Thursday, June 24, 2021

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How Pierce Highs School received its Namesake from Peirce

Growing up in the small community of Arbuckle, I found the history intriguing that the High School is named Peirce, and not Arbuckle. For obvious reasons, surrounding communities incorporated their town’s namesake; and I always wondered why Arbuckle had not. 

For many who have attended Pierce High School, know that the beloved Pierce High School is named after the Pierce Christian Colleg that at one time was located in College City; however, I knew there had to be more behind the story. 

In 1849, Andrew Peirce traveled to California from Massachusetts, his birthplace. During that time, he employed in an ox-team freighting between Sacramento and Shasta, California. 

While on one of the freight trips, Peirce and his companions were resting for the evening when they were attacked by a Native American tribe. Peirce was shot in the back. 

In 1851, while Peirce was out cutting wild oats for hay, his wagon and horses were surrounded by a prairie fire. Peirce’s face, badly burned, and his hands almost burned to a crisp. Pierce bore his scars to his grave. 

Later after his accident, Peirce moved back to Massachusetts. 

After some time back at home, Peirce traveled back to California and in 1855 settled on the land granted to him by patent from President Andrew Johnson in 1866. 

Peirce built himself a small cabin where he raised sheep and made boots. Peirce gained a reputation in selling purebred breeding rams. 

Being a thrifty and prudent man, Peirce was able to develop and expand his property and flocks. 

While attending church, Peirce heard the message of Christ, preached in a local school house, and began to follow what he believed was the message of Christ. 

Although his monument marked “Andrew Peirce,” not “Peirce” as we all know it today. It was not until 1874 that the spelling becomes “Pierce” 

Shortly after his epiphany, Peirce donated land for a cemetery, in which a church is built. The building also encompassed a public school. The church was constructed using local red bricks. The building was deemed unsafe in 1891, and the building torn down. 

The foundation of the church can still be seen today at the College City Cemetery. 

Peirce was a tremendous supporter of the Christian College, that he left the rest of his estate to what he called a “Church House’. Its proper fate was to be determined by the Trustees of the First Christian Church. 

On April 25, 1871, Peirce Died of Consumption. The term “consumption” was the common name given to Tuberculosis as it seemed to “consume” the person. Peirce is believed to be buried in the College City Cemetery where a large tomb stone can be seen from the road. 

By the Will of Andrew Peirce, the College was funded from the proceeds of the sale of property left to the church. The large building that once stood at the corner of 9th Street, near Main Street, completed its construction in 1876. 

With the completion of the main building, Pierce Christian College had been built at a cost of over $10,000. This included two brick buildings, sidewalks and ten-acres of a well-landscaped campus. Both faculty and students labored in plating several hundred trees and shrubs. 

The first graduation was that of Mr. C.A. Davis in 1878. Graduation included a three-day exhibition. 

For the next several years, things at Pierce Christian College were humble; that was until enrollment took a downturn and tuition prices increased. By 1894, the cost of running the college had hit such proportions that it was no longer possible to operate the school. The grounds closed. 

After two years of vacancy, a considerable deliberation from the Pierce Christian College Trustees, they decided to change the college into a public school. 

Approval granted, and a school district formed. 

Some items from the college were sold off to the Berkeley Bible Seminary and then transferred to Chapman College. 

Named after “Peirce”, Pierce Joint Union High School opened on September 20, 1897 with an enrollment of just 30 students. By 1920, a total of 53 students attended. 

The first graduating class of Pierce Joint Union High School was in 1898 with a total of eight students. 

Attendance increased and by 1936, 162 students were attending Pierce Joint Union High School. 

In January of 1935, a group circulated petitions to change the location of the high school. Arbuckle won by a two-to-one margin in the election. 

A bond of $125,000 was voted to establish the modern structure; an additional $100,000 matched by the federal government. 

The property was purchased from Mr. Ernest Tourte, who had planted Thompson seedless and wine grapes. 

The new Pierce Joint Union High School building opened in 1937. 

Although College City lost its college heritage, a tribute to the Pierce Christian College can be seen in front of the main doors to the high school. The old bell that hung in the college belfry is 

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