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Schools in Old Lancaster

In the early days of the Antelope Valley, people lived in small communities scattered across the valley. Anywhere that children were present, there was a need for schools. Parents and community leaders drew up school districts to ensure that their young ones received a primary education in mathematics, spelling and reading.


Many of these schools began in old homesteads. Children of multiple grade levels sat in the same room and were taught by the same teacher. However, these setups were temporary. Industries like mining, ranching, the railroad, the aqueduct, and aviation all brought in new residents, and with them more children.

Schools in Old Lancaster and neighboring communities quickly outgrew their one-room schoolhouses. Larger, more permanent grammar schools were constructed to account for all the children, and additions were made frequently to increase the number of students served.


In 1890, only four years after the first Lancaster school was started, a larger building was needed. A stately two-story building with a bell tower was built out of red brick on the south side of Lancaster Boulevard (then called Tenth Street) between Beech and Cedar Avenues, and facing the Western Hotel.


A brick schoolhouse covered in snow.
The Second Grammar School in the snow.

The completion of the schoolhouse was marked with a celebration wherein children sang and performed. At this celebration, residents stowed material representations of their community in the school’s cornerstone: a jar of valley fruit, samples of wheat, a small vial of whiskey, a copy of the Gazette newspaper, and some money. The cornerstone was placed in the northeast corner of the building, on October 5, 1889.


Professor W.H. Holland took charge of the school when it first opened, instructing 45 students across 9 grades. The professor’s wife aided in managing the school and teaching the Lancaster children. Professor Holland later took on the role as principal as the student body grew and more teachers were brought on.

Like the first Lancaster Grammar School, this school became a hub of the community, hosting many events within as well as just outside its walls. All manner of special events, from religious to political, to purely social were hosted at Lancaster’s Second Grammar School.


A group of students posed outside of a schoolhouse.
1903 class picture at the Second Grammar School.

In 1912, there were 60 students at the Second Lancaster Grammar School, with the town’s population continuing to grow. Despite the quality of the Second Grammar School, Lancaster was feeling growing pains again, and city officials drew up plans for a newer and larger school.


Architect E.L. Hopkins designed the new school, which would utilize modern design elements and allow for future improvements to be made. The building used steam heating and had a sleek rectangular design, with eye-catching archways. Construction began on October 27, 1913 on Cedar Ave. Roughly 18 workmen labored on the project until it was completed December 6, 1913.


A large stone and concrete school with children playing outside.
Lancaster's Third Grammar School.

In 1914, the Third Lancaster Grammar School opened with a student body of 120. Later in 1929, there were just over 300 students, and additions expanded the building with a large auditorium on the third floor and added new classrooms. By 1941, there were 12 teachers instructing 415 students.


Like the previous Lancaster Grammar Schools, the new school was used to host more than just classes. The third floor auditorium was used for many city events, from social to political. Though no longer used as a school, portions of the original building are still viewable on Cedar Avenue, a short walk from the Cedar Center. It is now managed by the Lancaster School District, serving as a warehouse.


In addition to the Third Grammar School, the need for a separate high school was clear. The first high school class was taught in 1908 with five students. The AV Union High School was established in 1912 and held on the second floor of the Women’s Independence Club Hall. In 1914, a $60,000 bond was used to construct a larger high school east of the town. The first graduating class was just four students, but the school quickly filled as the town grew. The high school students were bright and dedicated young people, establishing several sports teams, clubs, and an annual publication called The Yucca after a beloved Joshua Tree that grew beside the school.


Students pose outside of a high school. A Joshua tree is next to the school.
1916 class photo at the AV Union High School.

Despite the presence of the larger grammar schools in the city center of Lancaster, smaller schoolhouses continued to populate the valley. For poor families living miles away from Lancaster proper, it was difficult for them to send their children so far for school. They needed schools nearby their homes.


One such school was the Tierra Bonita School, which opened in 1918 with just four students taught by Miss Eva M. Frank. By 1929, Tierra Bonita was experiencing the same population growth as the rest of the valley. By then, there were 50 students being taught by two teachers. A small residence was constructed for the school’s janitor and his dog, Patsy, who became a sort of mascot for the school. Located on Avenue J and 40th Street East, the schoolhouse was later repurposed as the American Legion building. The school has been located in different buildings over the years and now continues to serve students as an elementary school.


Students and teacher pose outside of the schoolhouse.
Miss Jenning's Class in 1938 at Tierra Bonita School.

Another of these smaller schools was built when the residents of a small community organized in 1907 to establish their own school district. Roosevelt School, named for then president Theodore Roosevelt, was first held in a small homestead that measured only 10 by 12 feet. Mrs. Walton taught 14 students at this first location. The school later moved to a real schoolhouse on Avenue H and 70th Street East in 1911, and was again upgraded in 1927 when a brick building was built to hold 79 students and three teachers.


A small schoolhouse in the desert.
The Roosevelt School building in 1914.

Education is highly important to the wellbeing of a community. As Lancaster grew, so did its schools. The old one-room schoolhouses have been replaced, but many elementary schools still bear the names of these original schools. The disparate school districts have been replaced with three public districts encompassing the elementary and middle schools, and a fourth district that covers the high schools. Additional private schools also serve the community. The Antelope Valley College serves students continuing their education into their adulthood. Lancaster has come a long way from the old pioneer school houses.


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Today, Lancaster is still dedicated to providing students with quality and innovative education. To help accomplish this goal, MOAH works with Antelope Valley teachers to provide interactive lessons on history, art, and science to students through Discover Trunks Presentations, young artists workshops and Arts for Youth tours. The Pioneer Trunk is Ideal for students between 1st and 4th grades, the Discover Pioneers Trunk Presentation helps children to visualize what life was like for pioneers in California, and for the pioneer children that attended the original one-room schoolhouses of the Antelope Valley.


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Sources:

MOAH Collections

Gurba, Norma H. Images of America: Lancaster. Arcadia Publishing: Chicago, IL. 2005.

Settle, Glen & the Centennial Committee. Lancaster Celebrates a Century: 1884-1984. City of Lancaster, CA. 1983.

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