John Swett, California’s superintendent of public instruction in 1862, had nothing but praise for the school: It is “pleasantly situated, with a succession of rolling hills in the background, the fertile valley around, and Mount Diablo, with its tawny hills in the distance…Success to all such civilizing influences as Mr. McClure’s Seminary.”
Each June, the school had graduation exercises which included examinations of the scholars. The Gazette on June 23, 1860, said the “young masters acquitted themselves in a highly creditable and satisfactory manner” before an audience of 400 people. The program included: “Music and Declamation, Delivery of Pieces, Tableaux, Calisthenics and a Party Song.” Later a monthly newspaper called “The Waifs” was published.
The academy was a prime example of the importance of education to families in rural California and in the San Ramon Valley. Most in the community supported it through thick and thin, although some local farmers ranchers objected to music as part of the instruction.
Student James D. (Jimmy) Smith, wrote about the monthly Academy parties. “They played games, danced the Virginia Reel, Money Musk and Cotillions with McClure playing the violin and instructing us in the intricacies of the different steps. At the conclusion of the dance we were furnished a light repast. We were then asked to kneel and our teacher would offer a prayer, after which we were dismissed.”
“Did we love our teacher? I’ll testify we did.”
On July 6, 1868, after the school had closed for the summer, the Academy burned to the ground. No one was hurt, but the satisfaction and convenience of having their own high school came to an end for Valley settlers. It took 42 years before the next high school was founded, the San Ramon Valley Union High School.
By Beverly Lane 2019
Sources: Contra Costa Gazette, July 11, 1868; Virgie V. Jones’ Remembering Alamo; J. D. Smith, “Coming of Gringo to Contra Costa”, Contra Costa Gazette, Oct. 23, 1925