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Fillmore's First Schools

Fillmore Methodist c 1912.jpg

By the 1870s more and more settlers were arriving and claiming land along the Santa Clara and Sespe rivers. These were families who had come from all over the United States looking for a new place to call home, settle down and raise their families.

In 1871, the Frederic Sprague family arrived at the Sespe from Placer County. The family included his wife, Clare, a son, Hartley, who drove one of the wagons, and daughters, Iva and her twin, Inez, and younger sister Nellie. They came by way of Santa Barbara and had to cross the sandy beach north of Ventura. They lost one of their two wagons in the sand that day and had to wait until the next low tide to retrieve it.

Sprague had filed a homestead preemption claim on 160 acres of the disputed Rancho Sespe owned by Thomas More. (He and More had an ongoing argument about Sprague’s claim and he will always be connected to the 1877 More murder. But that’s another story.) Once settled in the Sespe, the Spragues farmed and operated a small grocery store close to Atmore Road where stage drivers could stop and change horses. Within the first year, Iva’s twin sister, Inez and her sister, Nellie, died of typhoid fever.

Education was important to the settlers so in 1874 Frederic and his 13 year old daughter, Iva, and 14 year old son, Hartley, traveled by wagon to Ventura to purchase wood for the building of a school. The school he built was located on the north side of the Santa Clara River near the current north approach of the Bardsdale Bridge. It was 20’ X 30’ and, depending on teacher’s estimates, either 11’, 12’, or 16’ high.

Like all schools of the period it was one room with the teacher’s desk on a platform on one end very similar to the 1873 Cienega School. According to Clara Smith, a teacher in the district in 1886-1887, “a water bucket and tin dipper stood just inside the door…There was a bookcase on the left side of the door with 150 volumes many of which are above the ability of the children to read…The children sit in rows facing the teacher, whose chair and desk occupy a place on the platform at the other end of the room. To the right of the teacher stands a manikin which shows the relative position of the different organs of the human body. This is the nearest approach to the instruction in hygiene which the children will receive.”

In 1879 the little school was moved to the east bank of the Sespe just a little north of today’s railroad bridge where it served as both church and school.

The old school building was moved once again in late 1888 from the east bank of the Sespe to a location two lots south of Sespe St. on the east side of Central Ave where it served the Fillmore School District as an office.

By early 1889, the school district served enough children to split into 3 districts. They were the Sespe, San Cayetano, and Fillmore School Districts. The Sespe and San Cayetano districts built new buildings immediately, but the Fillmore district had to wait a bit for their new building.

Fillmore's First Schools

With their old school moved to town and their new school being built, students attended the Cactus Flat School. Their parents loaned the boards for the temporary building but wanted them back uncut. So each board was numbered and eventually returned to the owner. The photo shows how irregular the building was. This little school was on the east bank of the Sespe north of Fifth Street and West of Goodenough Road, about where Candelaria and Catalano Streets are now in 2020.

In 1890, the children who lived on the east side of the Sespe moved to a brand new school located on the northwest corner of Sespe and Mountain View. It was used until 1909 when the larger Mountain View School was built on the east side of Mountain View between Main St. and Sespe.

In 1890, Dr. John Hinckley bought the old school building that Sprague built and moved it across Central Ave. to a lot on the northwest corner of Sespe and Central. He remodeled it, added a room, and used it as his office and Fillmore’s first drug store. He later sold the building to Owen Miller who turned it into a restaurant. Dr. Hinckley moved his office and home on the corner of Ventura St., now Hwy 23, and Central Ave.

Herky Villaseñor used the old school building briefly in the 1930s until he moved his tamale factory to Main and Clay St. In 1936, Mr. O.M Topley took over the restaurant intending to open a beer parlor but in May, 1936 the building was destroyed by fire.

This building represented 40 years of Fillmore’s pioneer history from its beginnings as an unnamed dusty spot in the road to a thriving farming community. By 1936 the community was well established with schools, churches, businesses and about 2,800 residents. Within two weeks of the fire, Clara Ida Sprague Sheldon, who had told the story of the old school to the newspaper, had died. Two years later in 1938, Hartley Sprague who rode to Ventura with his father to buy wood for the first school, also died. The pioneer period was ending.

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