Old Redwood Schoolhouse

July 27, 2007 11:00 pm

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

T ucked away on Del Norte County Fairgrounds' property is a piece of the area's history: a lovingly tended 1902 school house.

North Bank Road's Redwood #1 School, as its name implies, was where school-aged children learned their lessons along the bank of Smith River shortly after the Twentieth Century began.

One of its students was Ruby VanDeventer. Another was Bob Bolen.

How, you may wonder, did the schoolhouse end up in Crescent City?

"We acquired it through the efforts of Lou Ulrich," said Fairgrounds Executive Director Randy Hatfield. "He found out that it was available for donation."

Ulrich's discovery came about through Bolen, also deceased, who had attended the school.

Bolen was the link between the building and Ulrich, then on the fair board. The former Redwood #1 School pupil had kept his eye on the old structure.

For years he asked the Healey family, who used the property for a summer home, if they would donate the building to Del Norte's Historical Museum.

"A couple years after Mr. Healey died the family gave in and said we could have it," Bolen wrote.

Serendipitously, Bolen's neighbor was Ulrich, who worked with the Fair Board to effect the structure's move to its present location.

Pelican Bay prisoners undermined the building, jacking it up so a low boy truck owned by Snoozie Trucking could back under it.

Then came the California Highway Patrol's long, tortuous escort of truck and structure down North Bank Road, across Dr. Ernest Fine Bridge, along Lake Earl Drive, through Fort Dick and to the fairgrounds.

The acquisition coincided with the fairgrounds board's desire to include history at its property.

The structure had fallen into disrepair during the decades that elapsed since it passed out of use in the 1930s. Its roof, although somewhat saggy, held water out for 93 years.

But, as they say, ‘the devil's in the details.'

"Sometimes you get something for free, then pay a lot of money for it," Hatfield said.

The price?

Near the $20,000 mark (in 1991 dollars).

"It was quite a project, but Bob Bolen had gone to the school," Hatfield said.

Before he died in 2007, Bolen detailed the old school house's history in 1996.

The original building, he noted, was on the Peacock farm near the ferry landing and original Peacock residence, but that building was torn down so that a buyer could use the lumber to build a house on the Hussey farm—which later became Del Norte Golf Course.

Most of the school was built of redwood. Its four-inch tongue and groove flooring was fir.

It had no indoor plumbing, no lights, no sign and no school bell, and was heated with a wood stove. Drinking water for the students and teacher was first piped from a spring to the outside of the building via a lead pipe.

But by the time Bolen attended classes in the structure, from 1929 to 1932, a fellow student he identified only as "one of the Brundin students" carried water from a nearby well. Each student had a cup hanging on the wall so they could dip drinks out of a three-gallon bucket.

When students played outside, first base was in the road because the school grounds were so small.

"The road was one lane and graveled, so we could hear a car when it was coming," Bolen wrote.

Softball was the main game, but since the school didn't have enough students to field two teams, three batters were designated and the rest of the students would be pitcher, catcher, basemen and fielders.

Because the structure had only three windows in each side, it was dark inside on a cloudy day. Later four windows were added, but it remained pretty gloomy inside.

Its male students had no rain coats. During the rainy months they would get soaked on the way to classes and dry out at school only to repeat the process when they went home.

"I had my share of colds," he wrote.

Bolen estimated that the original building cost about $600 to construct.

He cared enough about the building to restore it, fabricating boards to use in repairing it when he couldn't find any that matched the type originally used.

"By 1986 we couldn't allow people freedom of the school because the flooring was riddled by termites," Bolen wrote. "The south wall was plagued with honey bees."

The combination of a building that had a beehive in its wall, a building located in the forest, caught the notice of a bear.

"One tore off part of the siding to get to the honey," Bolen remembered. "That siding is no longer available, so I had to make it at home in my shop."

Phyllis Tedsen of Smith River volunteers her time to act as the link between the building and the public.

"She does the manning of it during the fair," Hatfield said. "She also opens it for school kids and gives them a chance to see what it is all about."

For the last few weeks, Tedsen has been working hard to spiffy up the structure in advance of Del Norte County's Fair.