Let’s Talk Clovis: 1883 Garfield Colony School

Garfield School in 1912. The historic school burned down in 1990, and all that’s left of it is a brick archway. (Photo courtesy of Clovis Museum, Contributed)

The brick arch of the Garfield School at the northwest corner of Minnewawa and Shepherd is all that remains of the historic school. It continues to intrigue all who pass by.

Investors and speculators purchased large acres of land that were subdivided into five, 10 or 20 acres and colonies were formed. Large families were the norm, and the one unifying goal for the colonies was to provide quality education for their children

The Garfield Colony organized its own school district in 1883. It’s believed it was named in honor of President James A. Garfield who was assassinated in 1881.

Isabella Conn was the first teacher and John Beard the first clerk of the board. The school was described as a one room wooden structure. In 1906, a new one room wooden framed school was built. A $4000 school bond was approved in 1912 and a wooden two room framed school with a brick veneer was built. Grades three through five were held in the west room and grades six, seven and eight in the east room. The 1906 building continued to serve the first and second grades.

Elementary schools that joined the Clovis High School District in 1899 were Garfield (1883), Red Banks (1874), Jefferson (1884), Mississippi (1869), Wolters (1892), Clovis (1895) and Temperance (1878).

On April 28, 1993 Fresno Bee columnist Eli Setencich published an article entitled “The burro, the bell and the alumni of Garfield.” It was based on the memories of Normand, Claude and Fred Biglione. The Biglione families arrived in Clovis in the early 1900s.

Normand would graduate in 1938 with six classmates–a significant increase from the three 1937 graduates.

One mode of transportation to travel the three and a half mile journey to school was to hitch up the family two-wheel cart to their horse, Kate. Normand stated: “She was a trotter. She got us there fast.” All three of them were also know to mount their donkey that “moseyed” to school.

There was a stable at school that housed the animals. Boys would roll dried horse manure to enjoy a smoke.

Muriel and Earl Smittcamp sponsored a Garfield Picnic reunion on May 15, 1993 at their home at Minnewawa and Nees. Special guest Lena Clark began her teaching career at Garfield, where she taught from 1930-1934. She transferred to Jefferson and taught fifth and sixth grades from 1934-1948. Lena remarked that during her 14-year teaching career, she touched the lives of over 420 kids.

The alumni shared many memories at the picnic. Many of the students walked to school barefooted and only wore shoes in the winter. They would bring their lunches in bags or in a tobacco can. Home and farm chores were completed by students prior to arriving at school. Classes began at 9 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m.

The privilege of ringing the school bell was bestowed on “the good students.” The “bad ones” were punished with a ruler slap to the hands or a switch to the behind, and their mouth was washed with soap if they said a bad word. Many would be banished to the coatroom, library or porch.

Fun was described as dipping the end of girl’s braids in the ink wells. Swings, teeter-totters, jackstones (jacks) and hopscotch were recess activities. The guys enjoyed tug of war, basketball, soccer and softball.

On Sept. 10, 1952 Garfield School was annexed into Dry Creek Union District. The Clovis Grange purchased the historic school in 1989. On Feb. 6, 1990 it was destroyed by fire with the exception of its majestic archway. Pat V. Ricchiuti, Jr., the property’s owner, has stated he hopes to rebuild the school when that section of land is developed. He saved the original bricks.

Garfield and the wonderful people that supported and attended it remain an important part of our rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.