The first school in Lemon Grove was held in a barn on the Henry Hurst ranch in 1893. That ranch was later the William Fisher ranch. The Hurst/Fisher ranch was located between what became Fisher Lane and Cuyamaca Court (later, Corona Street) south of Central Avenue.
In 1894 a one-room, board and batten schoolhouse with a bell tower was built near the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue. A few early photographs show some 15 young children posed in front of that building. The original, 200-pound, cast iron school bell (shipped by train) was purchased in 1894 from Sears Roebuck and installed in the bell tower. There was no indoor plumbing, so an outhouse sufficed.
In 1907-1908, a two-story, stuccoed schoolhouse (K-8) with a crenellated roofline and bell tower (which held the 1894 school bell) was built on lots seven and eight at the corner of Central and Main. Apparently, the upstairs classrooms were unfinished as late as 1910. Some 60 students attended. The first eighth grade graduates in Lemon Grove--four boys and four girls--graduated from that school, which was affectionately dubbed “The Castle” for its storybook appearance. Again, the absence of indoor plumbing made a pair of outhouses crucial; but, by about 1912, piped water and indoor plumbing reached Lemon Grove.
The original, one-room schoolhouse may have been in use for a short time after “The Castle” was built. “The Castle” was in use until school year 1924-25 when it was abandoned in favor of a new, more modern schoolhouse built on the corner of Lincoln Street. The first classes were held there in school year 1925-26.
The new schoolhouse was a long, narrow, Spanish style building faced in stucco. The large,
main entrance doors centered three Romanesque arches above a flight of wide concrete steps leading down to an unnamed, unpaved street.
In the Lemon Grove Library, 3001 School Lane, directly above the entrance to the youth section is a large photographic mural showing schoolchildren from 1912 to 1929 standing in front of the Romanesque arches, where all class photographs were taken until 1976.
Across the full inside length of the building was a wide hallway with doors to each of the classrooms. In rainy weather this hallway was the “playground” at recess time.
Each classroom had a door at each end and large, east-facing windows. The boys’ and girls’ restrooms were at the north end of the building and there was a teachers’ room at the south end. Later, another building was added to the south end of the building, forming an “L.”
The school grounds extended from Lincoln Street to the south property line of the Col. Theodore Bryan orchard (for whom Bryan Court is named) and were bounded on the east by the Livesay avocado orchard.
Later, the unpaved, unnamed street in front of the schoolhouse was blacktopped and named School Lane, which today extends from Lincoln Street to Golden Avenue.
In 1976, amid tearful farewells, the 1926 portion of the school was declared unsafe and demolished. The venerable school bell was rescued by Industrial Arts teacher Albert Van Zanten and stored at his home in El Cajon until it was retrieved in 2003 by the Lemon Grove Historical Society. LGHS safeguarded it in the Parsonage Museum until the 2013 library was built on the site of the former school. Then, at last, “Mrs. Bell” came home at to stay.
Seven more schools were built between 1947 and the early 1950s as the population grew and the town expanded. The student body was diverse from its earliest days, with Americans of Japanese, European and Mexican descent predominating. All was well until the summer of 1930 when the Great Depression was in full swing and discriminatory “Americanization” schools began popping up throughout California and the Southwest.
Lemon Grove was not immune. In the summer of 1930, when the school served some 165 children, half of them Mexican American, the school board, PTA and chamber of commerce plotted to build an “Americanization” school in the area of Olive Street and North Avenue. On January 5, 1931 the Hispanic chil- dren were ordered by the reluctant principal, Jerome Greene, to go to that school. Only a handful from one family actually complied. Hispanic parents immediately formed a committee and sought legal counsel through the Mexican Consulate in San Diego. Defended by lawyer Fred Noon of Noon & Noon, the parents filed a lawsuit against the Lemon Grove School Board. They won on Mar. 11, 1931 when Judge Claude Chambers ruled on this technicality: In California Hispanics could not be excluded from schools as could Blacks, Indians and other minority groups.
There was no appeal and the school district continued to grow in strength and diversity. Today, with many languages and dia- lects spoken in our schools, classroom technology ascendant and a visionary faculty and superintendent working hard, our schools are exciting beacons of education and culture.
Lemon Grove Historical Society