County Regional Parks Foundation is seeking donations to help restore
the historic Watson School. Please join Regional Parks and the Foundation
in this effort to restore this one-room schoolhouse where west county
children were educated for over 111 years!
Watson School is located on
Bodega Highway between Sebastopol and the Town of Bodega, one mile west of
Valley Ford-Freestone Road. The parcel is approximately three quarters of
an acre in size. The original land was donated in 1856 by James Watson for
the construction of a school to serve the communities of Bodega, Freestone
and Valley Ford. James Watson also organized local pioneering families to
help with the construction of the one-room, Greek-revival wooden
schoolhouse. The school was built from redwood trees harvested along Joy
Road and milled locally. The front of the schoolhouse has a functioning
bell tower and bell. The school also has a unique sloping floor from the
rear of the building to the front, which forms an amphitheater-shaped
seating arrangement. A wood stove was installed as the only heating
source for the building.
Watson School has the distinction of
being the only one-room schoolhouse in public ownership within Sonoma County
remaining on the original site, and is believed to be the longest operating
one-room school, for more than 111 years (1856-1967), in California's
public school history. A 1960-61 County School report indicated that the
building had never been enlarged, remodeled, or altered, other than the
addition of electrical wiring, modern plumbing and a new roof.
Watson School was designated as a Point of Historical Interest by the
California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1966. The school was
closed in 1967 and donated to Sonoma County Regional Parks Department
to manage. In 1968, Regional Parks converted the grounds around the
building to a Wayside Park with picnic tables, a portable restroom
facility and a parking area.
From 1972 to 1976 the area was the
location for the Running Fence art project, where Bulgarian artists
Christo and Jeanne-Claude constructed a fabric fence that stretched 24.5
miles. In 2001 Wayside Park was renamed Running Fence Park, commemorating
the 25th anniversary of the project.
In 1976 Watson School
was named Sonoma County Landmark #23, and in 1978 Watson School was
placed on the National Register of Historic Places. During the 1970s the
building's failing foundation was replaced, and by 1990 Watson School
was closed to public access because of building failure requiring
Watson School was in danger of collapsing due to major foundation
failure and pest control problems. The building also had seismic safety issues
that needed to be resolved prior to reopening the facility for public use. The
original building is relatively unaltered, other than some early changes that
can be considered part of the historic fabric. The general restoration
components for each historic period have been identified in this summary.
The project as outlined in this proposal is to be completed in several phases,
depending upon fundraising success, grants and other sources of available
funding. Regional Parks committed $19,700 in major maintenance funding and
$20,000 in park mitigation fees to stabilize the building, perform pest work
and hire design consultants to prepare the preliminary restoration plans.
Phase 1 - This phase is complete and included the temporary stabilization of the
building to keep it from collapsing, and initial pest control work. It also
included the preparation of a topographic survey of the site and preliminary
drafting of building elevations and floor plan. A brochure with historical
information on Watson School from the interpretive panel was also developed that
identified the proposed restoration project for public outreach and as a
fundraising tool. Phase 1 was completed in October 2006.
Phase 2 - This phase was the development of the Core Historic Structures Report
(2.82 Mb) and program for the restoration of the school. This document will
be used to submit the project to the State Office of Historic Preservation for
grants when funding is available. Phase 2 was completed in December 2008.
Phase 3 - This phase included the replacement of the existing foundation,
seismic upgrades to make the structure safe for public use, new exterior
siding, trim, fascia, painting, and disabled access improvements. This work was
funded by a generous donation by the Furlong family, in memory of Dan Furlong.
Phase 3 improvements still to be complete include replacement of windows and
restoration of the roof and bell tower. Donations are being sought in order to
complete Phase 3 improvements. Donate
Phase 4 - The restoration of the interior of the
building, including the walls, floor, podium area, wood burning stove,
electrical system and interior paint.
Phase 5 - Restoration or
replacement of the interior amenities, such as desks, bookshelves,
The Regional Parks Department and Regional Parks Foundation plan to continue
community outreach efforts over the coming years through the local historical
societies using the project brochures to provide historical information on
Watson School and alert the community to the need for funding to restore the
Learn how you can support
this park through the Regional