by Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson, February 22, 1974
This is neither the first Santa Clara schoolhouse, nor is this its original location. The reasons why can be found in the tracing of the historical development of the district, the people, and the times.
Back in the Sixties and Seventies, a public school could not be organized until the Board of Supervisors established a school district for that school to serve. Originally, Ventura County was a part of Santa Barbara County, and this entire vast acreage was considered School District Number One! As new settlements appeared, or old ones grew, the Supervisors began breaking up the first huge one into smaller ones, each district having one grammar school. In 1879, the Santa Clara School District was established, and the first school was being organized the same year. Wedged between the already existing Santa Paula School District and the West Sespe School District, this new district was the result of the same demands made by other parents in neighboring districts, demands for a local public school to serve their children's needs.
Who were these people who organized the first school in 1879? They were mostly farmers who settled in this area on lands which for some reason were never a part of the original Meidcan land grants of the Santa Paula y Saticoy Rancho or the Sespe Rancho. Carving out homesteads as early as 1871, these families were: Atmores, Halls, Cooks, Chormicles, Joys, Balcoms, Lugers, Willards, Ortegas, Chittendens, Rickens, and Eastwoods, many of which are still familiar names on mailboxes. The first Board of Trustees was Mathew Atmore, Ruben Hall and C.R Chittenden. It was these three men who spearheaded the organizing of the school, the hiring of the teacher and setting into motion the job of educating the neighboring children.
Fortunately, an excellent history of the Santa Clara School was written many years ago by Mrs. Myrtle Dudley. While serving on the School Board in the 1930's, she took it upon herself to talk with and write down the memories of some of the old timers who were involved in the early days of the school. Much of the information given in this paper was taken from her work.
The building for the first school, opening in the Fall of 1879, was a simple make-shift wooden structure, 25' long and 151 wide, with one door and two windows, which could be slid open. It was located down the highway on the old Richard Butcher Ranch (mw the Pope Ranch) near the historic Sycamore tree. (Mrs. Dudley told me that when she attended the Del Norte School in the Las Posas Valley, that one room school had big wooden beams braced against the outside of the west wall. Why? To keep the schoolhouse from blowing over when the East Wind hit!). It's possible that the first Santa Clara School had similar buttressing. To this stark building, surrounded by rocks, cactus and sagebrush came the first teacher, Miss Martha Seward and the thirty-five attending students. They were of all ages, and were taught only the basics: Reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic. Parents had placed wooden benches around the room for the children, and a small table and kitchen chair for bliss Seward's convenience. There were no blackboards, books, maps etc., the students writing their lessons on slates and learning oral drills and recitation. When studying, they faced the wall;when reciting they faced the teacher. Discipline was quick and with a heavy hand - and another good one waiting at home! There was no playground or equipment outside, and until the children cleared away the cactus and sage there wasn't even room to play crack the whip, ante-over, shoot marbles or jump rope. The youngsters arrived at school via their own two feet, riding a horse or donkey, or driving a buggy.
Another excellent source for writing the history of the school are the old Record Books, going back to the very beginning. In the District Clerk's Book, the first entry was made by Miss Seward on June 30, 1879, where she states that her monthly wage was $60.00. She taught eight and one half months, earning a total of $510.00. Since the school was supported by public tax money and state apportionment, she listed $285.25 from the State Fund; $24.59 from the County Fund, and $355.41 raised by local taxes. Somehow, there was $56.85 on hand when the school began! Aside from her wages, $119.75 was paid out between July and October 1879, but unfortunately there is no itemization of what these expenses were.
For reasons unknown, the School Trustees in 1880 decided to propose a public vote to build a new school and change its location. This second school was built on land given by Henry Cook and was located near the banks of the Santa Clara River. (The property is now on the Pyle Ranch.) Erastus Ransome and Homer Coffee were the carpenters who built the building and made the desks. This school not only had real desks for the students, but also blackboards. Actually, they really were just boards painted black! The school was unfinished inside, allowing for neat cracks to peek through, and white-washed on the outside. Again, the yard around had to be cleaned of natural flora before play was appropriate. But the children had a super attraction across the ravine to the east - an old, crumbling adobe ruin, supposedly the home of one of Leo Carillo's (the famous sidekick of the Cisco Kid) early ancestors. The fun this ideal fort afforded the children was later destroyed in the heavy rains of 1884. Miss Seward taught at this second school only one year, then Miss Prudence P. Faddis took over. Signing the Clerk's Book as "Prudy" P. Faddis, she would later go on to teach in Santa Paula's early schools. By mid-1885, five different teachers taught at the school. All but Carrie Miner, earned $60.00 a month. For some reason, she earned $70.00!
The first record of the Board of Trustees minutes is dated July 4th, 1885, written and singed by the Clerk, Mat Atmore. Also present were H. Harris and C. Willard. It was a real challenge at times to read the flowery scroll and the words spelled by pure phonics. The following is a quote from that meeting. "Decided to hold a special school meeting to take a vote on moving the schoolhouse from its present site to a more suitable one on the public road (referring to the dirt wagon road called Telegraph now) and to vote a tax of $50.00 and said school to commence on the first Monday of August with a female teacher. Wages not to exceed $65.00 per month. No further business appealing before the Board, it adjourned."
The next meeting of the Trustees, with R.R. Hall, H. Harris, J.W. Rosenberg, H. Chronicle and Mat Atmore in attendance, records the result of the vote. The request to move the school and raise $50.00 in taxes carried: 14 cast for moving; 14 for the tax; and 3 favored an alternate site. The new location was on the property of Mr. Han-is, who generally donated it "free of cost", and was directly across the road from the present schoolhouse. Listed in the expenditures of the Special Fund is the entry dated October, 1885, to "J.N. Rosenberg $35.00 for moving schoolhouse" and "for building schoolhouse steps, $14.,50." The new "female teacher" was Miss Belle Finnier. During the next year, 1886, the first male teacher signs in with a very shaky penmanship, E.E. Gerry. His starting pay was only $55.00, but by September he was given a raise $10.00 raise. Found in the expenditure list for 1886, is the first entry for hauling water, wood and cleaning the schoolhouse - all three of which are monthly bills for many years. It cost $14.00 for "driving the water" and janitorial service, and $2.50 for the wood.
Though at this third school there is no record of the curriculum or materials used in the classroom, we can get some ideas by reading the expenditures again. Supplies and reference books were purchased. (State law dictated that the parents bought the children's text books, a "Zaggys" chart for $17.50 (whatever that was), and an anatomical chart for $17.50 and one manikin for $25.00. Obviously Physiology had been added to the course of study! In January 1889, $54.50 was spent on library books and a new stovepipe was purchased for $4.30 from Ord and Webster in Santa Paulathe first exclusively hardware store.
The earliest Public School Register, which was the teacher's record book, is dated August, 1892. Written in the beautiful scroll of Catherine Steepleton, the book affords a marvelous record and insight into the daily school activities. Twenty-three students were in her class, from First to Eighth grades, and they all belonged to only nine different families: Brown, Cook, Chormicle, Eaton, Flisher, Harr-is, Rolls, Rosenberg and Butts.
The following was a typical school day in the fall of 1892: The day began at 9:00 with roll call and music. It was followed by reading, beginning with the Chart Class, First and Second graders, and going on through the older children, 15 minutes allowed for each group. There was a five minute break for Calisthenics. Next came Arithmetic which followed the same pattern, but took two hours to work with all of the grades, with a ten minute recess at 1:00. Lunch time was from noon to 1:00. Back in the classroom, work resumed with a Reading hour, followed by Drawing, Writing, Language, Spelling, and Geography. At 2:40 there was another recess and dismissal for the First through Fourth grades, the older children returning for one more hour of instruction, and finally finishing at 4:00. A long day indeed. In the back of the teacher's book is a lengthy list of visitors, mainly parents, curious even in those days. The fact that under the heading of Corporal Punishment no names were posted, speaks well of Miss Steepleton and her classroom CONTROL QUALITIES. The neatness and thoroughness of her records also reflect her strong teaching dedication. Unfortunately, her position as teacher at the school was short, ended by a horrible accident. It seems a brush fire was triggered by sparks from a passing train. Dismissing the class because of the possible danger, Miss Steepleton returned to her home where she boarded with the Henry Cook family. The fire spread endangering the ranch buildings. While helping to fight the blaze, her long skirts caught on fire. She died twelve days later from the severe burns. As a precaution for the future, the children and parents cleared a large area around the school of grass and brush. Such tragedies occurred often.
Miss Carrie Arnold was hired to replace Miss Stecpleton. Cauch's Drug Store appears often for payments for school supplies, paper, crayons, chalk etc. Henry Cook received $6.00 for hauling wood and water to the school; H.W. Eaton $5.00 for cleaning the school; and C.N. Baker $15.00 to insure it.
By August of 1895, the Board of Trustees is again proposing plans to vote on building another schoolhouse. The vote was for $3,000.00 to buy the land, construct the school and include the necessary improvements. Reverend James Stewart of the First Christian Church in Santa Paula was elected inspector of the election, and A.B. Rosenberg and C.D. Eaton were nomiiiated to be the judges. Minutes were signed by Ira S. Hall, Clerk. On October 15th, 1895, a meeting was held to canvass the results of the votes cast for the school bond. Total number cast was eighteen: 12 "for", 6 "against." After making the results known to the "Honorable Board of Supervisors" the meeting adjourned. A subsequent public vote was needed to decide the location of the new school. More voters (remember it was only the men who had this right!) turned out for this than for the building of the school. Twentyeight votes were cast and the winning location is where the school is now, and plans were begun to construct the schoolhouse we're assembled in tonight. (The old school and everything with it including the outhouses, but excluding the desks, were sold at public auction for $68.10.)
For the proposed new Santa Clara School, $3,076.35 was put into the Building Fund. The following are the amounts whittled away to build the structure you see tonight: $172.00 to J.W. Calkins for the land, nearly one and three quarter acres; $10.00 to L.F. Eastin for legal services; $1.00 to A.W, Browne for recording the deed: $12.00 to George Silvey for clearing the ground; $2.50 to Irving Hunt for plowing and cultivating it; $19.00 to C.D. Eaton for hauling rocks and saiid: $103.15 to d.N. Lynn for building up the plans and specification: $2,050.60 to Lidaniore and Little the contractors: $167.85 to C.F. Koegele for painting the building; $16.25 to the Santa Paula Hardware for the lamps, oil, and fixtures; $25.00 for insurance on it; and $5.00 to Mrs. Anna Flartnian for cleaning the spanking new schoolhouse. The final cost was $2,634.35. The recent renovation of the building cost over $85,000.00! The beautiful school opened the 17th day of August, 1896. Miss Carrie Arnold was again the teacher. (Wedding bells a few months later wooed her away, and Miss Mary Briggs of Missouri became the school's new teacher.)
The following announcement of the school was made by the "Ventura Free Press" on August 28, 1896: "The new school building in the Santa Clara District is about ready for occupancy. It is one of the prettiest and most convenient buildings in the county and is a credit to the citizens of the district. A musical and literary entertainment will be given in the building on the evening of September 4th, the proceeds of which will be used in the purchase of an organ for the school."
The affair must have been quite a success, for in the November expenditures, a new organ for $50.00 as ordered from Bartlett and Brothers!
Excepts taken from an article in the Ventura "Star Free Press" last year about the present Santa Clara School included some interesting recollections of the of the two First graders who began their education in this new school, eighty-six year old Mr. Onas Whitted. He states the school was painted a battleship gray then, and that Miss Arnold "was very kind and we loved her very much." his father, John Whitted, had settled on a government claim about a mile to the north in 1893, and had served on the School Board during the late Nineties. Mr. Whitted recalled that the big bell in the belfry called the students to class. "The girls lined up at the north entrance and the boys lined up at the west door. When everyone was in line, the teacher gave the signal and we all marched quietly into the big classroom. We stood at our desks, gave the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag which stood on a pedestal by her desk, and then sat down when told to."
Miss Mary Briggs was his second teacher, and she taught two terms. "She was liked very much by the kids and also their parents. Our third teacher was Miss Tyree Horn who taught one term and quit to get married. Our fourth teacher was a man named Asa Whittaker. He was not very popular with the kids or their parents and taught only one term. His next teacher was Miss Edith Boor -a welcome relief from the too-strict Mr. Whittaker. Miss Boor was a daughter of Elijah Boor, an early teacher in Santa Paula and rode her saddlehorse daily from town to the school. "She was a good sport and kids liked her a lot." These teachers were paid $75.00 a month, and as Mr. Whitted added, "They taught eight grades and there were sixty-five kids in the school. Believe me, they earned their money."
The superintendent of the schools in Ventura County then was George Sackett. "He traveled by horse and buggy and visited all of the schools several times during the school year." It was a memorable event when Mr. Sackett was due to arrive at the Santa Clara School. 'The girls were eager and the boys a bit apprehensive, for the superintendent was Mr. Authority in those days. At graduation time, diplomas were mailed to the students. Mr. Whitted remembers no ceremonies whatsoever.
Included in the expenditures for 1896 and 1897 was a fence built around the school and painted for $75.00; umbrella trees were bought and planted; and a new stove was purchased for $17.50. Wood was still being hauled to the school. A cord of oak cost $6.50, and a cord of gum (eucalyptus) was $5.50. In 1898, records show that two types of hitching posts were installed; wood cost $13.53 and iron were $39.75. In May of 1903 a windmill was purchased for $108.00, by November a well had been dug for $206.00 and a tank was hauled to the school grounds to store the water. The last entry for hauling barrels of water was in January in 1904. Based upon the number of ensuing bills to repair the windmill or well, such a modern addition was a very expensive commodity!
Starting school in 1903 was a little girl named Ruby Boosey. Mrs. Philip Corrin today, she remembers many facts about her early schooling at the Santa Clara Schoolhouse. She recalls that, when in the classroom, she could hear the older children reciting to Miss Horn while sitting on the "recitation bench" in front of the teacher's desk. And, because she often sat and listened to them, learning through listening, she was falsely accused of day dreaming. However, through this absorption, she became a whiz at arithmetic.
The "water closets" were both outside. (Later the old cloak room would be converted into indoor facilities). Class began each morning with the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner", accompanied by the teacher playing the organ. The children studied all subjects and many times they took lessons home to finish. While in the class, the older children were often teacher's aides to the younger ones.
Mrs. Corrin went to school with her brother Roland. They began by driving a pony and cart and eventually progressed to a horse and buggy. She told me once, that sometimes she was allowed to ride a horse to school. Her father, Bill Boosey, helped her up when she left home, but when it was time to leave the school she could not reach the stirrup. To compensate, Mr. Boosey hauled a stump down to the school yard for her use. Undoubtedly, there were others who utilized this boost!
Though she recalls there was no need for disciplinary measures in the school, she does remember one humorous incident that called for the punishment of all the boys in the school. It seems that on top of her desk was a pencil box, and someone, or a group of "someones", had collected a bunch of frogs from the nearby river and stuffed them in her box. When young Miss Ruby opened it to get a pencil, out hopped dozens of the little green things. The result was shrieking mayhem. Since no one confessed to the crime, all of the boys missed recess that morning.
In 1908 a storage barn, was built for $29.00. The records of the school go on and on, listing expenses, teachers hired, trustees elected, and the students attending. But details become less specific, handwriting becomes less interesting and flowery as the school moves into modern day practice of the typical sterile, factual and dull records. But this beautiful schoolhouse and its prevailing atmosphere forces us to stop and take note. It stands as a monument to the men, women and children whose memories still linger, and who shared in the perpetuating of the ideas and ideals begun by the first Santa Clara School of 1879. One of the few remaining one-room schools in California, it is an anachronism of an era which too few can experience today.