Early School Days in Valley Recalled for Clara Smith’s Party

The following article first appeared on the front page of the Friday, May 24, 1935 edition of “The Ojai.” “The Ojai” is now the “Ojai Valley News.” It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown.

Early School Days in Valley Recalled for Clara Smith’s Party

A committee of the grammar school Junior Red Cross attempted to compile a history of the schools of the Nordhoff district, for inclusion in the memory book to be presented to Miss Clara Smith a the banquet celebrating her 50 years of teaching Tuesday evening. But Mrs. Inez T. Sheldon, principal of the school, reports the task a difficult one because memories conflicted. However the following was put together as the best record that could be secured:

First School in Valley

In the extreme east at the foot of the grade on the left going toward Santa Paula H. J. Dennison taught perhaps a dozen children even earlier than 1869. A path up the grade led to the spring just beyond the present first sightseeing stop (Lookout Point) almost to the top of the grade. The big boys carried water if the barrel became empty before the appointed time to haul the next barrel full.

The district then comprised all of the present Matilija, Upper Ojai, and Lower Ojai valleys. The school was laughingly called “The Sagebrush Academy.” The last teacher there whose name no one seems willing to recall was at any rate a very loyal Democrat. He presided strictly—chastising the children of Democrats lightly with a pure white ruler, while little Republicans suffered under the strokes of a very black longer ruler.

In 1895 Mr. Van Curen circulated the petition to divide the district. Inez Blumberg (Mrs. J. B. Berry) and Miss Nina Soule remember Miss Skinner vividly. Earl Soule was too young but learned “his letters” in the second school, the one-room brick.

Brick School

On the present Alton L. Drown residence property, 244 Matilija Street, then an unoccupied tract, was erected the first Ojai School. The sagebrush academy was removed to the Dennison ranch, and later again to the present Upper Ojai where Mrs. E. P. Tobin is now teaching.

While the bricks were being made near the present tennis courts of the Civic Center, a small temporary shed was hastily put up on the same lot to house the school. Rough boards stood straight up and down. Horizontal boards for the roof kept out the sun. On planks facing the wall the children sat using planks against the wall for desks. But this was necessary only a short time. And the little brick school seemed verily a palace, laughingly recall the Soules, Piries, Bakers, John Larmar, and others. A. W. Blumberg made the bricks, and his daughter has an interesting souvenir—a brick on which a lion left his track. The hole from which the clay was taken may be seen to this day in the Civic Center near the railroad.

Noted Pupil

In the biography of David P. Barrows, former president of the University of California in Berkley, it is written that he learned his “ABC’s” with his little bare toes dangling over Mother Earth from rough wooden boxes in which nails had been surreptitiously placed as seats. At least this is found to be historic!

Steepleton Private School

On the present Y-T ranch, just off Grand Avenue, a mile and a half east of the village, in 1874, Mrs. Joseph Steepleton, who later taught in the new brick school, kept private school. Also in the same location as late as 1928, Frank Gerard established a private school. Both private schools were short lived. Mr. Barrows recalls many funny experiments in the old brick school. It is suggested that he be asked for his “wart yarn” when next he visits Ojai.

The Fruit Pickers

Mr. Buckman, the first county school superintendent of Ventura, was one of the first teachers in the brick building. He planted the first orange tree in this now famous valley. Also he grew strawberries to help maintain his financial independence. By getting permission from home, his pupils were permitted to go from school during school hours, to the Topa Topa ranch, (then his home), and pick his strawberries for him. Great was the jealousy of those whose parents would not permit them to stop studying their three R’s long enough to go up to the ranch to pick berries.

So few of the school registers are to be found of the old brick days that only an attempted list of the teachers there can be recorded. Miss Allen, Miss Haight, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Alvord, and Miss Hawks taught before Miss Agnes Howe, who was probably there the longest time of all. She was Miss Clara Smith’s first teacher in California.

Miss Smith had taught in Ohio but here more education for a teacher’s certificate was required so for a short period in 1884 she was a pupil in the old brick school. Thompsons, Clarks, Robinsons, Hunds, Ayers, Spencers, and others already mentioned remember those “old days.” After studying in Santa Barbara, Miss Smith returned and taught in the same brick building. Eva Bullard Myers, Bill Raddick, the Gally brothers, Sam Hudiburg, and others, were some of her pupils.

After teaching in the Ventura schools at the same time that Miss Blanche Tarr taught there, Miss Smith worked her way through the State University at Berkeley and returned to Ojai to teach three years in the new building at the corner of Montgomery and Ojai Avenue. Fred Linder, S. Beaman, and Clark Miller were pupils of hers at this period.

Brown Bungalow

When perhaps as many as 60 pupils were enrolled, it became necessary to add a little brown school, one room, on the same lot as “the new brick.” Miss Pellam taught the little people there until it was moved. George Black, Ventura County School Superintendent, and later the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, married her sister. In 1895 both schools on this site were purchased, the brick building vacated, and the little brown school moved to its present location, 570 North Montgomery, on the Snow property between Millard’s and Lafkas’.

It is interesting to note that the present Drown residence was built by J. E. Freeman in 1911, on the same brick foundation as the old school building. Captain Sheridan of the old Ojai Inn, grandfather of the Sheridan brothers, was responsible for the laying of these bricks.

The Wolf Family

The Wolf family had the first good pictures of this section. Mr. Wolf acted as a trustee of the district, and interested himself considerably in the work. Quite tragically one day his son fell from an oak on the school and was killed.

San Antonio School

Mrs. Lillian Bennett Carnes, Mrs. Margaret Hunt, the Mungers, and Ryersons, tell many fascinating stories of the first San Antonio school, located on Ojai Avenue on what is now the Edward L. Wiest property.

Thacher School

Sherman D. Thacher was refused a position there, being told to go on with his little orange grove. Thus in 1889 with only one pupil this now famous Thacher School was begun.

The Present Wood Building

The wooden grammar school building was first occupied in 1895. It was moved back on the northeast corner in 1927. The sum of $1,250 was paid for the lot. The bond issued failed by one vote at the first election, but was carried for $9,000 at the second one. Mr. Zimmerman was awarded the contract for $7,825. However the building of the assembly hall with the other incidental expenses brought the total cost to around $10,000. It was necessary to use the money obtained from the sale of the “brick school” and the “brown bungalow” plus the building fund, plus the school bonds, to meet this debt.

Miss Mabel Pendergriss was presumably the first teacher in the new school. Amy Hamlin, Eleanor Hammack, Anna Cordes, and others are recalled, but C. L. Edgerton is always remembered when anyone is asked regarding the history of the building. For ten years following the time Miss Smith taught there, Mr. Edgerton was principal.

First High School

The year 1909-10 was W. W. Bristol’s first year as the first principal of the first high school in Nordhoff. School was held with Miss Maybyn (Mrs. Howard Hall) assisting, in the upstairs of the grammar school building. Miss Ruth Forsyth assisted Mr. Bristol the second year. School was so crowded it was necessary to send some freshman to the lower floor under Mr. Edgerton’s supervision.

High School Building

May 17, 1909, there were 108 votes cast for establishing a high school, and six votes against. Of the 25 pupils that first year Edna Leslie (Mrs. Edna Grout) rated as “the best citizen”, and Grace Hobson (Mrs. Fed Smith) as “the best scholar.” The bond issue voted the following year was 151 to 8 for $20,000. Words fail to express the hot times over the proper location of what is now known as the Junior high school. The first trustees are all deceased: S. D. Thacher, F. H. Sheldon, Frank Barrows, Mr. Hobart, and Dr. Saeger. Irma Busch (Mrs. William T. Frederick), Abbie Cota Moreman, Carolyn and Thornton Wilson were in this pupil group.

Old Grammar School Building

When J. F. Linder was first trustee of the grammar school (1912-13) there were 82 children enrolled, and four teachers using all the rooms. Queen E. Kidd was principal, with Katherine Donahue, Olivia Doherty and Celia Parsons as teachers. The principal received $810, the teachers between $675 and $712.50. W. A. Goodman, Mrs. Canfield and E. L. Kreisher, up to 1919 earned $1,200. Miss Abbie Cota and Miss Edna Leslie were teaching during this period; also Mrs. Fred Burnell as Mrs. H. S. Van Tassel and as Mrs. Louise Thompson.

Miss Iris Evans graduated in the first eighth grade held in the old grammar school. In 1924 the 7th and 8th grade books were transferred to the Junior high. Her brother Jim in June, 1925, was in the first sixth grade graduating from the grammar into the Junior high school. Roscoe Ashcraft was principal both years. Miss Anna Gilbert (Mrs. Sexton) preceded him. Mrs. Hathaway and Miss Agnes Howe returned and both were principals during the time the old wooden building was in use.

Matilija

By private subscrition in 1890, W. L. Rice, carpenter and liberal contributor, built the first little Matilija school near the river bed in a lovely oak tree setting. Anna Stewart was the first teacher. The three Soper children, three Rice girls, Blumbergs, and Lopez children were the first pupils.

There were 20 different teachers in the 24 years before February 20, 1914 when in the flood the building was completely washed down stream. A small building was immediately erected on this side of the river, high and dry. It was located on the Meiners’ property a half mile from the Rice residence at the corner. Miss Mary Freeman taught here, and Mr. Krull of the present Johnson place was the Matilija trustee until his death. Four years later the building was sold to the Matilija rancho and removed while the lot reverted to the Meiners’ estate. Miss Pope leaves a very complete record of this period.

In 1918 Matilija united with Nordhoff Union grammar school district. This district averages 10 to 15 children to educate and great was their rejoicing when the school bus in 1919 regularly transferred the children to Ojai.

Nordhoff Kindergarten

In 1920, ten pupils attended the first kindergarten established in the Valley with Miss Clara Newman as the teacher. The next year, in 1921, the name was changed to Ojai Kindergarten.

Miss Matilda Knowlton (Mrs. Joe Misbeek) taught in the Boyd room at the Woman’s Club for four years with an average daily attendance of 25. Then, in 1927, Miss Ruth M. Hart (Mrs. John Recker) moved across the street into the corner room of the present stucco building.

Following is a record of the teachers and the number of kindergarten pupils since that time:

Mary A. Wharton (1928-29) 26; Alice Connely (1929-30) 26; Mrs. Gladys Raymond (1930-31) 31; Elizabeth Pell (1931-32) 23; Elizabeth Pell Wellman (1932-33) 23; Mrs. Mildred Rodgers, present teacher.

Arnaz School District

Dr. Jose Arnaz of the large Arnaz land grant in 1877 gave to the County Superintendent Buckman (formerly of the Nordhoff brick school) the use of one room in his home for a school. His second wife was Adolph Camarillo’s sister, Pet Seymour, who later became Mrs. Drake, was the teacher. Mrs. Ventura Arnaz Wagner recalls how comfortably several years were spent until John Poplin arrived and agitated for a new school building. He hauled and donated lumber as well as contributed labor to the new plant. It was, and still is (what is left of it) a mile from the cider mill (Fergerson or Arnaz home) on the Creek road a few steps down off the present highway (Fergerson grade.) During heavy rains the footbridge washes out and of course it was impossible to hold school.

Young Dick Haydock was the first teacher in this new schoolhouse. He boarded with Poplin who became clerk of the board, until Mr. Healy moved in. Very soon he “ran the school” and the teachers boarded there. His children were the only American children in school at that period.

T. O. Toland’s wife taught this school in 1888 so it probably had been opened three years. Little of note occurred after Mr. Welsh’s resignation until the fall of 1926.

By the fall of 1926 the school had grown to such extent that it became necessary to expand into the coat room. Mrs. Hubbard was the teacher in the school room while Gretchen Close taught in the coat room. However very shortly, Miss Close’s room was moved to Laidler’s grocery store in Casitas Springs. This was the living room in which were housed for a time 37 school children.

Arnaz united with Nordhoff Union grammar school district in 1927. Mr. Nye was their representative on the union board of five members. This section is in the unique position of being part of the Nordhoff Union grammar school district and the Ventura high school district. At the present time, May 1935, Arnaz uses two school buildings, the Casitas Springs buildings, and the Oak View Gardens building.

Casitas Springs School

Mr. Nye in 1927 gave the present school lots to the district with the request that the building be known as the Casitas Springs school. A one-room school was built by Mr. Hitchcock at the contract price of $2,407. Miss Hattie Conner was the first teacher with 43 children in the three grades. All the children of grades four to six were transported by bus to the Nordhoff building.

Mr. Nye was succeeded as school trustee in 1928 by Charles G. Crose, who was succeeded by Victor McMains, and now I. V. Young is trustee for the district.

The teachers in the Casitas Springs school were Hattie Conner, Mrs. Paul Woodside, and the incumbent, Miss Ruth McMillian who has held the position since January, 1930.

Nordhoff Stucco Building

The stucco building of Nordhoff grammar school was built by Johnson and Hanson of Santa Barbara. They were awarded the contract for $34,982. J. R. Brakey had the $1,600 contract for moving the old building back on the northeast corner. Heat, lights, plumbing, blackboards and furniture increased the cost to around $48,000. During Mrs. Inez T. Sheldon’s first year as principal it was found necessary to add a teacher (Mrs. Estes, the wife of the principal of the high school). The assembly hall held two classes and the next year Mrs. Murphy taught in the Boyd Club where the Little Theatre now is. Then in 1927 after the uniting of the Arnaz with Nordhoff, eight rooms of the present building were filled to overflowing. It was two years before the last three rooms were added.

The old building is entirely occupied now and there is a faculty of 18. From 150 pupils in Mr. Ashcraft’s last year, the school has grown to 589 in 1934-35.

Charming country school a page out of the past

The following article first appeared on Page A-4 of the Sunday, December 7, 1969 edition of The Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Charming country school a page out of the past
by
Fred Volz

Once-upon-a-time there was this charming English cottage-style elementary school nestled securely under giant oaks. Four spacious classrooms with peekaboo windows looking out on an unmatched rural scene. The school was peopled by over one hundred happy children as was testified by the exuberant art work papering walls. There was even a pretty school teacher and a dashing young principal.

This once-upon-a-time is not a scene out of a Victorian novel. This once-upon-a-time is now – and the school is San Antonio, still operating gracefully in the orange groves on the corner of Grand and Carne roads in the east end of the Ojai Valley.

The Ojai Unified School board has been making their meetings a round robin of the eight schools in their district, primarily to survey maintenance problems. Last week it was San Antonio’s turn.

Of course, there were many things that needed fixing in a school built in 1927, but the school board didn’t dwell upon them. Their visit was pure nostalgia, perhaps for the scenes of their own childhood country school, or perhaps for the country school that never was.

School’s history

Wrote Ed Wenig in his newspaper column “The Intangible Spirit of Ojai” on October 12, 1961 . . . “when the so-called little Sagebrush Academy at the foot of Dennison Grade moved into a new school in the Upper Ojai Valley in the 1880’s to form the Ojai School District, the area in the east end of the valley was left without a school. The San Antonio School district, according to Dr. John Rogers, was formed in 1886 to fill the need.

“While the residents were waiting for an old granary to be moved into position, classes were held under the oaks. (They still are in nice weather). Shortly thereafter, a new school was built at the corner of Grand and Carne.

“In 1926, district parents wanted to bond themselves for a new school building. Not much opposition developed in the district, but W. W. Bristol, long identified with the Nordhoff School district, earnestly tried to convince San Antonio voters that their school district should consolidate with Nordhoff. He claimed that good roads spelled the doom of tiny schools.

Unconvinced

“But residents were unconvinced. (They were still unconvinced in 1965 when they voted 2-1 against district unification.) The bonds passed and the present building was dedicated in 1927. Two classrooms were so arranged that the area could be converted into an auditorium. It was the largest in the valley. San Antonio school has now been enlarged to five rooms.

“When the school was built, among the trustees was an ardent Englishman, Fred Udall, Sr. According to Roy Wilson, Santa Paula architect who designed the school, this is why English cottage-type architecture was selected. The school was built for around $20,000.”

Lots of land

Outside of usual maintenance problems, San Antonio is as sound as the day it was built over 40 years ago. (Its 12 by 12 foot pillars are now supporting a new roof). However, its potential is yet to be realized.

Five acres of land in two soccer fields are largely unused and constitute an undeveloped recreation area for East-enders. The area could be converted into tennis courts, volleyball courts, a baseball diamond or a football field. The yard is now rough dirt, and water facilities would have to be installed. Barbecue pits and picnic areas would then be possibilities.

But the aura of another age slumbers under the oaks at Grand and Carne. Many pioneers in the valley fondly remember the school as a social center. In 1892 a reporter for “The Ojai” described such a social as “the most enjoyable gathering we have had the pleasure of attending. An admirable musicale and literary program was carried out. Social games were played and, of course, there were refreshments—coffee such as not every mother can make and palate-pleasing cake. The door receipts of $12 were turned over to the school as the beginning of a fund to buy either a piano or an organ.”

Now, 78 years later the coffee is still fresh and black, the cookies rich and tasty, the conversation neighborly.

In the library-classroom of the old school the board meeting was again a social occasion—for trustees, for parents, for the newspaper – just as it was 78 years ago in a happier, but less “enlightened,” year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Duke Comes to Ojai

The Duke Comes to Ojai

Written and compiled from various sources by Tony Thacher.

Sherman Day Thacher and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku at The Thacher School in 1922.
Sherman Day Thacher and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku at The Thacher School in 1922.

On a dry and dusty afternoon in late October of 1922 this unlikely pair were captured on film standing near the top of the alluvial fan emanating from Horn Canyon in the northeast corner of the Ojai Valley. Sherman Day Thacher, as headmaster of the school he founded 33 years before, is shown flanked by Olympic swimming gold medalist Duke Paoa Kahanamoku of Honolulu, Hawaii. Duke had been invited to come up from Los Angeles to give a demonstration and instruction in swimming to the assembled student body in the Thacher School’s pool. In reality this crude concrete structure was a rather murky irrigation and fire reservoir full of biota from the creek that filled it.

Duke’s swimming skills, superb physique and good looks had already made him a star both in and out of the water. And his gold medals and promotion of board surfing had made his reputation as the “Father of Modern Surfing” and the “Ambassador of Aloha.” From almost the moment of his birth on August 24, 1890 in Honolulu, Kahanamoku’s life revolved around the warm Pacific waters surrounding Oahu.  While that on its own might not have been a particularly unusual accomplishment for an Hawaiian Islander of the time, what was unusual was his speed through the water. In the first officially sanctioned Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) swim meet in Hawaii in August of 1911, Duke knocked over 4 seconds off the world record for the 100-yard open water event, causing stateside AAU officials to declare there must have been an error and refusing to sanction the time.

Although not used to swimming in a pool, Duke continued his winning ways in the water stateside. At the Olympic games of 1912 held in Stockholm, there was no mistaking Duke’s incredible speed and power, and he won the 100-meter freestyle, again breaking the world record and easily taking the Gold medal. Over the next few years, Kahanamoku’s reputation grew to new heights as he continued shattering world aquatic records in various competitions around the globe. Duke Kahanamoku continued swimming for the rest of his life, winning his last Olympic medal at the age of forty-two. His remarkable twenty-one year career as an Olympic champion remains today a record achievement.

Duke Kahanamoku (holding hat at left) at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
Duke Kahanamoku (holding hat at left) at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

At the same time, he was credited for popularizing the sport of surfing. In a series of widely attended demonstrations around the world, Duke would ride the waves on his handmade long board to the delight of onlookers, and thus the ancient sport was revitalized along the coasts all over the world.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing with Diamond Head at left in the background on Oahu Island in the Hawaiian Islands.
Duke Kahanamoku surfing with Diamond Head at left in the background on Oahu Island in the Hawaiian Islands.

As someone identified with the Hawaiian Islands it is easy to forget that Duke Kahanamoku ever spent significant time anywhere else, yet he was a regular presence in Southern California throughout the 1910’s and 1920’s. The Southland was equally charmed with Duke making many friends and becoming a particular favorite of the movie colony. And, of course, his worldwide fame and good looks didn’t go unnoticed by the studios. In 1925, Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount) offered Duke a film contract. However, his promising film career was hobbled by an ironic twist – he couldn’t appear on-screen doing what the world best knew him for – swimming. AAU rules strictly prohibited Duke from accepting money for swimming. And Duke had no intention of giving up his amateur standing in athletics just for Hollywood film making, which he considered nothing more than a fun lark. So the studios found themselves with a non-swimming swimming star and were forced to come up with creative ways to use him in non-aquatic roles. They tried their best and over the next few years, Duke made appearances in a number of films. Without being able to be seen as the aquatic champion, his career in movies in the ‘20’s quickly fizzled. However, in later years, Duke would return to the screen on several notable occasions. In 1948 he played a native chieftain opposite another famous “Duke,” John Wayne, in The Wake of the Red Witch, and in 1955 he again played a native chief in the John Ford-directed Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and James Cagney.
Kahanamoku left a legacy in his native Hawaii, where he became its most revered citizen and goodwill ambassador. For more than twenty years he served as Sheriff of Honolulu and after Hawaii became the 50th State in 1959, he was made the State’s official “Ambassador of Aloha.” Kahanamoku died at the age of seventy-seven, just three weeks after greeting Hawaii’s one-millionth visitor.

TWO DUKES: John "The Duke" Wayne and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
TWO DUKES: John “The Duke” Wayne and Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.

Today, there are many memorials and monuments to Duke Kahanamoku on the Hawaiian Islands, outside Sydney Harbor and elsewhere, but all too few stateside. However, in Ojai, it’s Sherman Thacher’s unheated and untreated irrigation reservoir that can still be linked to the legendary swimmer and surf rider, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.

Sherman Day Thacher at The Thacher School swimming pool which was really a reservoir.
Sherman Day Thacher at The Thacher School swimming pool which was really a reservoir.

THE THACHER SCHOOL

The following story is from Walter W. Bristol’s 1946 book, “THE STORY OF THE OJAI VALLEY”. Therefore, it is assumed that Bristol is the author.

THE THACHER SCHOOL
By Walter W. Bristol

This famous school began in 1889 under the direction of Sherman D. Thacher. The location of the school is fortunate—far enough from the town to exclude its concerns and adjacent to mountains, hills and canyons which stimulate interest in riding, hiking, camping, and other out-of-doors activities, which the school capitalized to the fullest extent. This fact led in time to the unique requirement that each boy own and care for a horse.

Thacher Admin Building

The scholastic requirements are high and each student must stand on his own abilities, since Mr. Thacher refused the privilege of the accredited system in force in the California Universities, substituting instead the College Board examinations.

Sherman Thacher
Sherman Thacher

The Commencement exercises in the Thacher Bowl are most interesting and attract capacity audiences.

The red arrows point at the two Wilder brothers and Mr. & Mrs. Sherman Thacher.
The red arrows point at the two Wilder brothers and Mr. & Mrs. Sherman Thacher.

Wm. L. Thacher came to the valley in 1895 and became the Associate Headmaster. Upon the death of Sherman Thacher in 1931, Morgan Barnes succeeded, and in 1936 Anson S. Thacher became Headmaster.

The school was incorporated in 1924. For many years the limit of students at the school was placed at sixty. Ignoring parental pressure and an increased revenue Mr. Thacher preferred quality to quantity. Of late years provision has been made for an increase of fifteen students.

At the Presbyterian Church on March 20, 1939, the Fiftieth Anniversary Memorial Service was held. Morgan Barnes, who came especially from his home in Pennsylvania, presided. Men prominent in the educational field from different parts of the country participated in the significant event both at the church and at the school during the year. Among them were:

Dr. Charles Seymour, President of Yale.
Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, President of Stanford.
Dr. Monroe E. Dentsch, Vice-President of University of California.
Dr. Robert A. Millikan, Chairman of the Executive Council of the California Institute of
Technology.

It is interesting to note that in the 57 years of the school’s history 1103 students have passed through its portals. A score of more of the alumni have attained distinction in education and administration, and two outstanding in literature, viz; Thornton Wilder, twice-winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Charles B. Nordhoff, co-author of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and other works. [Charles B. Nordhoff was the grandson of Charles Nordhoff for whom Ojai was originally named.]

Thornton Wilder at Yale.
Thornton Wilder at Yale.

 

Charles B. Nordhoff in 1918.
Charles B. Nordhoff in 1918.

PUBLIC SECONDARY

The following story is from Walter Bristol’s 1946 book, “THE STORY OF THE OJAI VALLEY.” It is assumed that Walter Bristol is the author.

PUBLIC SECONDARY

In 1909 a Union High School District was formed. The first trustees were Sherman D. Thacher, Joseph Hobart, Dr. B. L. Saeger, F. H. Sheldon and F. P. Barrows. W. W. Bristol was engaged by Mr. Thacher at their meeting in Berkley to be the first principal. He was assisted the first year by Mabyn Chapman, a teacher of great versatility, and the second year by Ruth Forsyth, in the subjects of science and mathematics.

The first two years of the school was conducted in the upper story of the old wooden grammar school. Twenty-four pupils enrolled the first year.

Norhoff Grammar School, where Miss Baker went to school.
The old wooden Nordhoff Grammar School.

In 1910 the principal told the trustees that a new building must be planned for as soon as possible since there was not room enough to carry on. Bonds were voted for $20,000. Since one member of the board, F. P. Barrows, did not agree with the majority as to the site for the new building, it became necessary under the law to call an election to decide on a site. A hot election ensued—one faction wanting it east of town, the other west of town. Fortunately, the western advocates won.

In the fall of 1911 the new building was ready and formally dedicated on November 1st. The first class to graduate was made up of Grace Hobson, Valeditorian, Carolyn Wilson, Salutatorian, Nina Freeman, Ethel Freeman, Edna Leslie, Abbie Cota and Levi Bray.

Nordhoff High School (1911)
Nordhoff High School (1911)

The first annual named “Topa Topa” appeared at the close of 1912-1913 session.

First page of the 1912-1913 Nordhoff Union High School annual (yearbook).
First page of the 1912-1913 Nordhoff Union High School annual (yearbook).

In 1916 the new manual training and Domestic Science buildings were completed and dedicated. In 1919 Principal Bristol resigned. The principals to date were W. D. Gayman, Albert L. Estus, R. M. Wilson, Jack Polski and in 1933 Rudolph H. Drewes.

The new high school was completed in 1929 during the administration of Jack Polski. A large gymnasium was completed in November, 1940.

Buildings designed by Roy Wilson.
Buildings designed by Roy Wilson.

Mr. Drewes has established a useful place in the community. He has been district head of the Boy Scouts, director of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce and is now Chairman of the Playground committee and President of the Board of Trustees of the Presbyterian Church.

The Little Brick Schoolhouse

The Little Brick Schoolhouse by Patty Fry

In 1874, Andy Van Curen circulated a petition for another school that would be closer to the newly established village. As soon as school superintendent F.S.S. Buckman approved it, Abram Blumberg started making the bricks for the structure near where the main tennis courts are today in Libbey Park. A note in a July, 1874 issue of the Ventura Signal, states, “A brick kiln will be burned on the Ojai during the summer.”

One night a mountain lion sauntered through the drying area behind Blumberg’s Nordhoff Hotel and left a paw print in a brick. Blumberg gave this keepsake to his daughter, Inez.

While the bricks were being made, the townspeople immediately erected a temporary schoolhouse on Matilija Stree west of John Montgomery’s house. Soule and Pirie offspring reported in later years that after having lessons in this crude structure for a few months, the students considered the new brick schoolhouse a “palace.”

The oblong brick schoolhouse consisted of one classroom and two anterooms. It had a sixteen-foot ceiling and four windows on each side allowed sunlight in. A drum in the center of the classroom provided necessary heat. The students sat in pairs at double desks and there was a bench in front of the teacher’s desk for reciting. Mrs. Joseph Steepleton, who had previously conducted a private school in her home, accepted the teaching position for the newly established Nordhoff School District.

The original wooden schoolhouse was moved to the top of the grade and became known as the Ojai School District. In about 1883, upper valley residents built a larger schoolhouse two miles east, reportedly on the boundary of Hobart’s and Robinson’s properties. This school operated independently until 1965.

Jerome Caldwell and F.S.S. Buckman were among those who taught at the little brick schoolhouse. Anna Seward taught there during 1884. She introduced calisthenics and music to the children. Agnes Howe was the teacher between 1885 and into the 1890s. Howe once claimed that the single room schoolhouse had more bats than children and she spearheaded an incentive program to rid the place of the bats.

In 1882, when enrollment reached sixty students, a brown bungalow was added to the brick schoolhouse.

Teachers were responsible for school maintenance. They asked the older students to sweep the floors and build fires for heat. Students carried water from nearby streams or cottages and everyone drank from a pail using a community dipper. The children liked to play stick ball, pum pum pull away and marbles for keeps. There was also great interest in baseball, riding and hiking in those days, recalled Miss Howe.

Clara Smith, a well known figure in county education, taught at the village school and served as its first principal until tragedy struck in 1892. Her fiance, Scottish-born Robert Fisher, a blacksmith by trade, died suddenly of typhoid fever on the day they were to be wed.

Clara, the daughter of community leader, Daniel Smith, first taught school in Nebraska at the age of 15. She was so devoted to education that she once walked from Nordhoff to Ventura to take a teacher’s exam. Her career progressed from teaching at most local schools, as well as some outside the county, to serving as County Director of Rural Education and Assistant Superintendent of Schools. Clara Smith retired from the school system in 1935.

Teachers weren’t in abundance during the early years, as was illustrated by an incident occurring in 1895. When Agnes Howe fell from a bicycle and sprained her ankle, the school closed for a week while she healed.

In 1889, 14-year-old Charlie Wolfe, son of Judge and Mrs. Irvin W. Wolfe, died at the school when he fell from a tree he was climbing. His twin sister had died at birth.

In 1893, Miss Beal’s primary grades had six more students than seats. It was obvious that the community had outgrown its little brick schoolhouse.

When parents initiated plans to build a bigger and better school, others reminisced about how well the brick building had served the community. Not only had it been the fountain of education for their children for twenty years, but also a church, a meeting place and a social hall.

Every new religious group used it as a place of worship while building its church. It was the very heart and soul of the village. Within those brick walls the townsfolk held their entertainment, made new friends and cemented relationships. That is where community leaders made their decisions, some of which affect our lives today.

But progress is progress and the fact was that the town had outgrown their school and a new one was built to accommodate the education of the valley children.

After the community abandoned the old schoolhouse, the brown bungalow was moved to 570 North Montgomery Street and Ezra Taylor, who ran a machine shop in town, moved his family into the brick building. It was home to the A.E. Freeman family around 1910. Mr. Freeman, a local grocer, reportedly added the second story and began the transformation that camouflaged the original brick outer walls. G.L. Chrisman bought the Freeman home in June of 1916 and the Alton Drowns lived there during the 1920s and 30s.

In 1946, Major Richard Cannon bought the former schoolhouse and opened the Cannon School there. One year later, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cataldo converted the school into the Ojai Manor Hotel and began renting seven rooms. Although these owners had altered the little brick schoolhouse beyond recognition, until the 1980s, a keen eye could detect Blumberg’s misshapen, aged bricks as foundation beneath the time-honored facade at 210 Matilija Street. The old bricks are still visible on the inside kitchen wall.

The Lavender Inn

In the 1980s, Mary Nelson removed the old Old Manor Hotel and opened it as a bed and breakfast. In 1999, the old schoolhouse, once again beautifully remodeled, has resumed as a bed and breakfast under the name, The Moon’s Nest Inn [now The Lavender Inn].


The above is excerpted from Patty Fry’s book The Ojai Valley: An Illustrated History. In 2017 the book was updated by Elise DePudyt and Craig Walker. It is available in the museum’s store and through Amazon.com.

 

 

Norman Marsh Designed Nordhoff High School (1910)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nordhoff High School (1911)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norman F. Marsh Designed Nordhoff High School in 1910 by Craig Walker

When Nordhoff High School first opened in 1909, classes were held upstairs in the old two-story grammar school, located where the OUSD offices are today. The driving force behind the school was Sherman Day Thacher, founder of Ojai’s Thacher School. Mr. Thacher was also responsible for hiring the high school’s first principal, Walter Bristol. In 1909 Nordhoff High School had twenty-four students and two faculty members, including Mr. Bristol.

In the school’s second year, Mr. Bristol and the trustees initiated plans to create a new campus for the high school facing Ojai Avenue at Country Club Drive. They selected Los Angeles architect Norman Foote Marsh to design the school in the California Bungalow style, popular in the Ojai Valley in the early 1900s. The Boyd Club, Thacher School, the Pierpont Cottages, and several expensive homes along Foothill Road were all done in the California Bungalow style. This style is easily recognized with its sloping roofs, gables, exposed rafters, expansive porches, shingled siding, and integration with the earth using river rock or planting. Nordhoff High School would be one of the first public high schools built in the California Bungalow style.

Norman Marsh’s Parkhurst Building in Santa Monica.

Norman Marsh was a well-known Southern California architect who was proficient in several architectural styles. He designed Santa Monica’s Parkhurst Building in Spanish-Colonial style, the University of Redlands in neo-Classical style, and Abbot Kinney’s Venice Beach development as a replica of the famous Italian Renaissance city. Marsh’s firm designed many schools, libraries, and churches, throughout Southern California.

Mr. Marsh designed the new Nordhoff High School so that, in his words, “every window will extend to the floor and will swing open their entire length. The pupils will in ordinary weather practically work out of doors.” This was a revolutionary concept in school architecture at the time, but it has since been used extensively in schools throughout America.

The new Nordhoff High School campus opened in the fall of 1911 with 40 students. In 1916 wealthy oil tycoon Charles Pratt, who owned a large Greene & Greene Bungalow home on Foothill Road, donated the funds to add a manual arts building and a domestic science building to the campus. Walter Bristol hired Norman Marsh to design these buildings also. The great Ojai fire of 1917 destroyed one of them, but Mr. Pratt donated the funds to have it quickly rebuilt.

In 1917, the name of the town was changed from Nordhoff to Ojai. Over the years there have been several attempts to change the name of the school from Nordhoff High School to Ojai High School, but all have failed. Perhaps the traditional name is too deeply ingrained, or perhaps the phrase “Ojai High” is just a bit too quirky!

In 1929 Santa Paula architect Roy Wilson designed the school’s Mission-Revival buildings along El Paseo Road, with the school auditorium added in 1936. Yet, the aging Bungalow-style building pictured at the top of the page continued to be used as classrooms until 1966 when the high school and junior high school swapped campuses. At that time it was torn down and replaced by the nondescript classroom buildings that face Ojai Avenue today.

The Ojai Valley School

Frost Hall, designed by Wallace Neff.

The Ojai Valley School by David Mason

“[The Ojai Valley School] So far it has proven very successful, combining as it
does the most intelligent educational methods of the best city schools and the
beautiful and healthful environment of the Ojai.” –Country Life Magazine, September 1924

During 1909, Walter W. Bristol organized the Nordhoff Union High School in the town of Nordhoff, now Ojai, and became the school’s first principal.

He held that position until 1919, when he resigned to assist his wife in the running of a small country school that she was operating, known as the Bristol School.

Mrs. Bristol’s school had started in the fall of 1912, with two students. Classes were held in her home on the northwest corner of Ojai Avenue and Bristol Road. The house had been built in 1911, and it was typical wooden construction with a screened-in sleeping porch that ran across one end.

By 1913, the sleeping porch had been divided into classrooms and desks were installed, so as to accommodate more pupils.

The need for a progressive private school was very much in evidence in the small western town.

Before long, a separate school building was erected farther north on their property. The Bristols felt that their new building would probably accommodate up to 15 pupils, but before long that total had reached 25 pupils. It was indeed a crowded little school.

The great forest fire of 1917, which had burned the Foothills Hotel and 60 other building in the Ojai Valley, also destroyed the charming little Bristol School. The fire, however, did not burn the cottages that were on the same property, so classes continued. The Bristols had been asked to board students at the their school, but there had not been enough room. Now that the building was to be rebuilt, they made plans to include rooms for boarding students and three classrooms. It was a very successful school. The outdoor life in a superb winter climate and amidst charming scenery made the school life both wholesome and attractive.

Another person who had a profound interest in the local children’s education was Edward Yeomans. Arriving in the valley for the winter of 1912, Yeomans was not happy about coming to California from his home in the east. He was working for the family business, Yeomans Brothers Co., a water pump manufacturing company, and his feelings about California were that it was merely a vacation spot for rich bankers with whom he had absolutely nothing in common. However, the beauty of the Ojai Valley and the simplicity of life here convinced him that he could find no better place in which to spend the winter.

Yeomans wrote to his friends in the east: “I felt this valley to be the most beautiful spot in the world. Fruit orchards and their blossoms, and the entire 15 miles from Ventura to Ojai, not a house visible! They valley itself was fully planted in orange groves, or left as God made it; acres of live oak trees and acres of wild wheat growing under the live oaks awaiting harvesting. Olive and fig trees line all roads and mark the divisions of property.”

Deciding to stay in the Ojai Valley, Yeomans resigned his position at the family-owned company. His desire to start a school of a progressive nature took full charge of his thinking. He had found the perfect spot for his new school, the Ojai Valley, a place he had grown to love. A valley “completely unspoiled by man — nature so generously holding her beauty and rich gifts for man’s careful husbanding on so vast a scale that man was rarely visible.”

Yeomans heard that the Bristols would be interested in selling their school and property, but Yeomans was not interested in the Bristol property or the buildings, so the Bristols agreed to sell him only the goodwill in the school.

A meeting of the prominent local residents was called to discuss the plans of Yeomans’ new school. A name was decided upon, the Ojai Valley School, and it would need to have beautiful buildings in order to be a credit to the community.

Mary Bard, the wife of Senator Thomas Bard, attended the school meetings, and she was the most enthusiastic person there. Mary Bard had married the senator in 1878, and they had seven children. It was not surprising that she was interested in education.

When asked what type of school Yeomans was interested in starting, he responded, “A school whose main subjects are music, nature study and shop work. No languages for little children and no English grammar taught to them. No arithmetic at first, except what we need for work in construction. No desks fastened to floors, just desks that could easily be moved for acting of ballads or poetry. No examinations, no discipline for its own sake, but inner control, and consideration for all working in the school, and so, good citizenship.”

Mary Bard was much stirred and inspired by Yeomans’ talk and said she wanted to do whatever she could in order to help start such a school. Frank Frost, another valley resident, also wanted to do his share of work toward the new school.

E. D. Libbey, Ojai’s greatest benefactor, had just subdivided a large tract of land and had named it the Arbolada; and Frost felt that the lots in the subdivision would sell more rapidly if there were a school nearby. Frost wrote to Libbey in Toledo, Ohio and said, “You never can sell your land unless you can also say there is a good school nearby.” It was just the right message. Libbey donated a parcel of land to the group with only one restriction. They could have any amount of land they required, but it had to remain in the ownership of Libbey until three years had passed and the school had succeeded. The Ojai Valley School officially opened for business in October 1923.

With so many students requesting to attend the new school and wanting to be boarding students, Frost decided that to do his part, he would build a dormitory for the school. He supervised the building, which originally would hold 30 students, and it was filled to capacity the first day.

Yeomans wrote to Mrs. Gudrun Thorne-Thomsen to see if she could be persuaded to leave the Francis Parker School of Chicago and come to the Ojai Valley and be principal of the new school. Thorne-Thomsen accepted the position and arrived in the valley, only to be sick most of the first year; so it was up to Yeomans to be in charge during that time. He thought of himself more in the capacity of janitor rather that principal. He felt that “a school and its faculty are not a group working together for the benefit of the school on equal footing always, the school has no power of growth.”

As word spread up and down the state about this new school and the progressive learning that was taught there, people became anxious to hear all they could about it. Invited to speak at a large function in Los Angeles, Yeomans found himself extremely nervous in front of the crowd of people. Once he had spoken a few words, in which he referred to himself “as a pump manufacturer, not an educator,” he became at ease. He said he “was there as a rebel against his own painful and unhappy education in childhood, where fear ruled his entire life and school was a prison.” At that time he had promised himself when he grew up, he would try to save other children from such an unhappy life.

Libbey advertised the new school in his sales brochures for his Arbolada lots. “In this lovely sport, far away from the noise and crowding of city schools, children are given a superior training” and a far finer appreciation of life. The purpose of the school is “to cherish and develop the individuality of each pupil rather than to turn out a rubber stamp product.” This proved to be a successful move for both.

Source: David Mason, “Ojai Valley School merged educators dreams.” Ojai Valley News, October 1, 1999