Watson School Restoration Project

Visit Watson School Historic Park


The Sonoma 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 extensive repairs.

Project Purpose

The purpose of the proposed project is to perform historical restoration of the original structure of the building and refurnish the interior as a complete example of an early one-room schoolhouse. Watson School would then be reopened to the public for historical interpretation, school programs, public meetings and historical society and non-profit use.

Project Description

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 PDF fileCore 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 now

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, tables, etc.

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 facility.

Learn how you can support this park through the Regional Parks Foundation.

Questions or Comments?

Contact Project Manager:

Mark Cleveland
Call:  (707) 565-3349
Email:  Mark Cleveland

Watson School

Watson School Core Historic Structures Report
PDF fileCore Historic Structures Report (2.82 MB)

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