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Anderson Valley Schoolhouses

“What Became of the Little Red Schoolhouse: Facts & Figures-Tales & Photos of Early Mendocino County” is 30 years old but it’s five volumes are a great resource for history trivia.

The same information was collected for every school that ever existed in the county. The name of the school, location, when it was built, description of buildings and grounds, history, trustees & teachers & pupils, attendance, why it closed and if it was repurposed were all facts collected. The little red schoolhouse that serves as Anderson Valley’s history museum may have the set produced by the Mendocino Coast Genealogical Society and the County Museum.

The volume listing Anderson Valley school lists 17 schools and could be dry reading of statistics, but the “Any Other Interesting Information…” has some juicy details and some are highlighted here. Be aware the facts gathered back then describing locations may have changed with road re-alignment.

Prior to today’s Anderson Valley Unified School District there were schools called Laurel, Helena, Counts, Signal, Shields, Indian Creek, Peachland, Con Creek, Comfort, Bell Valley, Highland, Ornbaun, Rancheria/Yorkville, Elkhorn, Whitehall and Gaskill. 

In 1858 the first school in the valley was sited where the state highway yard is now in Boonville. Parents contributed $150 to pay a teacher for three months teaching in a one room log cabin. Fast forward more than a century later and a unique aviation program was offered at the Anderson Valley High School. Since an airstrip existed next to A.V. High School and interest existed in the community, a flight and ground school program began in the late 1960’s, starting with a Cessna 150 leased for $1.00 a year. A third of the school participated in flight classes as did local adults. Many students found careers in aviation. By the 1980’s interest waned and aeronautics classes were phased out.

Laurel School in Wendling/Navarro began in 1878 with 55 students aged 5 to 20, according to the late Bobby Glover. It lasted into the 1940’s. Helena School was near Nash Mill Road and ran from 1899 to 1902. Its furniture was given to Shields School. Counts School, just north of Reilly Heights, began in 1860. Early Mendocino County historian Nannie Flood Escola began her teaching career there in 1908 with 20 kids. Boys carried water in buckets from a neighboring ranch when the school well went dry.

Signal School was on Greenwood Ridge Road and named for a heliograph mirror device that was used in government surveying. It served primarily Italian-American students and existed 1887-1942. Feral Lawson Slotte’s book “School Bell Memories” shares stories of the school. Shields School was near Philo and began in 1902 and the building in photos looked similar to the Counts School. Maybe they shared the same building plans? Belfries for school bells were a common feature in country schools along with boys and girls outhouses on opposite sides of the school yard. When Counts closed it became a private residence.

Indian Creek School was near the current Philo post office when built in 1866. In 1895 it was vacated for a few weeks so the students could pick hops. A newspaper in 1895 noted it was “the most depilated school building in the county” and commended the community for voting to pass a bond of $535 to rebuild the school. Closed in 1956 the area became a PGE sub-station.

Peachland School was north of Boonville, several miles from the highway and open from 1888-1930. Teacher Blanche Brown rode her horse to school from her home on Indian Creek. One school got it’s own book-“Con Creek School: a Memory Trip’” by Elinor Clow. From 1887-1965 it was full of kids, then moved to its current site as AV Elementary. Comfort School was an emergency short-term school on Mountain View Road from 1934-1940.

Bell Valley School was on Highway 253. Begun in 1883 it had 13 students and little information is known about it. Highland School was on the highest point between Ukiah and Boonville a half mile south of the road. Ranching families built the school and used a “horseback janitor”: to pack in water in water bags between 1914 and 1919.

Ornbaun School on Fish Rock Road started in 1899 and joined the Yorkville School in 1937. The old school building became a sheep shed, Rancheria/Yorkville School began in the 1860’s with 30 white and one Indian child. When it closed in 1939 it was dismantled and it’s wood built a second room on the south side of the AV School.

Elkhorn School ran 1872 to 1909 near the headwaters of Garcia River and Rancheria Creek and almost nothing is known of it. Whitehall School was 22 miles from Ukiah and three miles from McDonald’s, midway between Hermitage and Yorkville, Begun in 1880 its kids ended up in Yorkville or Gaskill schools. Gaskill School is an abandoned survivor standing today next to Highway 128 two miles west of Mountain House Road. Open 1879 to 1948, at one time if you brought a note from home you could swim in the creek during lunch time. A new California state law in 1948 said all schools must have flush toilets. Gaskill didn’t and closed.

The AV Historical Society, appropriately housed in the little red schoolhouse across the street from Anderson Valley Elementary, might have more facts about any and all of these schools. Check it out when they are open on weekends.

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