Schoolhouse | Accidentally Wes Anderson

Schoolhouse

Accidentally Wes Anderson - Schoolhouse Enlarge

Columbia, California | C.1860

Photo Credit: Anne Le Saint

Perched on a hill overlooking Columbia, California is a brick red schoolhouse. Erected with locally made sun-dried bricks at the cost of $5,000, the Columbia School was California’s first two-story brick schoolhouse and acted as a public school for the area until the late 1930s.

Columbia, California started as a gold rush town in 1850. Initially called Hildreth’s Diggins in remembrance of one of the first miners, the camp was renamed Columbia when it became a town. An influx of families who had joined the frenzied gold rush brought with them a need for schools. As no formal school was established, the first lessons were taught in private residences and churches.

The Columbia School measured a total of just 3,600 square feet. When it officially opened in 1860 the school accommodated a total of 368 students, two teachers and a principal. It is rumored that desks and proper equipment were not supplied until 1861. The only thing that would have been in the rooms were two wood burning stoves to keep the building warm in the winter months.

By 1864 the school’s registration showed 916 students, prompting renovations over the next few years. The main addition was a wall used to partition the first floor into two separate rooms. After six decades of continuous use, the school was closed in 1937 for not meeting California earthquake requirements.

In 1945, the State Legislature decided to establish the historic city of Columbia as a state park to help preserve its history. The school was later purchased by the state of California for $1, and incorporated into the historic district park. A decade later the California Teachers Association began a campaign to raise money in order to restore the old schoolhouse. Teachers and students from all over California were responsible for raising $52,000 of the $60,000 raised for the restoration.

Today the park district is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Visitors can now explore the exceptionally preserved schoolhouse that is now open as an exhibit and provides a curious look into what it was like to be a student in the late 1800s.

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