by Jim Bulls
Part I: Early History of Reedley Schools
The Reedley area was first plotted by U.S. Army teams and contract surveyors around the 1850s. The area was like a giant magnet, drawing all kinds of settlers from all kinds of backgrounds. Some were farmers and some were tradesmen, but they all wanted a good place to raise families.
A school district was one of the first things to be established, followed shortly afterwards by the building of three small churches. Education and religion were important building blocks for the community then, just as they are now.
The very first school was known as the Smith’s Ferry School, although it was actually located much closer to Poole’s Ferry, somewhere around Goodfellow Avenue. The school opened for classes in 1886. It wasn’t long however, that a movement started to relocate the building in the newly-organized town of Reedley. Before that could happen, someone torched the school house, which went up in flames, along with the house mover’s dolly on which it was sitting. There was no fire department in those early days, and because the building was in a remote location the structure and the moving equipment were total losses. Unfortunately for the students, school did not stop because of the fire. The trustees made arrangements to rent space from the United Brethren Church for weekly classes until funds could be raised to build a new school.
There was land was available on K Street, between 12th and 13th streets. Fifteen hundred dollars (that would be nearly $40,000 today) bought a two-story, brick schoolhouse of Dutch design. The building sat on the northeast corner of 12th and K streets and was known as the Reedley Grammar School. One of the first “bird’s eye view” photos of Reedley was taken from the school bell tower. The school was comprised of grades one through 12.
High school students from Dinuba and Parlier rode the Santa Fe “Skunk” train to and from school in Reedley to attend grades nine through 12. The “Skunk” was a self-propelled railcar that got its nickname from the smell of the smoke that bellowed out of the exhaust pipe.
By the new century, the school was bursting at the seams and the decision was made to build a separate high school. The first Reedley High School was erected at the corner of Reed and Dinuba Avenues, and the buildings consisted of a main hall and a science building. There was barely enough room for a small schoolyard. Students used the basketball courts and baseball diamond located at the Reedley Grammar School. Even before the new high school was completed, plans were in place for a larger school that would be built on North Avenue.
To further ease the overcrowding at the grammar school, a new elementary school was built across the tracks at North and B streets. The new school was known as the East Side Grammar School and the original school became known as the West Side Grammar School. The first classes held at East Side were in 1911.
In 1922, the new Reedley Joint Union High School was completed. By this time both Dinuba and Parlier had their own high schools so the student body was somewhat smaller to begin with. Not too long after the new high school opened, a third elementary school was built to house seventh and eighth grades. This school was named General Grant. East Side and West Side Grammar schools were renamed Lincoln and Washington, respectively.
Lincoln and Washington had a long history of rivalry. Washington students always felt somewhat superior since their school was built first. Lincoln students referred to the students at Washington as the “Washington Washtubs”. Washington students dubbed their rivals as going to “Lincoln Stinken”.
In 1925 Reedley was granted a charter to build a junior college. Classes were initially held on the third floor of the main high school building, where two classrooms shared the space with the projection booth of the auditorium.
The Great Depression brought about the National Recovery Act, which greatly benefited Reedley. Through these funds, the main college building and the industrial arts building were built on the high school campus. The City also got a new post office.
The original college building sat to the west of the main high school building on campus. That is the building you now see as you travel north on G Street.
And that was the school situation by the time I got to Reedley in 1947. I have to say, Reedley was much more than just a place for me to go to school. The Reedley School District was the reason my family moved here in the first place—my parents came to teach school. So not only did I get my education in Reedley, but the school district was responsible for the roof over my head, the food in my stomach, and the family health insurance. And that leads us to Part II of the story, so stay tuned ‘til next month.
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.