July 9, 1910. By that date they had hired a Mr. Cutting as the principal of the school and I read from the minutes “(1) an endless discussion on the arrangement and supplies necessary to the proper conduct of a school, arrangement were completed with Mr. Eddy for the same and contract drawn and signed.”

The Eddy house, rented as temporary quarters for the high school, was west if the Grange Hall, today the Gathering Place and on the south side of the street now called Church St. The monthly rent was $25.00 a month. Mr. Cutting as principal was insisting that he needed an assistant; he was instructed to go to Berkeley or Stanford to find a “suitable” teacher. He found her in a Miss A. M. (Maude) Cornwall who was here at a salary of $80.00 a month. Mr. Cutting was to receive $150.00 a month – the school year was of 10 months but the house rent was for 12 months. Mrs. Eddy was hired as janitor at $1.00 a month, the board first thought to pay her $2.00 a month but thought better of it.

That first year of school presented real problems and the men were constantly being interrupted in their farm work by salesmen from the supply houses. (1) Supply houses bid for their business. Decisions, decisions, decisions. (2) A curriculum had to be set up. This entailed countless trips to school in Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland. After hours and days of study a curriculum of six courses was agreed upon: (1) Commercial (2) history (3) history (4) English (4) German (5) mathematics and (6) physical geography.

By late October the weather was cold enough that the board was faced with a heating problem in the Eddy house. Stove and stove pipes were bought at the C. W. Close store for $13.70, additional pipe and labor cost $2.51, making a total cost of $16.21. The first stove wood was bought of Mr. E. Stelling at $5.00 a cord. Three cords were burned that first year. The total cost of running that first year was $4000 — $1000 (more) than budgeted.

Frank Marianni (sp?) sold them wood the next year at $6.00 a cord. The last wood they bought in 1913 cost them $8.00 a cord. In March of 1914 they had switched to coal that cost them $12.00.

At the May 11, 1911 meeting, the end of the 1st year of school, the secretary was instructed to write Mr. Cutting advising him to offer his resignation. He was wanting $200 a month in the coming year. He resigned and a Mr. Wharff was hired as principal at $150 a month and Miss Cornwall received a $10 a month raise. This would give her $900 a year. Two years later, in August 1913, when Mr. Wharf had resigned as principal, a Mrs. (Elma V.) Galvin was hired for that position at $110 a month (recall that Cutting and Wharff had received $150) and Miss Cornwall was raised to $100.

In the summer of 1912 a laboratory was added to the Eddy house and Chemistry and physics were added to the course of study. Mrs. Eddy asked and was receiving $2.00 as janitor but the rent remained $25.00 a month.

Back in the early 1950s a goodly number of the residents who had lived there the years of the founding of the high school were still alive. I delighted in talking of the events of those early years. Among them were Ina Boone Root, Charlotte Wood, Mary More, Charles Wood, Noel Norris, Will Stewart and Jim Root. And there were others.

Buying land for the new high school

I recall Noel Norris telling me that from the very first of the school’s life Will Stewart kept telling the board that it behooved them not to delay in buying land for a permanent school site. The Improvement Association, as founded by the Rev. Mr. Anderson, was actively proclaiming thru newspapers, brochures, posters, speakers and advertisements the joy and comforts to be gained by buying land building a home and living in the San Ramon Valley. Some of these printed enticements are to be found in the historical files in the library here in Town. Noel said that Will kept saying that they should buy while the land was cheap, for it was sure to increase in value.

There is every reason to believe this for scattered thru the first four years of the minutes there are numerous entries reading, “The Board discussed the buying of a school site” and occasionally a committee of one would be appointed to investigate the buying of a certain piece of land. Here is one instance. On Jan. 28, 1911 Mr. Meese was instructed to see Mr. Kelley on that business of buying some land. Five months later, in June 1911, Mr. Meese reported that Mr. Kelley refused to consider selling any of his land. The piece the board had reference to at that date is now in Danville Estates and part of the Montair School District.

In July 1913 Mr. Meese reported the eight acres of the old Peterson place were available at $500 an acre. In July 1914 Mr. Stelling was willing to sell five acres of his land at $1200 an acre.

At this point, as an aside, let me quote Mr. Stewart final entry of July 21, 1915. {not included in the text} Apparently the “strictly” business manner brought results for the entry, dated Oct. 13, 1915, it is recorded: “It was finally decided to commission Mr. Williams to interview Mr. McAdue (sp?) and see if we could purchase the adjoining lot containing the large oaks forming a semi circle.” He was also instructed to notify Mr. McAdue “that we would either purchase by the 18 of October or return his option”.

On Oct. 27, 1915, it is recorded that Mr. Boucher moved that the board purchase the 9 7/10 A of land owned by Robert McAdue for the sum of $5000. Also an adjoining piece containing a clump of oak trees being a portion of an acre.” That makes the cost per A $515. It was on Saturday morning, March 4, 1916, that the board met informally at the bank and paid Mr. McAdue $5000 for the land that the San Ramon Valley Union High School was built upon.

Jim Root and Noel Norris each said that Bob McAdue was a butcher and he had sold his slaughter yard to the board. There are stories among the old timers of Bob McAdue that locally he was known as “Dirty Bob” and there are weird stories of his clothes and of himself.

But now, in 1916, the board has 10.7 A of land and the need for an architect. In April 1916 a Mr. Norman R. Coulter of SF was elected architect and from then on things began to move.

School days

The first class to graduate from the building owned by the San Ramon Valley Unified High School District was in 1917. The school annual produced by the senior class was called the Valley Kernel – KERNEL – walnut kernel not the silver stone variety.

Here is a copy of the second annual one – 1918. There are the pictures of the faculty of four women they employed. Here is a picture of the high school building before the lovely entrance gate posts were built. The valley was proud of that school and had good reason to be proud.

Can you imagine a school without a phone? On April 9, 1917 it is written by Mr. Stewart that Mr. Meese was instructed to have Mr. Fisher install a phone as soon as possible. Mr. Fisher had been hired as the janitor at this meeting at a salary of $75 a month.

On May 9, 1917 The question of the telephone was brought before the board – nothing definite was done about it. Two years and 2 months later – on July 14, 1919, it was decided to put a phone in the school.

Sept. 8, 1919 The board met on the street corner and it was recorded Mr. Meese was instructed to get someone to put in the phone. Oct. 9, 1919 – a month later Mr. Boucher was authorized to install a telephone. He stated the phone would cost about $48.00. Nov. 3, 1919 Mr. Boucher reported that the telephone would soon be installed. No mention is made of the phone in the December or subsequent minutes of 1919. So one is led to believe that the phone had been installed and operating by New Years 1920.

The board had a discipline problem early in 1917. Mr. Boucher was appointed a committee of one to stop the school boys from “frequenting the pool hall.”

There was a budget item dated May 28, 1918 when the bills were presented for payment “there was much discussion and criticism and the principal was urged to stop the wanton waste of penholders”.

I stop – but these minute books of the Danville Grange and the clerk’s record of the SRVUHS hold for the historian relievable facts, not only of the history of the high school but of life itself in the valley during these years.


Sources: Conversations with Ina Boone Root, Charlotte Wood, Mary More, Charles Wood, Noel Norris, Will Stewart, Jim Root; Clerk’s Record Books for SRVUHS beginning in 1910;Danville Grange minute books