by Susan Couso
As Honey Lake Valley land was claimed and the area was settled by emigrants, local residents understood that the ‘American Dream’ could not be realized without a proper education for their children. Small schools were set up around the valley, and those individuals with some education prepared to pass their knowledge on to others. Education meant a future of prosperity and freedom for everyone.
Johnstonville, with its lush fertile land, excellent for agriculture, had lured many settlers, and these settlers first built a small schoolhouse in the fall of 1863.
It was a simple board building erected on a section of Eber Bangham’s ranch land. During that first school year, 1863-64, the classes were all taught by Daniel Murray.
Johnstonville was, at that time, called ‘Toadtown’, so named because of the mass of toads that would often appear after thunderstorms swooshed through the valley. Apparently, there are several ‘Toadtowns’ in the United States, so this must be a somewhat common occurrence.
As a result of the creation of Lassen County on April 1st, 1864, the Board of Supervisors met for the first time on June 6th. At that first meeting, they outlined several school districts, and the Susan River District, which encompassed the Toadtown area, was created.
The Toadtown school was designated as the official polling place for the district and became the center of the small community. Later, in December of 1864, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors officially named the town, ‘Johnstonville’, in honor of the well-liked English emigrant brothers, Robert and David Johnston, who were some of the first to bring their families to the area.
The first teacher of this new era was David Johnston’s wife, Caroline, but after just a few months, she turned the job over to E. W. Pratt.
As the number of students grew, rooms were added to the school building, and by 1902 there were ten grades being taught. The area was booming, and the number of students swelled.
Extra instruction was also given to those students who wished to become teachers, and in 1902, three students graduated from the teaching program. At this time there was no high school in Lassen County, and those wishing for a higher education had to travel out of the area.
After almost one hundred years, the old school building had become inadequate. In 1961, ground was broken for the new Johnstonville School. It was completed in 1962 and continues to serve today as the center of the community.
The old, original school bell was moved to the new school, and the original school building, which still stands, was sold into private ownership. You can still make out the shape of the original school on the northwest corner of Johnstonville Road and Highway 395, just to the east of the current building.
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