Watson School Restoration Project
Visit Watson School Historic Park
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.
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
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.
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.
School is in danger of collapsing due to major foundation failure and pest
control problems. The building also has seismic safety issues that need 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 has committed $19,700 in major maintenance
funding and $20,000 in park mitigation fees this year to stabilize the
building, perform pest work and hire design consultants to prepare the
preliminary restoration plans.
Phase 1 - This phase is for the
temporary stabilization of the building to keep it from collapsing and for
initial pest control work. It also includes the preparation of a
topographic survey of the site and preliminary drafting of building
elevations and floor plan. Development of a brochure with historical
information on Watson School from the interpretive panel that will include
the proposed restoration project will also be designed 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 (PDF 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
Phase 3 - This current phase includes the
replacement of the existing foundation and seismic upgrades to make the
structure safe for public use. Plans for this work have been completed and
are ready for submittal to the Permit & Resource Management Department
for building permits. Depending upon available funding, other Phase 3
improvements could include replacement of windows, restoration of the roof
and bell tower, accessibility improvements, and new siding and paint.
Donations are being sought now in order to complete Phase 3 by the summer
of 2011. Click here to 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, tables, etc.
The Regional Parks Department plans
to perform extensive community outreach over the next year 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