Schooling for Squatters Unlike most other public institutions, the first schools in Sonoma County did not develop in the commercial centers, the little towns and trading posts like Healdsburg that sprang up like weeds after the Gold Rush. It took only a handful of families to run those frontier towns. Typically they consisted of a general store, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, and if you were lucky, a good saloon with lodging rooms upstairs.
The real centers of population in those early years were the fertile river valleys of Northern California. Venturesome farming families and failed gold miners fairly stampeded into the Russian River Valley between 1850 and 1860. By mid-decade all the good land had been taken up, mostly by squatters. And those squatters begat many little squatters.(1)
So it is not surprising that all three of the first school commissioners who met to decide the fate of Mendocino Township schools in April 1854 were farmers. H. P. Mollison, Isaac Laymance, and William Kinkaid carved the township into two huge districts, each extending from the Russian River at Dry Creek all the way to the Sonoma Coast. Their choice for the site of the first schoolhouse, two miles up Dry Creek, was not surprising either. This coveted farmland in lower Dry Creek Valley teamed with settlers and later became a hotbed of squatter rebellion.
First Schoolhouse The exact location of that first Mendocino Township schoolhouse is not known. The meeting minutes in 1854 state that District No. 1 schoolhouse, 16 x 20 feet, was built on Dry Creek at a place called the Narrows about two miles above Heald's Store (which was located on the 300 block of Healdsburg Avenue). That would place it near the site of the old Manzanita School on Dry Creek Rd., although that district was not formed until 1863. That location is marked, and misspelled at "Manzaneta School" in Thompson's 1877 Atlas above.
A man who attended that first school, and whose father helped to build it, Frank Sparks, placed the first schoolhouse a few hundred yards northeast of the Manzanita School site in 1905. Apart from its location, Sparks's most vivid memory of his early school years in Healdsburg's pioneer schoolhouse was of the "lickings" he received at the hands of his teacher, apparently so severe that for many years he harbored the ambition to return them in kind.(2)
District No. 2 schoolhouse was built soon after, about five miles from Healdsburg in another populous settlement area, along Westside Road between the H. P. Mollison and George Storey ranches. This was known thereafter as the Mill Creek School.(3) Although it was the second district formed, Mill Creek School actually opened its doors to students first, in January 1855. The Dry Creek schoolhouse had its first term from May to August of that same year. Short School Terms Initially school terms were only three months long, then gradually increased over the years to five or six. School was in session only during the spring and summer months in rural areas because the roads became impassable in winter and boys and girls were needed on the family farm during fall harvest.
Not only was the school year much shorter in the early days, and held in different seasons, but it was also highly unpredictable. Epidemics of cholera, measles, and other diseases raged through town in the mid 1800s, killing many school-age children. If a serious disease hit town the schools would close for fear of contagion.
As ever more agriculturists poured into Dry Creek Valley, a third schoolhouse was built about six miles up Dry Creek Road near Lambert Bridge in 1857. This later became known as Lambert School, (now the site of 3001 Dry Creek Road).
Teachers at the rural schools during its first years include a Mr. Fitzgerald, R. J. Yancey, G. T. Espy, N. Eaton, E. L. Taner, R. A. Johnson, E. L. Green, B. N. Bonham, M. B. Harrison, a Mr. Willson, and William Byrd.(4)
Russian River Institute, built in 1858 at the current site of 112 University St., seen here in 1868.(Sonoma County Library)
Private Schools: The Russian River Institute It may be that the very first private school in the region was a small Sunday and day school established in 1853 by a Methodist congregation in Alexander Valley. It reportedly burned about 1863. Late in the year 1853 pioneer land grant owner, Cyrus Alexander, is said to have erected a small school which he called "Pine Grove" at his own expense, on his own land. He aimed primarily to educate his own large brood, although others also attended.(5)
By the late 1850s even the little village of Healdsburg was growing relatively populous. Educator Erastus A. Scott came to the newly christened town in the summer of 1857. Surveying the lack of educational facilities, he opened a private academy in January 1858.(6)
Scott commissioned a substantial two-story structure and named it the "Russian River Institute". It was built under the direction of Charlie Proctor in the midst of an oak and madrone grove, on land donated by Jesse Seaman just east of the town site. Tuition of $100, called "scholarships", served as subscriptions from prospective students. These financed construction, along with generous donations from local mills, mechanics, and tradesmen. The dusty road that ran in front of the Institute was later named University Street in its honor (now the site of 112 University St.). Back In the States Pioneer W. A. Maxwell remembered the celebratory opening party in the new building in January 1858. Along with the requisite speeches came the loan of the only piano north of Santa Rosa at the time. It belonged to the Fitch family of the Sotoyome Rancho. Anita Fitch (later Anita Bailhache), then so young that her feet did not reach the pedals, was the first to play. Maxwell recalled:
...when Mrs. Bailhache sat down at the instrument and played one of those foot-inspiring pieces...it made men and women think how it used to be, "back in the States", and before the good Scott [who was opposed to dancing on religious grounds] knew what was going on, a whole floor of dancers were in full swing; just two or three quadrilles for auld lang syne, and then out of deference to the Professor they quit.(7) In Scott’s first year two teachers assisted him, Miss E. A. Downing, daughter of the local cabinetmaker, and Roderick Matheson, a distinguished local rancher and native of Scotland who later became a Civil War hero. Other teachers that first year were E. Pelt, J. S. Miller, and Miss E. Allen. Initially there was no lack of pupils. The school had a total of 103 students, including 46 ladies and 57 gentlemen, two San Franciscans, one Petaluman, and one Santa Rosan. But funds were scarce, as most of the subscriptions had been used for construction.
Agricultural and Mechanical University of California In 1859 a group of local citizens headed by Matheson took over the school. He rechristened it with a very ambitious name, the Agricultural and Mechanical University of California. These men had a great vision for the school: a mechanical shop, a mill, student worked corn and hemp fields, and botanical gardens. Matheson and another board member, Charles E. Hutton, had even secured the use of a printing press owned by local citizen, J. B. Boggs, and had gathered $400 in local subscriptions to support a newspaper to be published by the college. In exchange for clearing his land, Matheson offered some nearby acreage for agricultural training.(8)
Yet the school board was beset by financial problems in their worthy endeavor. Individual board members "invested" more and more of their own money to keep the school in operation. Still, the idealist Matheson wrote a strong letter to the board on Sept. 7, 1860:
...All institutions of a literary and scientific character, that have any prominence in the world, unless endowed by the dying millionaire or royal bequest, have had, in their infancy to struggle for very existence; and had there been at the head of their affairs, a weak, vacillating and timid Board of Directors, they must have perished ingloriously, and have sunk into obscurity....(9)
Only four months after firing off this letter, Matheson was called away to Washington D. C. to attend the inauguration of President Lincoln. He never returned to Healdsburg, for as the Civil War opened, he answered Lincoln's call to become the first Colonel of the First California Regiment. He died of his wounds on October 2, 1862..(10) (see article this site: Colonel Roderick N. Matheson, City Builder and Civil War Hero)
First Literary Society and Library Financial problems only worsened in the months following Matheson's departure, and the great University that he and his fellow board members envisioned did perish, rather ingloriously. It closed and reopened under a series of administrations and headmasters between 1861 and 1867. One of these, a Professor Anderson, has the distinction of having created the first literary society in Healdsburg, as well as a pioneer library of 300 volumes that was later absorbed into the public library. During these years the school was known as the Sotoyome Institute, but when it later fell into the hands of Cyrus Alexander, who conveyed it to the Presbyterian Church, it became known as the Alexander Academy.(11)
Finally the beleaguered University/Institute/Academy was taken over by Dr. S. H. Thomson in 1877. Using his own family as faculty, Thomson built a large and impressive new building at the end of Plaza Street for the new school, rechristened yet again as the Healdsburg Institute, in the fall of that year.(12)
Newspaper reports seem to indicate that the old Alexander Academy on University Street continued to operate for a short time even after Dr. Thomson moved to the new building, but the Healdsburg Institute absorbed its faculty by late 1879.(13) A year or two later two young women, a Miss Carter and Clara Heald, opened a private seminary there, known locally as the "kindergarten", that operated until at least 1883. That was the building’s last use.(14)
After 1883 the abandoned pioneer University building was taken over by bats, yellow jackets, and the occasional band of marauding children. The bravest of these last might climb the rickety old stairs to the unused belfry. In 1886 a deacon of the Presbyterian Church, a Mr. Gates, purchased the old school and lot for back taxes, demolished the old building, and subdivided the lot for residences.(15)
Above: written on back: Healdsburg Academy 1870, Teacher Mrs. Firebaugh
1. Henry Grant & Alfred Abbey (2nd row, far left); 2. Belle Jenner (second row, 4th from left); 3. Adellers Stewart (2nd row, 3rd from right); 4. Alice Griest (bottom row, 2nd from left); 5. Helena Hurtel (?) (top row, far right); 6. Hermon Hurtel (?) (second row, far right); 7. Lola Lawrence (second row, second from right); 8. George Matheson (top row, 3rd from right); 9. Nellie Brown (top row, 4th from right)
Alexander Academy and diminished student body circa 1877, seen here before it became a haven for bats and marauding children. (Sonoma County Library)
The Healdsburg Institute faculty and student body stand in front of their new building at the end of Plaza Street in 1879. S. A. Thompson, Headmaster, center at rear.(Sonoma County Library)
A young prophet, Ellen G. White, circa 1860.
Healdsburg Academy/College Unlike many other small towns in Sonoma County, Healdsburg could offer its first high school graduates in 1891 the option of a college education. After the private Healdsburg Institute failed financially in 1881, the Seventh-day Adventist Church purchased the four-year-old building. For a quarter of a century thereafter they ran it as Healdsburg Academy, and after 1899, Healdsburg College.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church first began organized work in the West in 1868 when D. T. Bourdeau and J. N. Loughborough arrived in San Francisco. Since that time church membership in the Golden State had grown. Although the "capital" of Adventist education was in Battle Creek, Michigan, many Californian Adventists felt that this was too far to send their boys and girls. Yet without a church school, parents feared that their sons and daughters might drift away from the Message.(16)
Part of that Message was conveyed by church prophet, Ellen Gould White, who urged the membership in 1881 to found a Western school. Her son, William C. White, soon departed for the East to retain the services of Professor Sidney Brownsberger as principal. Brownsberger, a bright graduate of the University of Michigan, had run afoul of radicals in the congregation who believed that the new Spirit of Prophecy called for more practical ideals in education, at the expense of classical training. Most church members at the time even opposed school dormitories as fostering evil influences.(17) Weakened physically by the dispute, Brownsberger had resigned as president of the Battle Creek institution the year before. He was therefore free to accept W. C. White's proposition.
Open To All Denominations Church officials investigated several school sites in Sonoma and Napa Counties where Adventism had taken root, including the cities of Napa, St. Helena, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Healdsburg. But when the small town of Healdsburg hosted an Adventist conference in January 1882, church members urged the selection of that site. Healdsburg Adventists argued: Property could be obtained cheaply, the climate is good, crops were certain, and the people were prosperous.(18)
Adding weight to their argument was the fact that Dr. Thomson's Healdsburg Institute was available for sale. An impressive Italianate two-story structure built in 1877 at the end of Plaza Street, the Institute had nevertheless failed financially due to lack of enrollment by 1881. The free public school on Tucker Street, by then firmly established, had drawn away too many students from the private Institute.(19) Although valued at $10,000, the Adventist Church bought the school property from Mrs. Mercy Gray for $3,750 on April 5, 1882. She had recently purchased it from Professor Thomson for a proposed Baptist college that never materialized.
Enrollment at the Adventist-run school, first known as the Healdsburg Academy, was open to all denominations. The citizens of the town of Healdsburg were always proud of the school's presence in the community. The editor of the Russian River Flag assured readers that this would not be a proselytizing school but is to be conducted in such a manner as to attract all young gentlemen and ladies who desire a more advanced education. He hoped that the school would attract many new and desirable residents to Healdsburg.(20) It was, in fact, prestige-conscious Healdsburg citizens who persuaded church officials, some of whom had misgivings, to change the name from Healdsburg Academy to the grander Healdsburg College in 1899.
Healdsburg Academy opened on April 11, 1882, with 26 homesick scholars who felt dwarfed by the commodious building with six classrooms, principal's office, bookstore, hall, library, and assembly room.(21) Professor Brownsberger began that first school day with the singing of Home Sweet Home, and we might imagine those tremulous, tear-strained voices as they echoed off the empty walls.
By the end of its first full term the college had a faculty of six, including Professor Brownsberger and his wife, W.C. Grainger and his wife, Edith Donaldson, and Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Ramsey, who instructed a total of 152 students.
Prophet of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Ellen Gould White in 1864.
Prophet of God Mrs. Ellen G. White, an early proponent of the college, took up residence in Healdsburg to be near the new school. Born in Maine in 1827, White was considered by her church to be a prophet of God and reportedly wrote many of her best-selling religious books in Healdsburg. Her former home still stands at 201 Powell Street in Healdsburg, as well as her ranch home at 1950 West Dry Creek Road. While retaining Healdsburg as a base until 1908, she traveled worldwide spreading the message of the church. She reportedly called Healdsburg a beautiful, beautiful place.(22)
Ellen G. White was also instrumental in the additional purchase of a five-acre tract on Fitch Street at Grant that later became the Healdsburg College dormitory (now the site of Healdsburg Junior High School). This was the first such College Home in any Adventist institution, and given the aforementioned mistrust of such facilities by many church members, it was also a victory for Professor Brownsberger.
Although church officials warned that they might be depleting other small Adventist congregations, members continued to move to Healdsburg to be near the school and their children. Already a strong influence in the little town, Seventh-day Adventists eventually made up a fifth of Healdsburg's population.
In keeping with the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, there was a strong vocational slant to the curriculum of the college. In addition to the basic courses offered in Bible study, history, languages, natural sciences, and mathematics, there was an entire Industrial Department offering classes in broom-making, painting, cooking, dress and tent-making, carpentry, blacksmithing, agriculture, and even plumbing. When the first female students were put to work in the laundry at the commencement of the first school year, Professor Brownsberger noted that they did not shirk. He reportedly cried in response, We have made a beginning. We have won the victory. The labor by students is not despised, but it will be a glory and an honor wherever they take part.(23)
The first school bulletin stated that education was to be seen as an improvement of the Powers of the entire human organism, fostering a commendable self-sufficiency with the result of a more profitable class of citizens. Toward this end, pupils were required to perform two and a half hours of manual labor daily. Students accomplished many of the improvements at the school, as well as many of the routine maintenance tasks.
Stand Still, Walk Backward, or Run Away From its founding the college was coeducational. Although Adventists prized education for their daughters, and often honored women with positions of high prestige in the church, the curriculum for women at Healdsburg College differed greatly from that offered the young men. Young ladies were offered courses more in keeping with their limited future roles including classes in "healthful cooking" and "useful employment" (laundering, dressmaking, etc.).
Despite the desire of Adventists to educate their daughters, "village students" (non-Adventist Healdsburg residents) made up most of the female enrollment at the college. The relatively expensive proposition of sending girls away to school, when one or more sons might already be attending, discouraged many Adventist families from taking advantage of the college.
Throughout its history Healdsburg Academy/College, like most private colleges of its era, retained a strong moral and religious flavor. During its first term of 1882–1883 a pamphlet warned that all students must refrain from flirtation, courtship, and all appearance of same. As students walked from the dormitory on Grant Street to the classroom buildings at the end of Plaza Street, the ladies used one side of the street while the gentlemen used the other.(24) We can only guess at the very meaningful glances that must have daily simmered across Fitch Street during this era. When being scolded for allowing a gentleman to walk beside her to school, legend has it that one young lady lamented, What could I do? A faculty member readily replied, Stand still, walk backward, or run away from him!(25)
At the dormitory building, known as the College Home, young men and women occupied different floors, and when caught in an unauthorized association, they were compelled to make a public confession in chapel as a penance. One girl caught fraternizing without permission reportedly confessed honestly, I'm sorry I was caught. I won't be caught again.(26)
The Adventist religion placed a high priority on a healthy diet. Far ahead of its time, Healdsburg Academy had a "health food store" on campus. The College Home dining room introduced a vegetarian diet in 1895.
Step-and-a-half Grainger In the summer of 1886 "unfortunate complications in Brownsberger's personal affairs" led to his withdrawal as president.(27) The post was taken over by W. C. Grainger, who is credited with presiding over the glory days of the college (1886–1894). Grainger, who came West after a grasshopper plague in his native Missouri, first taught school in Ukiah and Anderson Valley, California. Persuaded by his neighbor, Abram La Rue, he converted to Adventism there. A tall, Lincolnesque man, President Grainger reportedly had a dry sort of wit. An old injury caused him to limp, which led to the affectionate student nickname "Step-and-a-half Grainger." Teachers and students seemed to appreciate his encyclopedic knowledge and kindly, helpful, and very informal manner.
This informal manner, however, eventually led to his downfall. Straight-laced church officials visiting from the East criticized Grainger's college as scandalously informal. Boys entered the dormitory in their boots and friendly students and teachers invaded Grainger’s office at all hours without any restriction. Realizing that church officials desired it, President Grainger resigned in 1894. He went on to do important missionary work in Japan, dying there in 1899. The home he lived in during his Healdsburg years ,moved from the location of the Healdsburg College campus, is still standing at 219 Piper Street.(28)
The Devil Sowed Houses Although Healdsburg College was for many years a financially sound institution, especially under President Grainger, it suffered severe financial deficits at the turn of the Century. In 1905 Healdsburg College president, W. E. Howell, blamed such financial straits on unwise borrowing for expanding industries, some not essential to the work of the college.(29)
There was also the problem of the growing town of Healdsburg. When first established, college founders were looking for a rural setting. Now, as Healdsburg continued to grow all around the school, the classroom buildings at the end of Plaza Street had become separated from the School Home on Fitch Street, 2.5 blocks away. Having neglected to buy the land between its facilities, Healdsburg College was now made up of two islands surrounded by many new homes. As Ellen G. White put it, While men slept, the devil sowed houses.(30)
The college limped on for a couple of years, then saw its final campus activity, in the old dormitory, on July 14, 1908. The college classroom building at the end of Plaza Street had been sold a year before to a group of Healdsburg citizens, who leased it to the local school board for use as Healdsburg High School. These beneficent citizens, including Eli Bush, held the property until the City of Healdsburg could afford to buy it for $5,500 in November 1915.(31) Eventually a new Adventist school, Pacific Union College, opened in Angwin, California in 1909.
New Healdsburg Public School built in 1871 at Tucker and East Streets, on land donated for the "District of Common Schools" by Harmon Heald in 1857. (Sonoma County Library copy of Healdsburg Museum original).
Healdsburg Public Schools Although the private Russian River Institute was open to those who could afford tuition by the late 1850s, Healdsburg citizens realized that it was time to bite the bullet and raise subscriptions for a proper public schoolhouse right in town. Harmon Heald donated a plot for the "District of Common Schools" when he laid out the town in 1857.
According to one account, the first schoolhouse in the town of Healdsburg was a small redwood shack of about 18 x 24 feet that stood in a little grove of manzanita trees near the southwest corner of East and Tucker Streets. Mrs. H. W. Dickenson, one of the first teachers, also organized a Sunday School there. When the Russian River Academy opened in 1858, this school reportedly closed and the Sunday school relocated to the academy, which was named Little Pilgrim Sunday School.(32)
It was not until January 1859 that construction started on a new public school building located somewhere on the block bounded by Tucker, East, Matheson, and Fitch Streets (now the site of St. John's School).(33)
No photographs have survived to show which street that 1859 schoolhouse fronted or what it looked like, but the two larger public school buildings that replaced it in 1871 and 1877 faced Tucker and East Streets. The grammar school remained at this site until it moved to its current location at 400 First Street in 1936. Healdsburg High School The Tucker and East Street site doubled as the location of the first Healdsburg High School. The upper floor of the grammar school building literally served the purpose of higher education when it held its first high school class of 15 eager students in September 1888. Led by Professor H. R. Bull, they embarked on a three-year program. Before that time local youths boarded in other nearby cities to attend public high school. Those who could not afford such a luxury went without.
By August 1890 increased enrollment warranted construction of a new high school building next to the grammar school. This spared teenagers the humiliation of sharing a room with the first graders, an excruciating situation made necessary by lack of space.(34)
The first high school graduation exercises took place in June 1891 when proud townsfolk packed Truitt's Theater to watch nine successful scholars, eight young ladies and one courageous gentleman, receive diplomas. Over the rostrum hung a banner that read Schoolhouses are the Nation's Line of Fortification. As the very first crop of Healdsburg High School students, they are noted by name: Anna Amesbury, Junia Cook, Olleva Dutton, Julius Fried, Leonora Gates, Carrie Moulton, Margaret Powell, Edith Soules, and Adelaide Stites.(35)
When the high school won accreditation from the University of California on its first application in June 1893, the local papers proclaimed, Hurrah for the High School!(36)
A Disgrace to the Town High school affairs were not always so jubilant. As the size of the grammar school student body increased faster than that of the high school, the younger students soon took over the new building as well. The original structure housing the high school, was barely 20 years old. But angry reports began to creep into local newspapers complaining about its deteriorating condition.
Perhaps built in haste in 1871, by 1892 the schoolhouse was said to have become separated by one foot from its own north wall and had to be put back together with jackscrews and 2,000 feet of new lumber. In 1901 reports claim that there were holes in the walls, and square-headed nails and an occasional board rained freely down on hapless students. The sanitary facilities apparently did not merit that label.(37)
It took an outsider, however, to motivate the citizens to act. In October 1903 the State School Inspector declared Healdsburg High School a disgrace to the town. Mortified locals held mass meetings calling for the immediate issue of bonds to build a new school. In 1903 citizens declared that they wanted only a new modern building—no second hand structures need apply. Officials chose a new school site at West (now Healdsburg Ave.) and Lincoln Streets, and a bond election overwhelmingly passed in favor of a new $17,000 structure for the High School. Voters soon learned, however, that a technicality regarding the size of the school district rendered the election illegal. During the resulting furor, the site on West Street sold to another party.
Now the school board proposed the purchase of the old Healdsburg College property at Fitch and Plaza Streets, which still belonged to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and could be had for only $8,000. An adjoining piece of property could be purchased for $4,000. Elementary School First The next bond election, in May 1905, approved $35,000, but not for the High School. These funds were meant for a new elementary school at the old site on Tucker Street. All the structures at that site were razed, with the exception of the original 1871 schoolhouse.
That decrepit old public school building, erected so enthusiastically 35 years before, was moved to Mason and Fitch Streets, where it was used as a boarding house and bar until the early 1940’s. Its belfry, along with its dignity, did not survive the move.(38)
The cleared Tucker Street site soon supported an impressive and stately two-story, eleven-room cobblestone elementary school, completed in the summer of 1906. The earthquake in April that damaged so many other buildings did not even interrupt its construction.(39)
Snapped Up by Beneficent Citizens The high school had not been forgotten by everyone. In July 1906, when construction on the new elementary school ended, the district leased the old Healdsburg College Building from a forward-thinking group of citizens. This group had snapped up the bargain property from the vacating Seventh-day Adventist Church for only $6,500, $1,500 less than the asking price two years before. These beneficent citizens, and later Eli Bush of the department store Rosenberg and Bush, held this property until the City could afford to buy it for $5,500 in November 1915.
And it was about that time that complaints, once again, began to appear in the local papers. ...The outside of the building brought back dreams of Dickens, said one. Critics cited overcrowding and the fact that typing students had to back out of the room after entering. The physics lab was “a dungeon” and the floors looked like a giant washboard.”
Many locals, including Eli Bush, tried to improve the 38-year-old structure with new floors, paint, blackboards, sinks, chairs, and lavatories. But they abandoned their valiant efforts in 1917, when a $100,000 bond issue allowed the $9,500 purchase of the old Healdsburg College Dormitory, also known as North Hall, at Fitch and Grant Streets.
Since the demise of the old Adventist College in 1908, this second campus building had found adaptive re-use as Dr. Ira Wheeler’s Sanitarium. The old dormitory was razed in the summer of 1917, along with all of the other small buildings on the site.
At long last Healdsburg High School students entered a brand new public high school, in December 1918, perhaps still smelling of fresh paint and plaster. The San Francisco architect, William Henry Weeks (1864–1936), known for his neoclassicism, designed hundreds of schools, libraries and bank building throughout California. Innovations noted at the time included skylights, cork linoleum floors, and telephones in every classroom connecting to the principal’s office.(40)
The first Healdsburg College building, at the end of Plaza Street, the structure that since 1877 had also housed the Healdsburg Institute and Alexander Academy, was sold to George Kunz for $400. There was some consolation for nostalgic old-timers however, for the structure was dismantled and much of the lumber hauled off to build the new American Legion Hall on Center Street in June 1919.(41)
Long Beach Quake Reverberates in Healdsburg Meanwhile a crop of maturing World War I babies precipitated no less than two new brick additions to the 1906 cobblestone elementary school on Tucker Street. Both were completed in 1924.
Then a disastrous earthquake at Long Beach, California in 1933 reverberated all the way to Healdsburg by making school boards all over the state inspect their schools for earthquake safety. The impressive two-story cobblestone building did not pass its inspection, and it would cost $29,340 to rectify its structural shortcomings.(42)
Rather than invest in the old school, officials chose a new site at North and First Streets and built a $75,000 elementary school in the summer of 1936. Much of the labor came courtesy of SERA (State Emergency Relief Administration) crews under contractor John Hachman.
When completed in 1935, local newspapers hailed it as one of the outstanding buildings in the north Bay Area. Designed in the popular Mission Revival Style by architect John I. Easterly, it was considered state-of-the-art for school architecture. One innovation that seemed to astound the local press was the installation of lockers to replace the time-honored cloakroom.(43)
The 1906 portion of the lovely cobblestone grammar school on Tucker Street was torn down, but one of the brick additions and part of the lot sold for $6,000 to the Catholic Church. The other sold for $3,400 to Earl Adams to use as the Healdsburg Tribune printing office. The entire Tucker Street property is presently St. John’s Catholic School, which added the present main building in 1954.
Healdsburg High School remained at Fitch and Grant Streets until 1954, when a new campus was constructed on Powell Avenue. Construction costs totaled $556,140. The 1918 structure at Fitch and Grant Streets housed Healdsburg Junior High School until July 1974, when it was demolished to make way for buildings designed by the architectural firm Corwin Booth and Associates, dedicated in May 1975. A separate gym building completed in the fall of 1935 received major renovations in 1978. In 2015 Healdsburg Junior High School at Grant Street got a 13.2 million dollar make-over by Quattrocchi Kwok Architects, and the same firm designed four new buildings at the high school campus on Powell Ave.(44)
The Rural Schools As the population of Sonoma County grew, the large school districts were carved up ever smaller. We can watch that population rise and fall by charting the number of schools. In 1852 there were five private schools reported on the old Mexican ranchos. By 1854, the year Healdsburg opened its first public school, there were 23 schools in Sonoma County. In 1876, the tail end of the settlement era, there were 138 primary schools. That number rose only slightly in the next half century, to 141 in 1925, and actually fell to 122 grammar schools in 1937, during the Great Depression.(45)
Numbers may help historians, but they certainly fail to give the flavor of the old one-room schoolhouses that dotted the countryside. It is said that school officials placed them about four miles apart so that no child had to walk more than two miles to school. They resembled a small settlement era farmhouse, redwood covered with clapboard, with a small front porch. They often had two distinctive features: two front doors, side by side, one for the girls and one for the boys, and a belfry with a school bell on the roof.
Out back stood a woodshed and a pair of two-seater outhouses, also segregated by sex. Some of the outhouses were insect and snake infested, but some also had a Sears Roebuck catalog for reading, wishful thinking, and practical use.
Inside, blackboards covered the schoolhouse walls. These were well used due to a scarcity of paper. A wood stove, desks, clock, flag, and maybe a piano topped off the decor. Those desks were filled with a motley crew of often barefoot scholars, sometimes accompanied by their pet dogs. They ranged in age from 6 to about 15, but some could be as old as 21.(46)
Patricia Phillips Schmidt listed the early Dry Creek Valley Schools:
Manzanita, one-half mile west of the freeway on Dry Creek Road, 1855, extant as a residence.
Lambert School, located one-half mile below the Dry Creek Store, built 1857, site was at 3001 Dry Creek Road
Dry Creek School, on the Kelly property and later moved onto the hill on the Reiners property, now 5129 Dry Creek Road
Upper Dry Creek School, built 1866, later called Hamilton School, near Bridge Road (now under Warm Springs Dam), with a new school completed in 1874
Lincoln District School, built on Dutcher Creek in 1909, merged into Geyserville District in the early 1930s
Canyon School, on Canyon Road, just east of Dry Creek Road, built 1912 West Dry Creek Road schools
Pena School on upper Dry Creek Road, in 1889 on land purchased from G. K. Bell, demolished
Grape School, first built on Wine Creek Road and later moved down to West Dry Creek Road on Jules Auradou property
Pine Ridge School, built c. 1900, unionized and joined the Healdsburg Elementary School District in 1936, now a private home at 2065 West Dry Creek Road.(47)
Schools on the west side of Healdsburg included Daniels, Felta, Junction, Lafayette, and Mill Creek. In 1951 these school districts joined to become Westside Union School District, housed in a new building nearby the old Felta School at 1201 Felta Road.
1. Clayborn, A Promised Land: Grantees, Squatters, and Speculators in the Healdsburg Land Wars. (see on this site)
2. "Pioneer Revisits Healdsburg", account of Frank Sparks in Healdsburg Tribune 28 Sept. 1905, 1:3.
3. Minutes of the meetings of the School District Trustees, Mendocino Township , beginning April 3, 1854. According to oral history (Vincent Colombano, Healdsburg, 1994) that District No. 2 schoolhouse was originally built on the J.V. Cummings ranch about 1855. This site, however, was subject to flooding and the building was raised and moved to higher ground. As even this did not solve the problem, a new schoolhouse was built in 1886 on a two acre parcel donated (or sold) by George Storey. Both of these buildings were known as the Mill Creek School.
4. Minutes of the Board of Trustees, Mendocino Township, beginning April. 3, 1854.
5. Charles Alexander, The Life and Times of Cyrus Alexander, 103-106. Healdsburg Tribune , Diamond Jubilee Edition, 26 Aug. 1940; pgs. 17, 20.
6. Langhart, Edwin, "The Russian River Institute", in Russian River Recorder, Jan. 1977; Healdsburg Tribune, 25 Jan., 1900, 2:2. One source lists Baxter Bonham as the original founder of the school. He was at that time the first County Superintendent of Common Schools, later becoming the first medical practitioner in Healdsburg, which may account for this confusion. Munro-Fraser; History of Sonoma County, p. 242.; Finley, History of Sonoma County, p. 268.
7. W.A. Maxwell, "Early Healdsburg Memories" in Healdsburg Tribune, 2 April 1908 (1:3).
8. Ibid. Other board members included L. D. Hassett, R. M. Deneen, T. O. Thompson, Charles E. Hutton, and William M. Macy. Minutes of the Meeting s of the Board of Directors of the Agricultural and Mechanical University of California, 12 May, 1859 to 1 Sept., 1860
9. Ibid., Sept. 7, 1860.
10. Colonel Roderick N. Matheson: City Builder and Civil War Hero (see on this site)
11. Langhart, Edwin, "The Russian River Institute", in Russian River Recorder, Jan. 1977, pgs. 8,9.
12. Ibid. Minutes of the Agricultural and Mechanical University of California.
13. Healdsburg Enterprise, 7 Nov., 1879; 3:3.
14. Shipley, Dr. William C., Tales of Sonoma County (Santa Rosa: Sonoma County Historical Society, 1965)
15. Langhart, "The Russian River Institute", Russian River Recorder, Jan. 1977.
16. 75th Anniversary Edition of the Diogenes Lantern, (Angwin, California: Student Assoc. of Pacific Union College, 1957), p. 31. Note: unless otherwise indicated all information in this section is drawn from the above source. Also cited as Utt, Walter C., A Mountain, A Pickax, a College; (Angwin: Pacific Union College Press, 1942).
17. Ibid., p. 31.
19. By 1879 Healdsburg Institute had only 58 students compared to 227 at Healdsburg Public School. Clayborn, Hannah M., "Healdsburg Schools 1883-1880", in Russian River Recorder, Issue 23, April, 1982, p. 2.
20. Diogenes Lantern, p. 32.
21. Although 26 students were enrolled, only 18 may have been present that day. Ibid.
22. Clayborn, Hannah et al, Historic Homes of Healdsburg, #62, Healdsburg Museum, Healdsburg Cultural Resource Survey, 1983.
32. W.A. Maxwell, "Early Healdsburg Memories" in Healdsburg Tribune 2 April 1908.
33. Minutes of the meetings of the School District Trustees, Mendocino Township , beginning April 3, 1854. Plat map of Healdsburg, March, 1857.
34. Healdsburg Enterprise, 3 October 1888, (3:4); 7 August 1890 (3:2); (3:5); Diamond Jubilee Edition, 26 Aug. 1940; p 20.
35. Healdsburg Tribune, 4 June 1891, 3:6.
36. Healdsburg Tribune, 8 June 1893.
37. Healdsburg Tribune, 28 December 1899, 2:2; 25 January 1900, 2:2.
38. Healdsburg Enterprise Diamond Jubilee Edition, 26 Aug. 1940; p 20.
39. Healdsburg Enterprise 28 July 1906, 1:2.
40. Healdsburg Enterprise 9 January 1915, 1:1; 14 August 1915, 1:4; 20 November 1915, 2; 10 May 1919, 1:4; Diamond Jubilee Edition, 26 Aug. 1940; p 20. Healdsburg Tribune 31 August 1916 1:3; 22 March 1917, 1; 8 November 1917, 1:4; 29 August 1918, 1:4; 15 May 1919, 1:3; 19 June 1919, 1:1. 1. Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar, Volume XXXI, Number 38, 5 December 1918. 1:1.
41. The fate of the 40’ redwood beams from old Healdsburg College Building: Oral Interview: Jack Relyea, 1980.
42. Healdsburg Enterprise Diamond Jubilee Edition, 26 Aug. 1940; p 20
43. Clayborn et al, Historic Homes of Healdsburg, 1984, #37.
44. Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar, Volume LXXI, Number 6, 7 November 1935; Number 30, 14 March 1974; Number 46, 8 May 1975; Number 14, 5 January 1978. Press Democrat, 4 October 2015.
45. Finley, History of Sonoma County, pgs. 267-275.
46. Praetzellis, Adrian; Gone But Not Forgotten: Historical Glimpses of the Lake Sonoma Area (San Francisco: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1984), pgs. 13-18. Phillips, Major, "Dry Creek Memories", in Russian River Recorder, Issue 30, Summer, 1985, p. 5. "Felta School - landmark of rural learning", in Press Democrat, 27 July, 1975
47. Schmidt, Patricia, Dry Creek Neighbors Club 1979: 2–5, 13.