Since I assume the identity of “William Howard Pepper” during my historic walks of downtown Petaluma, I thought it would be appropriate to use the southwest corner of Liberty and Washington Streets for this new series of “Then & Now” blogs. It was this corner that Mr. Pepper owned in the 1880s and used to market the numerous products raised at his nursery, located outside of town at Pepper Lane and Pepper Road.

During a holiday trip to Europe, he discovered an educational program created by Dr. Frederic Froebel called “the children’s garden,” or in German … kindergarten. The Argus-Courier announced in its January 7, 1893 edition, “There is a movement on foot to establish a free kindergarten in the city with the primary teacher, Mrs. Kirkpatrick in charge.” According to a March 1, 1893 article, Mrs. Gus Fairbanks was circulating a petition seeking pledges to support the kindergarten. In addition, Mr. Pepper offered the use of his property located on the southwest corner of Washington and Liberty Streets under the condition that the city would issue a bond, “the payment of which would not be oppressive to the taxpayers.”

Unfortunately, the community and city government did not respond sufficiently to support this innovative educational venture, so Mr. Pepper donated another $13,000 to his earlier pledge of $5,000 for construction purposes and the establishment of a trust fund. A Board of Trustees was organized in 1893 to oversee the requirements of the trust. The proposed school, which was to be opened to all children free of charge, regardless of race or creed, was to be built on the property that Mr. Pepper originally offered to the public school district in 1891.

The kindergarten opened on December 3, 1894 with an enrollment of 28 pupils. The trust agreement stated that the school was established so that “young children under the age of six years may be trained and educated in habits of cleanliness, truth, industry, physical development and in all things that tend to make helpful and honorable men and women and a credit to this” land of the free” and  that said school shall be forever known and called the W.H. Pepper Kindergarten School of Petaluma. (Photograph courtesy of the Petaluma Historical Museum & Library)

The original Pepper Kindergarten was closed and torn down in 1960 due to fire safety concerns. The property was sold and a new kindergarten building was constructed at 627 F Street. Pepper School is still operated as a pre-school and the Petaluma community celebrated the school’s 100th Anniversary in 1994.

Another building was constructed on the original site and occupied by various businesses over the years. It is currently housing the new home for Petaluma Orthodontics, Dr. Woo & Dr. DeBerardini, 301 Washington Street.

Stay tuned for future blogs that will highlight the current use of building sites in the Petaluma of today (Now) as compared with yesteryear (Then).