It’s been 78 years since Florence Nylander Bates attended a one-room schoolhouse in the hills west of Healdsburg, but the memories are still vivid — the white dresses the girls wore on graduation day, the play they staged in a meadow, the potbelly stove they warmed themselves with on rainy days, and the 12-mile, daily round-trip journey she made on her horse to get to school.
Bates, 90, sat outside the 132-year-old Daniels School on Mill Creek Road last week recalling those halcyon days.
“It was almost idyllic. You felt protected and everybody was nice to you,” said Bates, who graduated from the school’s eighth-grade class in 1938.
She is part of a handful of alumni working to restore the schoolhouse, an effort that has regained momentum thanks to a $14,500 grant from the Sonoma County Landmarks Commission, coupled with donations and volunteer work.
A new roof and windows were installed this spring on the schoolhouse, which was built from old-growth redwood but exposed to the elements following its closure in 1951. Next comes siding and interior work, including a renewed electricity supply, something the old structure only had after World War II, when its kerosene lanterns were replaced.
“I’m making real progress,” said Bonnie Cussins Pitkin, 71, who is spearheading the $40,000 restoration effort for the cherished school, which she attended one year prior to its closure, when she was in first grade.
Pitkin’s vision is to provide an opportunity for local schoolchildren to take field trips to Daniels School and learn what it was like to go to a one-room school, which were common in rural areas across the country. At Daniels School, one teacher taught academic basics to boys and girls in grades one through eight, the typical arrangement.
In 1916, there were 120 one-room schoolhouses in Sonoma County — including Daniels School — according to a thesis written then by Stanford University student Tillman Elliott Baker, who proposed reorganizing the school system.
Today, only a handful of the one-room schoolhouses survive.
Daniels School sits on a slope up winding, redwood-lined Mill Creek Road, seven miles from the intersection with Westside Road and a little more than eight miles from Healdsburg.
Pitkin’s family owned it until they donated the 16-by-26-foot building and a half-acre around it to the Venado Historical Society, which draws its name from the surrounding community established in the early 1900s.
These days, about the only time Venado gets mentioned is when a meteorologist calls out the impressive rainfall totals it can reap in winter storms. Located in a step of the steep hills on the edge of the Cazadero “rainforest,” one TV weatherman dubbed it “the rain capital of the Bay Area.”
Venado, Spanish for “deer,” was named by mining engineer Stillman Batchellor, the first postmaster in 1921. By then, earlier generations that came to log the giant redwoods and work a magnesite mine had departed.
The schoolhouse was built over eight days in the spring of 1883, following a bitter fight over where it should be located. The land was donated by Daniel Davis, a sea captain from Maine whose wide interests landed him in Sonoma County, according to Holly Hoods, curator for the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society, who wrote the grant proposal to help restore the school.