The Valley of Heart's Delight
Walter Hammond Nichols- Palo Alto Educator- Biography, 1923
Palo Alto High School
Walter Hammond Nichols-Palo Alto has long been so famous as one of the most advanced educational centers of the United States that it is not surprising it should eventually draw to its varied field of activity Walter Hammond Nichols, the well-known teacher who has accomplished so much in various communities, with the science of
pedagogy. He was born at Chicago on February 19, 1866, the son of Joshua R. Nichols, purchasing agent for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, and later assistant superintendent of the Union Pacific
Railway. He married Miss Charlotte E. Hammond, the daughter of Col. Charles G. Hammond, of the Chicago & Michigan Central Railway.
Walter attended the local schools and eventually, in 1891, graduated from the University of Michigan, when he received the degree of B. S., after specializing in chemistry. Still later, in 1891, he concluded some post
graduate work at Columbia University, for which he was given the A. M. degree. His first venture, on taking up the practical affairs of life, was in fruit farming at Ann Arbor, Mich., then he was trustee of an estate, and later in the banking business at Boulder, Colo., where he was vice-president of the Mercantile Bank & Trust Company. He was instructor in history at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1897-98, and later professor of history and economics there; and at Columbia University, in the department of the Teachers College, he was
secretary and an occasional lecturer. While living at Boulder, he served as school trustee and he was also as director of the Commercial Association. At Michigan he did post-graduate work, and also at the
University of Chicago and the University of Colorado-from 1891 to 1896.
From 1913 to 1915, he was a teacher of English at the Pasadena high school; from 1915 to 1919, he was superintendent of schools and principal of the high school, at Palo Alto; and since 1919, he has been
the very efficient and popular principal of the high school. He has enjoyed exceptional advantages of both American and European travel.
At West Bay City, Mich., on September 27, 1892, Mr. Nichols married to Miss Esther Blanche Connor, the daughter of Michigan pioneers. Four children blessed this union, one of whom gave his life for his country. Helen Blanche, Alan Hammond, John Ralph and Dorothy Esther, a student at Stanford University. Two of the sons were in the World War. Alan Hammond Nichols went with the first Stanford Ambulance unit, and later joined the French aviation corps; and he was killed on June 1, 1918, during the big German drive on Compiegne. John or Jack, went with the second Stanford Ambulance unit, and then joined the U. S. A. tanks; and he was in the St. Mihiel and Argonne offensives.
The family attends the Congregational Church; and Mr. Nichols votes with the Progressive Republicans. At Boulder, Colo., he belonged to the Lodge No. 45, F. & A. M., where he was a warden and a master, then he joined Columbia lodge at Monrovia; then he belonged to San Pasqual lodge No. 252, at Pasadena; and is now a member of Palo Alto lodge No. 346.
The Palo Alto Union high school, of which Mr. Nichols is the experienced and inspiring head, is justly regarded as one of the best institutions of its kind in all California, daily fulfilling its motto, cut into the stone over the doorway of the main auditorium, "Wisdom is knowing what to do next: Virtue is doing it"-a noble sentiment from Dr. David Starr Jordan, who gave the address at the school's dedication. The magnificent site of thirty acres was practically donated by the Stanford trustees, and those of prophetic vision have seen the possibility of this school growing into a junior college to take care of early years of university instruction. To the schoolman who is
accustomed to look upon a new high school building as a compact urban structure, limited to a single city block, the Palo Alto high school is a distinct and pleasant surprise; for there is about this group of buildings the charm of the olden-time California mission and the spirit of the small college. The land is the property of Stanford University, and has been rented to the school district for 100 years at the nominal sum of $1 per acre per annum. Ground for the new buildings was broken in December, 1917. The academic classes are lodged in the
administration building, which includes the library, study hall, the office of the school and fourteen classrooms. The science department includes three laboratories and a lecture room, and a small biological
garden. The commercial department consists of a typewriting room and a bookkeeping room. The domestic arts department, with its class-rooms, sewing and cooking rooms, etc., is in the heart of the group and
connects the commercial department with the auditorium. The manual arts department forms the southeast wing of the group where its activities will not disturb the remainder of the school. The art department and
the cafeteria form the eastern wing of a court, upon which the girls' gymnasium, the auditorium and the domestic arts departments will back. A feature of this court will be a swimming pool. The northernmost wing
of the group contains the auditorium. Probably the most novel feature of the entire group is the study court.
The central idea of the building is embodied in the library, concerning which Mr. Nichols, when superintendent of the Palo Alto schools, remarked: "Books remain the master tool of educational processes, all pseudo-vocational, moving picture theories of education to the contrary notwithstanding.Exact science is poverty-stricken without its master-interpreters and seers whose names stand out on the library shelves. In the library are gathered the ideals of all time and all men, and even a dullard must be quickened into some sort of vision of life by the very fact of sitting quietly surrounded by books. In the full faith that the library may be made the wellspring of ideality in the lives of high school pupils, the trustees have set their seal on this spacious, central room."
Considering the undoubtedly important part which the Palo Alto high school will play in the future development of education in Northern California, some observation by its distinguished head on general educational affairs in the Golden State are here worthy of record. "Educational affairs in California," said Mr. Nichols not long
ago, "are being excellently directed by a strong, efficient non-political State Board of Education and by the Honorable Will C. Wood, just elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Mr. Wood is an educated statesman of high order, wholly devoted to the interests of the children and the educational institutions of the State."
Transcribed by Linda Gretty, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California, published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 967
PALO ALTO HISTORY AND GENEALOGY
SANTA CLARA VALLEY- The Valley of Heart's Delight
July 19, 2005