A County Schoolmarm of the Fashionable Kind
The fair sex just isn’t what it used to be.
But maybe, just maybe, it never really was. There are lots of old photos of San Diego area schoolteachers, standing prim and proper with their gathered pupils in front of a tidy one-room schoolhouse. Many of our country school districts got set up in the 1870’s and ’80’s, just as photography was becoming commonplace.
Mostly, those teachers looked a bit thin-lipped, even severe, in a way that made a boy feel kind of funny about the mixed-up ideas that pretty young schoolmarms could stir in him. Then, as now, nascent hormones were not to be trifled with.
But, then as now, appearances could be deceiving. Consider, for example, that many straight-laced schoolmarms from back east undid their hairbuns and rode the train west to spend their summer vacations working to ease natural tensions in the mining camps. I do not want to cast aspersions upon an honored profession (of teaching, that is), but let us at least admit a certain latitude in the personalities of the ladies who molded the minds of early Californians, and titillated the adolescent thoughts of our forefathers.
Consider now the lovely Miss Emma A. Everhart, a young and fashionable country schoolmarm who was the first teacher at the Alpine, Sweetwater and Encinitas school districts. Like all teachers in the state, Miss Everhart was required to submit “teacher’s reports” in order to receive state funds. She got sixty dollars a month.
Nonchalance and sauciness are evident in her teacher’s reports, and also in her testimony about an embarrassing killing by her schoolhouse doorstep.
The night had begun in a congenial way at the adjacent ranch house. There were cozy murmurings with young Warren Webb. But things soon took a bad turn. It was November 16, 1875.
The “Alpine School District” had been formed in July of that year, and Miss Everhart set up school in a two-story building just 40 feet east of George Washington Webb’s “Alpine Ranch” house. She had rooms upstairs in the schoolhouse, but took her meals and slept in the ranch house. The schoolhouse also had two rooms downstairs, where a Polish ranch hand slept. The schoolhouse was situated between present Harbison Canyon and Interstate 8.
From the ranch, a wagon road ascended due east to where a Frenchman Pascal, his brother Pierre, and an Indian had a sheepherder’s camp. As the restless, fateful night began, Pascal bedded down under his wagon. But before the moon set, he was gunned down by young Warren on the wagon road by the schoolhouse over a mile to the west.
Judging from Miss Everhart’s testimony, she had been dreamily gazing out of her bedroom window at midnight when she saw Pascal near the window. The damsel in distress uttered a cry and young Warren, conveniently near, dashed out to bombard the presumed voyeur with a crude concatenation of obscenities. We wonder if this endeared him to the grammatically correct femme fatale. We wonder if the Frenchman even understood the brash 18-year-old. Then there was a shot.
The ashen light of dawn revealed a nasty hole above the Frenchman’s right eyebrow, and a face charred by gunpowder. The corpse lay flat on its back, arms straight out like a cross, and the feet wrapped in old rags. Warren tried to escape from San Diego on a coastal steamer.
Many pages of conflicting testimony from two separate investigations fail to indicate clearly if this was justifiable homicide or murder. Somehow, while the old folks slept, young Pascal, Warren and Miss Everhart all had left their beds and ended up at the scene of the killing. We can only imagine why – her story didn’t quite add up.
It is certain, however, that Warren and Miss Everhart did not marry. Warren was charged with murder, then released, and the lovely Miss Everhart remained a teacher, but moved on to other schools: Sweetwater and Encinitas.
The Encinitas school district was established, with Emma Everhart as first registered teacher. The schoolhouse has survived to this day.
Miss Everhart had eighteen pupils in 1884, and oversaw a library of fourteen books. She wrote in her report that it was one of the best schools in the county. Better, certainly, than her Sweetwater school where she had answered tartly a question about ceiling height with, “As high as the sky in places.” Describing sanitary facilities, she had written, “Willows provide ample clean facilities.”
In contrast, Encinitas had two water closets and water from the neighbor. The school had cost all of six hundred dollars to build.
But the upwardly mobile Miss Everhart had grander visions. According to the 3/29/1885 San Diego Union, she had “perfectly lovely millinery” for sale in a room just north of the famous Marston’s store on Fifth Avenue in San Diego. On May 21, the paper reported that “Miss Emma Everhart expects to close her school and again take charge of her millinery at Encinitas.” Soon, the paper reported that this “fashionable milliner” had hired a Miss Berry from San Francisco and she even contracted for the construction of two stores on E Street in San Diego between 5th and 6th. She was still single.
It is not hard to imagine this successful businesswoman overseeing the building of her new stores, her lovely eyes shaded by the very latest of San Francisco fashion bonnets, while recalling for a moment more rustic times when an infatuated and hotheaded youth shot down a poor, ragged Frenchman on the road by the first schoolhouse of “Alpine Ranch.” She had come a long way on her own.
“Oh, those men!” she might have thought, “What earthly good are the poor dears, anyway?!”
This question is, some women might cruelly say, one of the grand existential questions which still echo down the hallowed halls of history. Men are more inclined to ponder how some coquettish women have the power to cloud the mind of man and drive him to desperate deeds.
A good place to ponder this is on F Street in Encinitas, at the fair Miss Everhart’s school behind present Pacific View School on the bluff above Moonlight State Beach. The little white schoolhouse has been preserved by the Encinitas Historical Society.
Having fallen somewhat under the spell of the girl with the beguiling name of Emma Everhart, I asked the Society if perhaps they had a photo of her cavorting like a water sprite in the surf with her pupils. We haven’t found one yet, but hope springs eternal in the heart of man.
Companion Piece to “A Country Schoolmarm”
Seaside Schoolhouse on a Barren Bluff
As in other communities, the Encinitas School District got its start when county supervisors approved a citizen petition to establish a district. Unlike other schools, it is still there on the bluff.
Like other schools, it was a simple building with thin board walls and gaunt, narrow windows. A child casting a bored glance heavenward saw no ceiling, only dusty rafters. He sat on a hard bench, behind a slab table, and wrote with chalk on a small slateboard under the magisterial gaze of Miss Everhart.
In those days of scattered rural settlements, the first schoolhouse usually served as a community center for elections, celebrations, socials, church services and town meetings. Before there was piped water from Lake Hodges, Encinitas was a bleak, barren seaside bluff when an English carpenter, Edward Hammond, brought his large family to the bluff. He thereby doubled its population , doubled the need for a school, and set about building the schoolhouse and many early homes of Encinitas. Soon the school was drawing pupils from the older Cardiff district.
As Encinitas outgrew the old schoolhouse, it was moved away and became a dwelling. When it was threatened with demolition in 1983, exactly a century after it was built, townspeople joined forces to save it.
The sagging, bedraggled old schoolhouse was brought back to the old site and volunteers went to work. Children at neighboring Pacific View School even filled money bags with $700 in pennies and society president, Lloyd O’Connell, could barely wheel the overloaded cart into the bank lobby. By now, Emma Everhart’s old schoolhouse is looking pretty good and already serves as a meeting place.
There are even plans to modernize it with new fangled “runner” desks, those with heavy wooden runners uniting the desk and seat, and with ink wells useful for dunking pigtails of the girl in front.
The good people of Encinitas have refused to let the oldest building in town vanish into the past.