Posted by Town Hub Staff on July 24th, 2010
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A 120-year-old, one-room schoolhouse sits off winding Mill Creek Road west of Healdsburg, a remnant of the nearly forgotten community of Venado.
By this time next year, if local residents are successful in raising enough money, the decaying structure will be restored as an example of the schoolhouses that once dotted rural America.
“Daniels School” as it was known closed in 1951. But on Friday two women who attended it walked around the dusty inside and reminisced about those long-ago days.
“I remember all the paper and crayons. I was probably five or six. There was one other boy in the first grade with me,” said Bonnie Cussins-Pitkin, who attended for one year prior to the school closing due to falling enrollment.
Pitkin, 66, remembers that first day of school, when the teacher asked her to go to the blackboard and write the numbers from 1 to 10. She turned to the boy in her grade and asked him quietly, “Richard do you know?”
“I know some of them,” he replied.
“So the two of us worked together” to produce all the right numbers on the chalkboard, she said.
The memories came flooding back Friday: the potbelly stove, the placement of desks for the teacher and her eight or ten pupils, the two outhouses, the songs they sang, the games they played at recess.
Gloria Egger, 71, also attended the school for a year.
“We had people riding ponies to school,” said Egger, a semi-retired real estate agent, who like Pitkin still lives nearby.
Egger remembers rainy days when her grandfather would put her in galoshes and stick her on the back of his tractor to take her to and from school.
She has vague memories of the classroom itself. One female teacher taught first through eighth grades, all in the room measuring 284 square feet.
But Egger remembers playtime vividly.
The children brought rotting fruit and vegetables to toss at each other.
“We’d build forts and would throw rotten fruits in recess,” she said.
“We didn’t know we were girls, we just played with the boys,” she said.
The two women are spearheading a $40,000 fund-raising drive to rebuild the decaying historical landmark from floor to roof. Historical accounts and the two women say the school is named after R. A. Daniels, who agreed to move the school to its present location more than a century ago.
They need to obtain the necessary county permits and also subdivide the half-acre school site from a larger parcel, so it can be donated to the Venado Historical Society.
Venado is the Spanish word for deer or venison. The hamlet in the hills eight miles west of Healdsburg got its name from Stillman Batchellor, a mining engineer turned fruitgrower who settled in the area in the early 1900s after working in Cuba and Mexico.
Even before Batchellor established his El Venado Ranch, settlers were attracted to Mill Creek by the mining, logging and tanbark. March’s Mill, one of the earliest sawmills in the county, gave the creek its name in the 1850s, according to historian Gaye LeBaron.
Besides the school house, about the only tangible remnant of the community is the redwood-shake Venado Post Office that operated from 1922 to 1941, according to the Russian River Recorder.
Old-timers remembered how early automobile dealers used the start of Mill Creek Road as sort of a proving ground. They would drive the steep and slippery “Hopper Hill” at the start of the road to demonstrate how good their cars were.
In 1925, an article in the Healdsburg Tribune Weekly reported that “Venado is so new, and so far from the regular beaten track of tourists that is has attracted little attention.”
That assessment about the lack of tourists still rings true today, though occasional bicyclists use that same hill as a training ground.
The old school house sits on a slope up winding, redwood-lined Mill Creek Road, seven miles from the intersection with Westside Road.
Even though its off the beaten path, the stories live on of the events at Daniels School and the backwoods: wild pigs, rattlesnakes, traplines and fighting forest fires.
Efforts began in the late 1990s to rehabilitate the old school house. The foundation, porch and awning were rebuilt. But the dream of renovating the schoolhouse was delayed when the leader in the effort, Flora May Cootes-Caletti, became ill.
About two weeks ago the fund drive was renewed. Letters have gone out to local residents, Healdsburg businesses and wineries. So far, almost $900 has come in.
A local contractor is donating his time to the rebuilding and Standard Structures of Windsor is donating some materials.
Contributions can be sent to the Venado Historical Society, 7751 A Mill Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA, 95448.