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Fruitvale Community Hall Association

A time-worn and weathered building site beside the Fruitvale Road, a bit of the past that we are all trying to recapture now. It is the old Fruitvale School, built in the 1880's on land donated by Larkin Fowler.

It is now known as the Fruitvale Community Hall. We are reminded of Whittier's poem, "Still sits the schoolhouse by the road, An idle beggar sleeping," but there are no idle beggars sleeping among the members of the Fruitvale Community Hall Association.

Members of the Fruitvale community, five miles east of the city of Lincoln and named for the once bountiful fruit orchards, have devoted much time and effort to rehabilitating what was the former schoolhouse.

Much has been accomplished by area men and women, giving up leisure hours after daily jobs in neighboring communities.

Work sessions, money making events and "just for fun" events have been held continually since July 1971. That is when the Western Placer Unified School District divested itself of surplus properties and the Fruitvale Community Hall Corporation came into being.

A great deal has been accomplished with the many willing hands and "spare time." A modern kitchen has evolved from the old school's "anteroom," the place where students hung their coats, deposited their lunches, washed their hands at the little sink, and drank from the water fountain. In earlier days this was a bucket and dipper.

In the reminiscences of Chris Nielsen,(1892-1977), oldest graduate of the Fruitvale school and who lived continuously in the community and on the farm where he was born, we learned a lot of what it was like to start school in 1898.

Little boys and girls wore caps and hats to school. Though as county children they often went barefoot when weather was warm. They walked the mile or miles to school over fields with stiles over fences. Lunch boxes were father's or grandfather's colorful tin tobacco can; ones with handles of course, and with the lunch owner's name or initials scratched on with a nail. Sandwiches were made from homemade bread and when the cow was "dry" and no milk for making butter, lard was often used.

There was no indoor plumbing. Toilets were "outhouses" marked plainly "Girls" and "Boys." Washing and drinking water came from the well outside and it was pumped by hand.

Two of the oldest boys would work together, serving as janitors. They built the fire in the wood stove that warmed the classroom, pumped water, swept the floor three times as week. For their services, they were paid $2.00 a month by the school board. The well had to be cleaned periodically. The two Nielson boys, Chris and Anders, would be assisted by their father with this job. The going price for cleaning a well was $2.50.

Niels Nielson came to the Fruitvale area of Placer County in 1883, coming from Denmark in 1867. In time, he and his wife had nine children. Chris and Anders being the two eldest sons. These two were to take over the family farm in 1914 and it became known as Nielson Bros. farm at that time.

The senior Mr. Nielson believed firmly in the educational opportunities of his new country. Despite the difficulties of rearing a large family on a small farmer's income, all but one the children graduated from the eighth grade. The other child died in early childhood.

One, Anders, took what was then known as "post graduate," or ninth grade. Niels Nielson was one of the many transplanted Danes, whose families were making up a large part of the Fruitvale community. These people were bringing the sturdy qualities of their homeland with them, integrity, industry and the love of education. This latter quality was so typical of all pioneers, both early and late. Building a school for their children was considered almost as necessary as building a home.

There were generally twenty children in regular attendance at the Fruitvale school in those early days. Chris Nielson laughs and remembers, "between the Fowlers and the Nielsons, we pretty nearly filled up the school!" In a one-room school -- the annex or "little room" wasn't added until 1926 -- with eight grades, discipline was exacting. Women teachers were in the majority, then as now. When a women teacher could not handle the big boys, a man was hired the next year. His discipline would be swift and sure and the ruler "ruled"! But boys would still be naughty. Mr. Nielson remembers one boy bringing a big, speckled hen in a box; placing it one the teacher's desk with on bottom in the box. This caused quite a mess by the time the teacher got there. Strings were tied between the desks, near the floor, to trip the unwary, and spit balls were fired at the unsuspecting when teacher's attention was elsewhere.

There were many activities besides "Readin' Ritin' and' Rithmatic". Recess and before school were a time of play. Shooting marbles was a popular game, though "playing for keeps" was forbidden. Girls played "jacks". The low area between the school building and the road made a lovely mud-slide in the wintergame was to run as fast as you could, then start sliding on the slippery ground. Every once in awhile someone fell down in the mud, of course, adding to the fun.

School "took up" when the teacher came out on the porch each morning and rang her hand bell vigorously. The pupils formed two lines and marched in. Strangely enough to a later generation, Mr. Nielson remembers no pledge of allegiance to the flag at this time.

Chris Nielson and several of his fellow students were to serve their country in World War I. An honor flag made up with a star for each of them hangs on the wall to this day. A gold star honors James Fowler, who gave his life in World War I. A generation later, Fruitvale boys went to war with Germany and Japan. Some Fruitvale boys of Japanese ancestry went to the internment centers first, then volunteered.

World War II was indirectly the cause of the closure of the Fruitvale School. Teachers became scarce with so many male teachers being drafted. The Lincoln school district invited the Fruitvale district to merge with it, with the pupils being transported into the Lincoln Elementary. So closed a chapter in history, September 1945. -- Contributed by Hope A. Grey, 1975