Nevada County has experienced quite a bit of change over the course of the last 70 years, something identified often during an informal reunion last week of the 1946 Nevada City High School graduating class.
“This class I’m a part of is celebrating our 67th year since we graduated from high school — it’s a pretty special class,” said event organizer Beverly Kilroy.
“We go back to 1934, when we first started our journey through school in the old Washington School, which was built in 1873 shortly before they built the Nevada City Elementary.”
According to an article from the Nevada County Historical Society by Doris Foley in July 1977, Nevada City High School existed from 1862 to 1952. Public education for elementary children began in 1853 at the corner of Main and Washington streets until an 1856 fire destroyed the building.
The school was continued in a building at School and North Pine streets called the Washington School that was an elementary, grammar and high school, said Kilroy.
The need for a secondary education was recognized in 1862, according to the article. The brick home of C.M. Foster at the corner of High and Nevada streets was purchased, and Nevada City High School opened Nov. 3, 1862, as the third oldest high school in the state.
When the school became too full, a high school was built on a portion of Lopez Ranch and Zion Street in 1912. The original Nevada City High School building was demolished in 1985, as repairs for the crumbling building were not approved by Nevada City voters.
In 1952, though classes continued at the location, Nevada City High School and Grass Valley High School became the Nevada Joint Union High School District. Ten years later, Nevada Union was built and the schools conjoined at the current Ridge Road location.
The graduating class of 1946 has about 12 or 13 people still alive, Kilroy said. Graduates and friends and family attended an informal reunion at Perko’s in Grass Valley Thursday and shared stories of the past. Joyce Bauman received her elementary education at Blue Tent School near Bloomfield Road, a one-room schoolhouse with eight students, many of whom had learning issues, she said.
“A teacher brought students that were in trouble in elementary school to teach them at a little country school, so I met a lot of characters when I was growing up,” Bauman said, adding that her teacher, Mrs. Gleason, “did marvelous things with kids who were having trouble learning.”
The Blue Tent school shut down about 40 years ago, Bauman said.
One of the darker aspects of the time the class of 1946 was in school was the second World War and subsequent wars post-graduation.
“During the war, it wasn’t very good,” said Sam Pello. “Then, of course, a couple years later, I get out of high school and got drafted for the Korean War. I was there in 1951.”
“I’ve seen plenty of combat,” he said. “I’m lucky to be here.”
Pello also mentioned happier times, like when against all odds Nevada City High School beat the much larger Placer County High School on the football field.
“We were the smallest high school around, and we beat Placer 14-0 the first time ever,” he said. “They had 700 (students) and we had 200. It was real great playing that game.”
Bauman said the small school allowed students the ability to be involved in several different sports and activities.
“As a small school, we were involved in so many things,” she said. “Nevada City was a great town to grow up in. We could walk home from school and not worry about anybody bothering us. There were no drugs. Things are so different now.”
The economic landscape was very different as well, Bauman said, adding that when she was younger the area was involved with mining.
She remembered when they started to close and the lumber market became more prevalent.
Pello mentioned how many orchards there were around town.
“All this was orchards,” he said, referring to Grass Valley. “Where Sierra College is, that was all orchards. There were about 50 people out there, school teachers and doctors picking fruit in the early days in the late ’40s, early ’50s. It was really great.”
Downtown Nevada City was also different than today, Bauman said, as downtown was filled with about 11 bars — quite the change from the multitude of gift shops and stores that line the streets today.
The demographics and sense of community has also changed, she said.
“It’s become a retirement community. It wasn’t like that then,” she said. “There were cattle ranchers and an active community.”
Dennis Smith, who went by Denny in high school, also mentioned the strong sense of community the older days enjoyed.
“Everybody knew everybody, and everybody was friendly,” he said.
Donald Ellis and his sister, Genevieve Ingram, came to Nevada County in 1940 after moving to several locations because their father, Guerdon Ellis, worked in the U.S. Forest Service and transferred to Tahoe National Forest.
“I got here the latter month or so in the sixth grade,” Ellis said. “I graduated from Nevada City Grammar School and high school and even did some time in Auburn. It’s called Sierra College now, but it used to be Placer Junior College,” he said.
Ellis described the football team, which had only 18 players, and his time as a bench warmer because of his lack of coordination, he said.
“I was sitting in the trenches all the time,” he said.
“Most of the good athletes would play offense and defense, and I sat on the bench.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.