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Mendocino County Schools In 1880

As an author in the midst of researching a new book on Mendocino County history I found myself perusing the “History of Mendocino County, California.” Written in 1880 by Allen, Bowen & Co. it’s an 800-page tome with 300 pages given to “Early & Prominent Settlers and Representative Men.”

My sarcastic and feminine mind thinks…representative of what? The ability to buy your way into the book? That’s what you had to do to be included…pay for having your biographical story included. I counted over 460 contributions from men, and a half dozen from women.

Anyway, I was looking at statistics about education in 1880. The volume does have hundreds of pages of real history. The section starts with a report of a traveler through the county in 1865 that described county schoolhouses. “They are generally too small for barns, to deficient in proportion for dwellings, and too nondescript and repulsive for anything but school houses.”

The 1880 writer assures us that schools had become neat, tidy & comfortable. At that time male teachers earned $74.90 a month and female teachers $63.90. There were 48 schools in the county in session six months a year and nine had longer school years. They estimated there were 3,274 white children in the county and 2,640 attended public school,

Money from the state educated those white kids, between the ages of five and seventeen, 1,225 Indians and five Negro. Under the guardianship of white persons 275 Indians attended schools and I’d assume the rest were on the Round Valley Reservation. There were reported to be 1,539 kids under the age of five in the county. There were 782 children not attending any school and four Mongolian and one blind child being educated. Gathering this kind of information must have been a daunting task.

Why? The folks gathering these statistics visited 57 schools throughout the county. There were schools in towns you’d expect like Albion, Anderson (Valley), Bridgeport, Calpella, Caspar, Comptche, Cuffey’s Cove, Hopland, Little River, Noyo, (Fort Bragg), Potter Valley, Round Valley, Ukiah, Willitsville and Yorkville.

But then there were the place names of schools in Mendocino County I’d never heard of…some I could find with reference books and good old google but some had such common names they could have been anywhere. Where was the Big Rock School, or the Ocean School, or the Oriental School, or the Willow School? I couldn’t find them with the reference tools and time I had but I did find the following…

Buchanan School was near Point Arena and Carroll School was near Ukiah. Coyote School is now under Lake Mendocino and Farley School was four miles south of Laytonville. Galloway School was down by Point Arena and Gaskill School was near Hermitage…you know where that is…right? (Seven miles southeast of Yorkville.) Indian Creek in Anderson Valley had a school, as did Sawyer’s, which is a few miles west of Hearst. Sylvan School was out Sherwood in Willits and Whitcomb School was two miles south of town. William’s Valley School was up by Covelo and had the smallest class in the county with 12 students.

The biggest schools in 1880 were around Ukiah with 350 kids followed by Big River (Mendocino) with 156 kids. Round Valley's schools had 148 kids and Cuffey’s Cove had 117. The town of Greenwood/Elk didn’t exist yet but Cuffey’s Cove did.

So now I know a whole lot of information on one year and that’s a start. Schools started in the 1860s and tiny schools faded away with the advent of school buses and consolidated school districts. Now we have public schools, charter schools, pre-schools, schools within the City of 10,000 Buddhas, alternative schools and colleges. More work awaits this author.


  1. Dave Iverson March 22, 2018

    Hi Katy. My mother, now 85 years old attended Gaskill School. Her family was part of Mendocino County from 1865 or so until 1972. I have some of the 1880 history books with all those bios including my great great grandfather. Born in Ukiah myself but all history now. Mo more family there. Time moves on.

  2. Lewis Beebe November 17, 2018

    As a descendant of John Shipley Ornbaun and Henry Beeson, I have a pretty good collection of family history in this area. A fairly large number of people in my family attended school in Ornbaun Valley through the late 1800’s and very early 1900’s. I have no idea who taught school there, but quite a few of J.S. Ornbaun’s grandchildren attended.

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