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Sebastian's School on Louisiana Avenue By Cora Sembler Sadler

Updated: Jun 5

Written as published in "Tales of Sebastian" courtesy of the

Sebastian Area Historical Society.

When the Charlie Sembler family moved in 1920 from Grant to Sebastian, they enrolled three of their children in the lower grades of school.  To Cora, starting the third grade, the school, unlike the one-room school in Grant, appeared to be a castle. The two-storied building with its belfry, perched on the hill, was a sight to behold.  The front was fenced with a turnstile gate; the concrete walk, flanked by the newly introduced silk oaks (grevillea), leading up to a steep flight of stairs to double doors, completed the illusion.  An additional attraction was the knowledge that her father, Charlie, her mother, May and May’s three brothers had all attended this school much earlier.  Her father had completed the 10th grade here and had gone to Stetson University.  

      We don’t know the date of the first school, but it is certain that with the arrival in 1883 of Sylvanus Kitching from Warrington, England, with a wife and five children, and six more to follow, that a school of sorts would develop.  In fact, in 1887 Kitching wrote to his friend back in England, “We have had school open one month early already this year, and have money in hand for three months more, i.e. four months school for this year.”

        In 1901, when 10 year old Charlie Sembler arrived in Sebastian, he first attended a one-room school near the river.  The two-storied school was built by 1905.  County records show that on January 4th 1909, the following was declared a public county road: “Leading from the railroad crossing in front of the school house at Sebastian North along the west right of way of FECRR20 feet wide to the Fleming Grant Line.”

       The fence which Henry Flagler had built for the safety of the school children during recess provided a good place for the children to lean over, and while the railroad was being double tracked, listen to the Italian workers talk and chant.  The railroad produced many interesting events.  Lucille Van Antwerp told of the antic when she was being chased by a boy with a snake and made a running leap over the fence.  It was a witness by the principle, Mrs. George Peck, who chided her for “unladylike manners”

    Around 1912, the north wing was added to the building, doubling the number of class rooms, making four. Only three were used as such. Each teacher had three grades.  Some of the teachers were seasoned; however, most of the short-term ones came directly from high school or its equivalent for those early days.  They boarded at George Braddock’s, Mrs. George Cain’s, or the Baughman’s.  In1915, a tax of 3 mills on the dollars was levied upon all real and personal property for the Special Tax School District No. 1, Sebastian.  The teachers were generally of excellent quality, inspiring the students toward serious study; discipline was managed in the lower grades by confinement in the cloak closet; in the upper grades, something more tedious such as having to write 1000 times on the blackboard “I shall not pass notes in school”.

Or, if the teacher meant to be unkind, the culprit would have to write the entire contents of his note 1000 times.  While he wrote after school, the teacher would observe and grade papers.  When the board was filled, the pupil could go home, knowing that tomorrow he would again stay after school and continue his task until he had achieved the 1000 mark.  To embarrass the student, the student, one teacher always left the board filled so it could be observed by the incoming students.  It was indeed effective punishment!

          The students would line up on the sidewalk in two lines, one for the younger children, and the other for the older ones who went upstairs.  As the younger ones watched, they wondered if they could ever attain such an exalted position.

          In 1927, students graduated from the 9th grade in Sebastian School with a Ceremony in the then Old Town Hall, and were the first class to attend high school in Vero Beach, a bus being provided by the county to transport them there.  In spite of the general attitude toward these “hicks” being imported from Sebastian, two of these nine students were awarded the highest honors on graduation in 1930.   Pop Powers, a teacher of commercial subjects, drove the school bus.  The conduct of the student passengers was excellent.  Any disturbance, even minor, would bring the bus to a complete stop, and the culprit would ride motionless the rest of the way in the “co-pilot's seat”.

         In 1927, the old wooden school was replaced by a new hollow-tile one at the end of the newly extended Main Street.  The old wooden school was sold to Thomas Cadenhead of Wabasso, who dismantled it for building chicken coops.  Unfortunately, he lost all of his flock to blight.  He had managed Braddock’s Store in Wabasso before building one of his own in Wabasso.

                      Sebastian River Area Historical Society. Tales of Sebastian. 1 edSebastian, Sebastian Historical S, 1990.) (Sebastian River Area Historical Society 27)

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