by John Hibble
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Today, a school impact fee is charged to developers and home builders to support local school districts. During the early years of statehood, Aptos land owners donated land and paid for the building of the first schools.
Rafael Castro, the first owner of the Aptos land grant, provided land for the first grammar school in Aptos. Prior to that, Vicente, Rafael’s eldest son, provided class room space at his home, “Rancho Aptos”, across the street from what is now Rancho del Mar Shopping Center. Vicente’s home is now the office and community room for the Aptos Blue housing complex on Aptos Rancho Road. An interesting note is that Vicente refused to speak English for many years after California became a state.
The first one room school house was built in 1871, just off the county road at 7941 Soquel Drive, where Burger is located today. The teacher at the Aptos grammar school used to send students to Joseph Arano’s general store to find out what the time was, as the school had no clock and the teacher could not afford a watch. The average monthly wage for county teachers was $90 for men and $58.75 for women. In March of 1877 the Aptos School has a little over 30 pupils, Mr. Brady is the teacher.
W.W. Elliott’s 1879 Illustrated History of Santa Cruz County lists 109 children in Aptos between the ages of five and seventeen years, 61 boys and 48 girls. The number of children who attended public school at any time during the year was 68, 44 boys and 24 girls. The average daily attendance was 35 and the school year was 10 months long. The value of the building, land and furniture was $500. The value of the school library was $100. Union School on Hames Road, two years older than Aptos School, had an average daily attendance of 24 and a valuation twice that of Aptos School.
State law gave at least $500 to each school district that had more than 14 children. The state was required to raise not less than seven dollars per child and the county not less than three, which put California near the top in education spending. In 1871, the property tax rate per $100 was 60 cents. Between 1872 and 1878 it varied between 15 and 32 1/2 cents. Total county expenditures for schools in 1878 were $52,887. Aptos district received $1,134.20, spent $1,038.92 and had $831.35 cash on hand.
Claus Spreckels, the “Sugar King”, purchased much of the Aptos land grant from Rafael Castro in 1872. The Spreckels family paid for the construction of the second Aptos School in 1899. This larger facility was located in, what is now Aptos Village Square shopping center. (This is where the village of Aptos originally started.) Studio E dance studio now occupies the site at 7970 Soquel Drive, across Wharf Road from Joseph Arano’s original general store, (the oldest building in Aptos).
Since Aptos had no high school in the early days, students took the morning train to school. They attended Watsonville High School instead of Santa Cruz because the morning train went south.
Several other schools existed in the area. In 1871, Hill School was located on Larkin Valley Road but moved in 1932 to San Andreas Road at Altivo Road and became known as Rob Roy School. When the name of the town changed, the school was renamed La Selva Beach School in 1936. It closed when the district merged with Aptos in 1942.
Valencia School, a two story school house, was built on Valencia School Road about 1881, to serve the lumber mill town of Valencia. After the lumber played out, the school was closed around 1931.
In 1890, Charlotte Day donated land on Cox Road near Day Valley Road, for Oakdale School. Originally, Theresa Hihn would not grant water rights to the school but the Hihn family eventually did. Gertrude Millies remembers that the graduation exercises for Oakdale School were held in Valencia Hall at the corner of Valencia and Bear Creek Roads. Valencia and Oakdale districts merged with Aptos in 1928.
The firm of Monroe, Lyon and Miller, also known as Peninsula Properties, acquired 1750 acres in Aptos during the 1920’s and developed Rio del Mar. In 1928, they gave the school district seven acres of land for the third Aptos School. The property was formerly the farm of Thomas J. Leonard, and before that, Vicente Castro. District funds paid for the building which is stucco with hardwood floors. It contained three class rooms, an auditorium with dressing rooms, a library, kitchen, rest room, two large corridors and lavatories. The school opened with two teachers, Mrs. Knudsen of Watsonville and Mrs. Marie Wessell of Soquel. The former school building was turned into a gymnasium. The third Aptos School has grown in size, but the original building still stands as part of Valencia Elementary School on Aptos School Road.
Today, Aptos has three elementary schools, one junior high, our own high school and a fine community college to boot, but the developers and land owners of Aptos still pay for the construction of our local schools.
We have Halloween/Fall masks for sale to help you be stylish and to keep the museum afloat. They are available at Aptos Feed across from Rancho Del Mar. Please stop by and say hello to Damian. Many thanks to those of you who have made donations to help keep the Aptos History Museum afloat during the Covid19 epidemic. We need your help. We cannot do any regular fundraisers until we reach the 4th stage of reopening which will likely be early next year. We are planning a history presentation in a Zoom format as a fundraiser. Watch for it. Please tell us what you would like to see. Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated. If you can make a donation of any size it will really help. These stories are brought to you by the Aptos History Museum, a community service of the Aptos Chamber of Commerce. Thank you. aptoschamber.com (831) 688-1467.