The northerly bluff above Main Street in the East Village was an integral part of early Cambria. Between 1870 and 1906, a cemetery, a water cistern and delivery system, and two schools were established successively on the bluff and in the forest, on land owned by Cambria businessman J.D. Campbell and his son, James.
Although several schools were available locally, the village later known as Cambria was growing by leaps and bounds, and needed a school for children of the “town folk.” On May 4, 1869, the Hesperian School District was accepted into the county system by the Board of Supervisors. (The name, “Hesperian” is derived from a Greek phrase for “Land of the West.”)
The first Hesperian School was a small rectangular building constructed of local pine, with a wide porch embellished with four carved redwood pillars, on the hill across from Cambria Hall (our first community center, which was located where the Chevron station is today). A wooden staircase was constructed from the street to the top of the bluff for pedestrian access.
In the mid-1870s, Cambria was the second largest town in our county, and it was necessary to double the size of the school. A second classroom was built in front of the porch, and the porch was converted into a double entrance and hallway between the two classrooms.
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In the mid-1870s, Cambria was the second largest town in our county, and it was necessary to double the size of the school.
Between 1882 and 1900, the two-room school was overcrowded, with an average of 100 enrolled students. The second Hesperian School was built east of the original structure by C.D. Davis and Co. of Los Angeles for $5,000. (It consisted of three 33-by-26-foot classrooms, a reading room and library, two 80-by-40 hallways at right angles to each other, two cloakrooms and a storage room set on a perimeter concrete foundation. Half of the original structure was moved adjacent to the new school to provide a third classroom.)
This second school welcomed students in early September 1906. Most students attended school through the sixth grade, some graduated from eighth grade, and a few were taught high school classes to prepare them for business school or college. In 1890, a separate high school was established in Cambria businessman and attorney Benjamin Hubes Franklin’s former store, near the corner of Lee Street (now Burton Drive) and Proctor Lane.
In 1921, Coast Joint Union High School was established adjacent to Santa Rosa Creek Road on land purchased from Manuel Souza. In 1936, a new school, Cambria Union Grammar School was built by F.W. Stolte and Co. of Oakland, who was simultaneously supervising the construction of William Randolph Hearst’s La Casa Encantada. The location of the new school was planned to unite two separate towns: historic Cambria, and the new resort development of Cambria Pines.
All of the structures comprising both the first and second Hesperian Schools were torn down in 1943. Only the wooden staircase on Main Street, maintained in its last decade by Paul Squibb, remained until the mid-1960s.
The water cistern was constructed in December 1905 by Cambria builders Lawrence Shaug and Charles Minoli. It was located on the bluff behind J.D. Campbell’s livery stable (now the back of the Heritage Oaks Bank’s parking lot).
The cistern was conical in shape, lined with hard local creek rock set in concrete, with a wooden building covering it. Water was collected from precipitation and springs in a large pool 100 feet north and piped underground to the cistern. A water-delivery system was installed, which provided water for downtown businesses and residents. James Campbell provided the land and underwrote all construction costs. He charged patrons only a nominal fee for the water he provided them.
Although the wooden building covering the cistern collapsed years ago, the cistern was utilized until 1972, when it was bulldozed and hauled away.
In 1913, Campbell’s initial water system was expanded to include several other cisterns and wells in the center of Cambria, some of which are still in use. Although the wooden building covering the cistern collapsed years ago, the cistern was utilized by our community until 1972, when it was bulldozed and hauled away to expand the aforementioned parking lot.
In 1870, our community’s first cemetery was established in the pine forest north of the bluff by the Hesperian Lodge No. 181 of the International Order of Odd Fellows. However, the site on J.D. Campbell’s property was only used for half a dozen years as a last resting place. (In the late 1870s, it was replaced by a larger property given to San Luis Obispo County as a community cemetery by William Leffingwell Sr. The property was adjacent to the county road leading to San Simeon, now Bridge Street ending at the Cambria Community Cemetery).
In the late 1960s, there were still wooden posts and pickets marking loved ones’ graves, and two grave markers in this original cemetery: the two markers memorializing Sallie Williams (March 1827 – May 1874), who was the wife of Cambria builder Henry Williams; and Sadie Russell (November 1873 – December 1874), the daughter of Charles and Lillian Russell.
Dawn Dunlap, a noted rancher and historian, is a founding member of the Cambria Historical Society.