Public education began in Mendocino in 1862, when a primary school was established near the corner of Ukiah and Lansing streets. Captain David Lansing donated the lot, and the local sawmill contributed lumber for the schoolhouse. As the community grew, a larger school was needed, and a new primary school building was constructed on the northeast corner of School and Pine streets in 1885. That school building burned down in 1929, and a new grammar school building, now the Community Center, was constructed on the same property the following year.
Although some limited “advanced” education was available through the primary school, there weren’t enough students or resources in the local school district to support a high school. Mendocino students who wanted a high school diploma had to leave the area in search of secondary education. Many were sent to live with relatives or friends in San Francisco, where the first high school in the state had been organized in 1858.
In March, 1891, the California legislature passed the Union High School Act. For the first time, small adjoining school districts could band together to fund a single high school. Two high schools were proposed in Mendocino County: one in the county seat, and the other on the coast. After intense lobbying by Fort Bragg and Mendocino school trustees, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors selected Mendocino as the location of the first coastal high school.
William Heeser donated a 4.5-acre hilltop parcel, and in July, 1893, Professor R. Y. Glidden was hired as the first principal, with a starting salary of $150 per month. Plans for the new two-story high school building were shown to the public in August, and the Mendocino Beacon noted that the plans depicted a “handsome structure, tasteful in its architecture and conveniently arranged.”
Although high school instruction officially began on September 11, 1893, construction of the high school building had not yet begun. Instead, high school classes were held at the old primary schoolhouse (today’s GoodLife Cafe and Bakery) for the first two school terms.
To be admitted to the high school, either a grammar school certificate or an entrance examination was required. Twenty-three students were admitted on the first day of instruction, and by the second week of that first term, 32 pupils were enrolled. In addition to local students, others came from Point Arena, Navarro, Little River, Caspar, and Fort Bragg. Some families rented homes or rooms in town so that their children wouldn’t have to travel far to attend.
In October, D. E. Eggleston of Oakland was awarded the contract to build the high school, and lumber for the building was purchased from the Mendocino Lumber Company. A crew of men and a six-horse team leveled the top of the hill and graded the streets around the lot, and work on the foundation began.
High school instruction continued at the old schoolhouse for the fall and winter terms, with Glidden as the only teacher. When the spring term began in April, students moved into the new high school building, and Miss Mary White joined the faculty. Dedication ceremonies were held on April 28, 1894.
The high school curriculum at that time was a three-year course. Seven students graduated in 1896: Ernest Shibley, Dave McMurphy, Charles Hargrave, LeForest Philips, John Byrnes, Mabel Rainey, and Mabel Thomson.
In 1948, school district voters authorized a new high school building. The first high school was demolished, and the hilltop was lowered eight feet to accommodate the larger footprint of the one-story building. The dedication for the new school was held on November 6, 1949. This structure was partially remodeled in the 1980s.
The 2023 remodel of Mendocino High School was intended to create a structure that would honor Mendocino’s historic charm in the exterior details, while meeting the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) students and educators. The first day of classes in the renovated school was August 28, 2023, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on September 9th.
If you would like to learn more about Mendocino’s historic structures, the Kelley House archives are open for research appointments Wednesday through Friday from 12:00 to 4:00 pm. To make an appointment, write to email@example.com
The Kelley House Museum is open from 11AM to 3PM Thursday through Monday. If you have a question for the curator, please make an appointment with firstname.lastname@example.org Walking tours of the historic district depart from the Kelley House regularly.