East End Once Home to Gold Rush-Era Methodist School

Street, tract names recall a piece of Alameda’s lost educational history

Homeowners on the 2800 block of San Jose Avenue own property with a chain of title that stretches back to San Francisco Sheriff and Texas Ranger Jack Hays and his deputy and fellow Texas Ranger John Caperton. The pair sold the property to Peder Sather (of Sather Tower and Sather Gate fame), who in turn leased it to Alameda’s Methodist community.

Elder Freeman D. Bovard recalled the arrival of his fellow Methodists in Alameda. Bovard recounted that the group first met in Rev. James McGowan’s house on Sept. 11, 1853. A plaque outside the present-day Methodist Church at Central Avenue and Oak Street tells the rest of the story. "In 1853, the first church building was erected on the land donated by Bishop William Taylor and dedicated by Bishop Mathew Simpson." That church stood on Mound Street on today’s East End.

"The gentle spirited (David) Deal was the first pastor appointed in February 1854," Bovard wrote. Simpson dedicated the church on April 30, 1854.

"There was an educational institution within the East Bay urban area during the 1850s and ‘60s, not however, located within the limits of the City of Oakland, but at the eastern extremity of Alameda Township close to the Brooklyn Township line," Edgar J. Hinkel and William E. McCann wrote in their 1939 Work Progress Administration-financed history of Oakland and its surroundings.

One year after their church was built the Methodists leased land from Sather, where they built a school in the Federalist style complete with a pillared portico and a cupola. The two-story building housed the school’s dormitory and classrooms.

The Methodists named their school Oak Grove Institute. The homes on the 2800 block of San Jose Avenue are situated in the midst of the Oak Grove Institute tract. A nearby cross street, College Avenue, recalls the presence of this school and Grove Street, situated across Encinal Avenue from College Avenue likely echoes the name of this institute of learning as well.

Deal helped to establish the Oak Grove Institute, a coeducational academy accorded recognition by Methodist Conference. "David Deal threw his soul into the enterprise and Dr. Edward Bannister, for a time, directed its teaching department," Charles Anthony Volney recalled in Fifty Years of Methodism.

The name of the school was changed in 1857 to Alameda Collegiate Institute. The Methodist placed Mense W. Peck in charge of that institution. He was assisted by Minnie Crowell and Miss Rosenblum, Hinkel and McCann wrote.

The students formed a Belles Lettres Society and a library. An advertisement for the school appearing in The California Farmer in June 1858, named David’s brother Rev. Dr. William Grove Deal as principal. "The Eighth Session of the Institute will open Thursday, July 15, 1858," the announcement continued, in "a pleasant Oak Grove in the village of Alameda."

The advertisement advised parents of potential students that the school even had its own landing on the water front. The ad boasted that "the Contra Costa and Opposition Steam Ferry Boats touch at our landing from which stages convey passengers immediately to our institute."

Tuition, which included the teaching of English and ancient languages (as well as board and laundry) was $185 a term. Music, modern languages, embroidery, mathematics and the classics were extra. Boarders supplied their own bedding, napkins and lights.

By the time the ad that appeared in The California Farmer, William had taken over the institution both as principal and proprietor. He kept the school going until 1859, when he gave up and turned the building over to Sather as payment for the school’s debts.

Sather used the school for a time as a residence. He lived there with his wife, Sarah, and their children Caroline, Josephine, Mary Emma and Peder Jr. In 1860 the census taker came calling, and the federal census that year lists the Sathers as living in Alameda, rather than in the family home on San Francisco’s Rincon Hill.

The Sathers stopped using the home in 1866 when young Peder died, and the school reopened. It finally closed its doors in 1874.

The building was demolished in the early 20th century, and today homes stand where students once heard their lessons and a prominent San Francisco family lived for a time.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at editor@alamedasun.com.