Truckee’s first schools were supported by locals |

Truckee’s first schools were supported by locals

Photo courtesy of Truckee Donner Historical Society This two story schoolhouse was Truckee's elementary school from 1890 to 1936. The location is the present Truckee Donner Community Center on Church Street.

The first school bell in Truckee’s history was rung in the spring of 1868. A small house used as a temporary private school that served only those children of the few forward-thinking parents who believed in the future of Coburn’s Station, as the bustling railroad town was known. It was built using donations of cash, labor and lumber by the townspeople. Most people thought that after the construction of the railroad was done, the town would cease to exist, so a school wasn’t needed.By summer, the need was more urgent as more children came to newly named Truckee. A newer school house south of the railroad tracks was built and was one of the few buildings to survive a widespread fire that burned almost all buildings on that side of the tracks in August. Church services and Sunday school were also held in the house, as the Methodist Episcopal and Catholic churches would not be built for another year. Declining enrollment in the old daysIn the fall of 1868, one of the first town elections was held at the schoolhouse and the voters decided to move the schoolhouse and support it with taxes. This was the first tax instituted in the new town. The first newspaper, The Truckee Tribune, lobbied heavily for the construction of a new school and the hiring a full-time teacher.The school house wasn’t much of a building as a windy night on April of 1869 showed. The building was blown off of its foundation during a furious storm. The next day a large group of men pushed it back on and stacked rocks around it to keep it there.By 1869 there were 250 students attending class, though not all were full time. By 1872, as Truckee’s boom days of railroad construction and peak period of sawmill operations faded, only 120 students were on the attendance rolls. Attendance would fluctuate through the next several decades paralleling economic conditions of the lumber industry. Not all children attended school, and very few of the local Chinese or Washoe sent there children to school.

Since winter weather was unpredictable, school was frequently closed for long winter breaks, and summer vacation was short for the students. There was no substitute teacher available, so when the teacher was sick, as Miss Kercheval was in July 1869 for three weeks, then the school session was canceled. In 1871 the roughly built schoolhouse burned when three fires burned most of the town. A new and larger schoolhouse was constructed in a new location, which was to serve as a school site for a century. That site is now the Truckee Donner Community Center on Church Street. The cost of $900 for the building was considered a worthwhile investment for the community.A well rounded educationAs the school gained in reputation, it attracted a better level of administration. In 1872 Charles F. McGlashan became the principal. He also taught chemistry, natural sciences, and his favorite, astronomy.Teachers were expected to work as hard as their health would allow. They considered their students the backbone of the school and teachers the brains. They told the students how to do things, but let them do it themselves. The students brought all sorts of nature’s curiosities to school, asking questions about them, and deducing the answers with help from the teacher.They were introduced to philosophy, geography, artwork, map making, music, mathematics, and basic business practices. Writing and spelling were the primary subjects. The spelling bees were largely attended by the public and parents. At the end of each school year, oral and written examinations were held, and prizes were awarded to the top of the class. Certificates and diplomas were given out with an appreciative audience of Truckee citizens in attendance.

At the end of each semester, an exhibition was given for the public of the student’s achievements. Students’ skills in the various subjects were given in oral presentations. Songs were sung, recitations of classic and original works were read, and members of the Roll of Honor were presented to the community for recognition.Three school trustees were elected by Truckee residents in the 1870s. One long term trustee was George W. GiffinRenee Shadforth 9/19/05 correct spelling?: George W. Giffin. He had three sons come up through the school system and took special interest in the affairs of the district. When compared to the rest of Nevada County, Truckee schools were considered above average.Primary and elementary departments were available to students, but students wishing to attend a true high school were forced to board out of town to get more education. Many children, mostly girls, of the wealthier businessmen chose to go to Napa or Oakland to carry on with their education. Boys generally went to work after the eighth grade.After 1872, Boca had its own school district, but due to the low tax apportionment given it by the Nevada County school administrator, the school rarely was able to hold classes for the entire year. Students from North Lake Tahoe and Donner Summit boarded with Truckee families if they wished to attend classes, as no schools were available in those areas.From time to time, private schools attempted to form, but there was never enough interest or money to keep these going for long. Instead parents were very involved in the education process. Visiting, volunteering and assisting in class were almost a requirement for parents. Monthly, the Truckee Republican would publish the Roll of Honor and perfect attendance list to encourage better behavior from the students.School burns, and burns again

The small two-room school house continued to serve Truckee through 1888, until it’s condition became so decrepit that the trustees finally held an election to raise the tax levy to fund a new school. The election in 1888 passed comfortably and a new two story school was started for the 230 students attending.However, Truckee schoolchildren would suffer for another two years without a proper school. In August of 1889, both the old schoolhouse and the newly constructed school burned in a fire that destroyed most of the Church Street neighborhood. Classes were held in a few private homes until another school was built. In December of 1889, the newly completed school burned in a fire that was fueled by high winds.In another special bond election in April of 1890, Truckee overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves to build another school. This effort was closely guarded by the Truckee fire volunteers and the school opened in time for classes to start in the fall of 1890.This classic building remained as the education center for Truckee until it too became unsafe in the 1930s. The structure was torn down in 1936 and the current Community Center was built to house the younger students of Truckee. High school students continued to go out of town to attend class until 1902 when the Meadow Lake Union High School was built on High Street east of the McGlashan Mansion.Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at The e-mail address is You may leave a message at 582-0893. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at in the archives.

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