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Campbell Union High School
Old School: The original Campbell Union High School building opened in 1904.

Photograph courtesy of Campbell Historical Museum

Campbell's High Schools Pass the Century Mark

A hundred years ago, Campbell was a small farm town surrounded by orchards and open fields. A town government had been formed, but the city was still a half century away from formal incorporation. The town also had a high school district that is now celebrating its centennial year.

When Campbell High School opened on Sept. 14, 1900, there were 35 students: 23 girls and 12 boys, according to Campbell: The Orchard City by Jeanette Watson. The school was located on the second floor of Campbell Grammar School and there were only three teachers responsible for educating the children.

That's a far cry from the current crop of 7,400 students spread across six high schools in three cities.

The first graduating class consisted of one student, Charles Beardsley. Beardsley helped the district establish itself as a serious academic institution, and continued his education at Stanford. This was no small accomplishment, as it meant Campbell High School had been recognized as an accredited school capable of producing top students. Beardsley eventually became a lawyer and went on to serve as president of the California Bar Association and, later, of the American Bar Association.

By 1903, the small quarters above the grammar school were beginning to feel a little confining, and Campbell High School Principal J. Fred Smith set his sights on a new building for the high school. The site he selected was at the southeast corner of what is now Campbell Avenue and Winchester Boulevard.

To call attention to the need for a new high school, Smith convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to visit the site and plant a redwood tree on the potential school grounds. The shovel Roosevelt used, which is engraved with his name and the date, is on display at the local historical museum.

Smith must have made a convincing case, because only one year later, the school was built and students began attending classes. Parking wasn't an issue for the new school, which had a horse shed out back to house the student's transportation.

Campbell Union High School
Growing: The second Campbell Union High School building (shown in about 1940) dominated the intersection of Campbell Avenue and Winchester Boulevard, before both roads were widened.

Photograph courtesy of Campbell Historical Museum

Over the next 30 years, as student enrollment swelled, the new school building began to seem too small. The district began looking for a new building as early as 1927, and in 1936, a new building, located at the northwest corner of Campbell and Winchester and the current site of Campbell Community Center, was built.

The district hit its enrollment peak in 1972, with 15,700 students, according to A History of the Campbell Union High School District, by George F. Miskulin. At that time, there were nine high schools serving the district.

As enrollment declined, the district closed Campbell High School and Camden High School in 1980, and Branham in 1992. Branham was eventually reopened when enrollment began to rise again to current levels. The city of Campbell leased the Campbell High School property in 1980 and bought it five years later for $9 million.

Today, the district is made up of Blackford, Branham, Del Mar and Leigh high schools in San Jose, Prospect High School in Saratoga and Westmont High School in Campbell.

—Steven Raphael

Originally published in the Campbell Reporter, October 25, 2000. Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc.

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