“A” for Excellence
● By Style
Ivy House photo courtesy of hometownarchive.com.
One of the “best academies west of the Rocky Mountains” once stood on the northeast corner of Clay and Main Streets in Placerville.
First known as Conklin’s Academy, the Placerville Academy gained a reputation for thoroughness and academic excellence, attracting pupils from as far away as Mexico, Princeton, San Francisco and Salt Lake City.
In 1861, E.B. Conklin and his wife opened the first academy on Bedford Avenue, but after seven years, they closed it down and left the area. They returned a few years later, and in 1871 purchased George Cogdon’s Upper Central House (later the Ivy House). Most of the students attending the academy lived in Placerville and returned home every evening after classes; others from surrounding counties, cities, countries and states boarded upstairs.
Tired of teaching, the Conklins sold the academy to George B. Tyndall (Tindall) in 1881. Tyndall – a former science professor from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor – ran the school with his wife and two daughters, Lizzie and Anna, and three other teachers formerly employed by the Conklins. Under Professor Tyndall’s direction, 50 large rooms and a gymnasium were completed, gardens planted, walks and croquet grounds laid out.
In a 1933 article published in the Placerville Republican, writer and historian Will O. Upton declared that: “no other institution of learning neither before nor since the academy, can boast the number of successful students that school could.” Graduates of the prestigious Placerville Academy included teacher, author and lawyer, D.F. McGlashan; George Mack, teacher and later superintendent of schools in Amador County; nationally known mining entrepreneur, Fred Bradley; Placerville attorney, Fred Irwin; Henry Rieber, former principal of Placerville Grammar School and later, Dean of the University of Southern California; well-known Nevada stock and land owner, Fred Danberg; and physician and surgeon, Clarence Reed. Several women also attended the Placerville Academy, but their successes remained unrecognized.
The rigorous studies at the academy, no doubt, prepared the graduates for their successful careers. During the early 1880s, students who lived at the academy paid $32.50 a month for “tuition, board, plain washing, lights, fuel and family care.” Non-boarders paid $3 a month for primary grade education, $4 per month for intermediate or college preparatory courses, and $5 a month for “academic studies including Latin or Normal Class.”
Besides Latin, first-year college preparatory subjects included mathematics, English, Roman and Grecian history, followed the second year by algebra, Greek grammar, and the reading of Virgil’s Aeneid. Third-year college prep students read Virgil’s Ecloguess, Georgic’s Cicero and Homer’s Iliad, studied rhetoric, U.S. and ancient history, and geometry. The “regular academic course” schedule integrated chemistry, trigonometry, intellectual philosophy, geology, logic, “Evidence of Christianity” and “natural theology.”
When George Tyndall retired in 1894, the academy became Placerville’s first high school which later relocated further up Clay Street. The building later housed the Ivy House but was demolished in 1964. Today, the former site of the Placerville Academy serves as a parking lot for downtown Placerville and hosts a farmers’ market April through October.