The northerly bluff above Main Street in the East Village was an integral part of early Cambria. Between 1870 and 1906, a cemetery, a water cistern and delivery system, and two schools were established successively on the bluff and in the forest, on land owned by Cambria businessman J.D. Campbell and his son, James.
Although several schools were available locally, the village later known as Cambria was growing by leaps and bounds, and needed a school for children of the “town folk.” On May 4, 1869, the Hesperian School District was accepted into the county system by the Board of Supervisors. (The name, “Hesperian” is derived from a Greek phrase for “Land of the West.”)
The first Hesperian School was a small rectangular building constructed of local pine, with a wide porch embellished with four carved redwood pillars, on the hill across from Cambria Hall (our first community center, which was located where the Chevron station is today). A wooden staircase was constructed from the street to the top of the bluff for pedestrian access.
In the mid-1870s, Cambria was the second largest town in our county, and it was necessary to double the size of the school. A second classroom was built in front of the porch, and the porch was converted into a double entrance and hallway between the two classrooms.
Between 1882 and 1900, the two-room school was overcrowded, with an average of 100 enrolled students. The second Hesperian School was built east of the original structure by C.D. Davis and Co. of Los Angeles for $5,000. (It consisted of three 33-by-26-foot classrooms, a reading room and library, two 80-by-40 hallways at right angles to each other, two cloakrooms and a storage room set on a perimeter concrete foundation. Half of the original structure was moved adjacent to the new school to provide a third classroom.)
This second school welcomed students in early September 1906. Most students attended school through the sixth grade, some graduated from eighth grade, and a few were taught high school classes to prepare them for business school or college. In 1890, a separate high school was established in Cambria businessman and attorney Benjamin Hubes Franklin’s former store, near the corner of Lee Street (now Burton Drive) and Proctor Lane.
In 1921, Coast Joint Union High School was established adjacent to Santa Rosa Creek Road on land purchased from Manuel Souza. In 1936, a new school, Cambria Union Grammar School was built by F.W. Stolte and Co. of Oakland, who was simultaneously supervising the construction of William Randolph Hearst’s La Casa Encantada. The location of the new school was planned to unite two separate towns: historic Cambria, and the new resort development of Cambria Pines.
All of the structures comprising both the first and second Hesperian Schools were torn down in 1943. Only the wooden staircase on Main Street, maintained in its last decade by Paul Squibb, remained until the mid-1960s.
This article was first published in The Cambrian on December 3, 2015