Old Columbia Schoolhouse

Columbia, California | C.1860

Photo Credit: Anne Le Saint

Brick by brick, the Old Columbia Schoolhouse helped establish the foundation of formal education in California. As the first two-story brick schoolhouse in the state, the Schoolhouse, its teachers, and their humble beginnings helped usher in a new age of learning.

Founded as a gold rush town in 1850, Columbia was first known as “Hildreth’s Diggins” in remembrance of one of its first miners. The gold brought miners, the miners brought families, and with no formal education system yet in place, the children were taught in private residences and churches.

After a decade of home schooling, the Columbia School was officially opened – designed to accommodate 368 students, two teachers and a principal. For the first year, there were no desks or proper supplies – but they made due sharing knowledge and warmth in the winter thanks to two wood burning stoves.

In less than 5 years, attendance reached nearly 1000 students, prompting expansion and renovations – mainly a wall used to partition the first floor into two separate rooms. The school would continue to operate until 1937 – – it was ultimately closed not for lacking proper equipment or attendance, but instead for not meeting California earthquake requirements.

Now part of a state park, the Schoolhouse is fully preserved and welcomes visitors back into its classrooms for a look into what schooling was like in 19th century California. It’s an inspiring reminder of the dedication teachers will take to provide a proper education for their students. Even if it means starting with nothing but a wood stove.

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