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Oldest school in Manteca Unified
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Suzanne McCreath is the current French Camp School principal. - photo by Bulletin file photos

Editor’s note: This is an occasional series marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of the Manteca Unified School District.

The oldest school in the Manteca Unified School District is French Camp.

It was founded in 1850 — four years before San Joaquin County Superintendent’s office divided the Castoria Township consisting of present-day Manteca, Lathrop, and French Camp into four districts.

The land where the original French Camp School was built a short distance north of the present campus was deeded to the school district in 1855 by Captain Charles Weber, four years after it was constructed. It was a narrow, one-story clapboard-style building with a bell tower and a chimney designed to also serve as a town house and a public gathering place. It cost $491 to build. The first year the school was open for three months. It cost $900 to operate including $60 a month for the teacher’s salary.

Records sent by French Camp School in 1852 to the County Assessor who doubled at the time as the Superintendent of Schools indicated it was costing the county $24.55 a year to educate each student attending school.

There were 91 students registered but only eight attended on a typical day.

A second story was added several years later by the Sons of Temperance. The school then doubled as a church.

Initially the student body was as diversified as you could get given the Gold Rush had brought tens of thousands of people to settle California and the fact French Camp had been the southern hub of a major trapping industry for 30 plus years. Based on modern-day ethic classifications there were Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Caucasians, and Native Americans students attending French Camp School right from the start.

A fire in the 1890s destroyed the original school. It was replaced with a new school a block to the south. The second French Camp School had extensive Victorian gingerbread touches as was typical of the day

The third French Camp School was started in 1927. It featured brick walls and a tile roof. Parts of that school are still standing today.

Over the years children on the playground have found numerous artifacts dating back to the fur trappers.

In the 1950s, as an example, students found a large cache of bones on the northern end of the school yard. State experts examined them and determined they were elk and deer bones that had been broken into finger length segments The native Indians considered them delicacies and often sucked the marrow out before discarding the bone.

French Camp is also the oldest school in San Joaquin County that is still located on its original land.