PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
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MILLER'S HILL SCHOOL students, teachers and parents gather for Latrobe History Day at the Miller's Hill School gym Friday Sept. 20 in Latrobe. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

News

Latrobe history told

By From page A1 | October 02, 2013

Latrobe School District has only 130 students, but they know their history — the history of the town of Latrobe and their schools, at least. On Sept. 20, students and parents from the district’s two schools received an unequalled history lesson from a panel of former graduates of the one-room Latrobe Elementary School along with some pieces of history.

Yerington resident Nate Ervin, great-grandson of Latrobe founder James Harrison Miller, brought copies of his great-grandfather and great-grandmother’s diaries as well as a framed portrait of James Harrison Miller for Miller Hill School. “This school was named for my great-grandfather and I thought it would be nice if they had the portrait,” said Ervin.

Latrobe School District superintendent and principal Jean Pinotti organized a panel of former graduates and a special assembly for the presentation.

“I was planning on just giving them the portrait and saying a few words, so I was really surprised by how many people were there and to see old friends,” said Ervin, 80. “Out of my 29,000 days of life, that was one of the best.”

Helen Lasswell Cort, 84, Jackie Varozza Fox, 84, and Phillip Mocettini, 86, joined Ervin in the Miller’s Hill gym to share with rapt students the way life was when they attended the one-room Latrobe School. Ervin, who lived only yards away from the school, served as janitor when he was in seventh and eighth grades. For $6 a month he swept the floor of the schoolhouse, built up the fire, pumped water from the well into a crock for the daily water supply and cleaned erasers.

“When I graduated from eighth grade in 1947 there were nine students in my class,” said Ervin, who was an aerospace engineer for Aerojet for 30 years. “I always say the secret to my success was that I heard the eighth grade lessons for seven years before I had to come up with the answers.” Ervin’s four step-children also attended Latrobe school and his wife served on the school board.

Mocettini’s family had a dairy farm and Crystal Creamery purchased cream from them. Each day, the Mocettinis put a 5-gallon can of cream by the side of the railroad track and the train picked it up and delivered it to the creamery in Sacramento, leaving an empty can on the track.

Cort and Fox shared stories about the activities and games they played at the one-room school and told about electricity not coming to Latrobe until 1947.

“We just skimmed the top because we didn’t have much time,” said Ervin. “We have a lot more stories to tell.”

“One person’s memories would trigger another person’s,” said Pinotti. “It was delightful.”

James Harrison Miller, a Tennessee native, came to Placerville in 1850. After working in Logtown and then moving to San Jose, Miller returned to El Dorado County with his family where he built a hotel and a ranch in the area now known as Latrobe. The hotel accommodated stagecoach passengers, but in 1864 Miller gave right-of-way access to the Placerville and Sacramento Railroad as the railway expanded from Folsom to Latrobe. He also agreed to the suggestion by railroad civil engineer F.A. Bishop to name the town after Benjamin Henry Latrobe Jr., chief engineer of America’s first railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and son of the “Father of American Architecture,” Benjamin Henry Latrobe Sr.

Latrobe became a commercial center, serving the mines of Amador County. At its peak, the town had about 700 inhabitants, a toll road, train depot, hotels, a blacksmith shop and a suspension bridge over the Cosumnes River.

In 1864 Miller donated  part of his 7,000 acres of property for the construction of the Latrobe School. The one-room schoolhouse had one teacher and eight grades and was located on the bottom floor of the two-story International Order of Oddfellows building.

When the building burned in a fire that swept the town in 1915, the school was rebuilt at its current location on Latrobe Road. It now serves as the library as the school expanded in the 1970s to add buildings to house the office and additional classrooms. In 1983, Miller’s Hill School serving grades 4-8 was built, and five years ago, Latrobe Elementary, serving transitional kindergarten through third grade, was renovated.

Pinotti said the diaries will be transcribed so that students at the school can put together a book of Latrobe history.

“With the current technology, we can turn it into a hardback book that students will be able to check out of our library,” said Pinotti. “Knowing this history gives students and parents a sense of place.”

The district is gathering material for the book and would appreciate information from the public.

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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