1857 - 1967
Built in 1856 Watson District School is an example of one-room schools in Sonoma County. This is the original site and the school remains in its original condition. It served as a public school for 111 years, longer than any other one-room school in California. Watson school was built when pioneers settled in the area as farmers and dairymen in the 1800's and needed a school for their children.
The coastal Miwok Indians originally occupied the land in this area. The Tsuwutena and Kennekono tribes lived near this area. During the 1700's the land was claimed by Spain. In the 1800's Mexico gained independence from Spain and granted land to Mexican citizens and soldiers. Jasper O'Farrell was granted land by the Spanish for his survey work of Yerba Buena, now known as San Francisco.
James Watson arrived in Sonoma County from Illinois in 1849. In 1852 he bought 1,100 acres of land from Jasper O'Farrell for 1,000 sacks of potatoes. Mr. Watson, along with Mr. Purrine who arrived in 1852 and Mr. Robertson who arrived in 1855, organized the building of the school to serve their community which included Freestone, Bodega and Valley Ford.
Mr. Watson donated the land. The community donated their skills, time and materials. Redwood was harvested and milled nearby in what is now Joy Woods. The community as a whole built the school, proof of which is evident in its construction. A lack of consistency in framing from one side of the building to the other is due to the joint effort by the Pioneer families.
The simple gable (Greek revival origins) with a small bell tower was a typical design of one-room schools at that time. A unique characteristic of this building is a sloping floor from rear toward the front forming an amphitheater seating arrangement for the desks. Students liked to roll marbles down the floor for fun. Oil lamps were used for lighting until electric lights were installed in the early 1900's. A wood stove served as heating for the life of the school.
During the 111 years the school was opened, the enrollment varied. When the school opened in 1856 there were 11 students. During the 1920's there were as many as 35. When the school closed in 1967 there were 10 students. One teacher taught multiple grades. The teacher would lecture one grade level while others were reading or completing assignments. Older students would help the younger students, creating a family type atmosphere.
The school had many talented teachers during its existence, one of the most memorial being Margaret M. Witham. She taught at Watson school from 1902 until her retirement in 1950. Living one mile east of the school, Margaret walked to school every day until her later years. She taught approximately 350 students during her career here and as testament to her talent one student at her retirement described her as follows, "She is gifted with a practical mind, a fine sense of humor and a strong sense of her responsibilities. Her quiet impact on the minds and hearts of her pupils have shown unusually lasting and gratifying effects." Margaret's sister Louise was also a teacher and taught here in 1891. Louise then spent 50 years teaching at Freestone, two miles east.
The last teacher at the school from 1955 through 1967 was Alice Entzminger who said, "it was more like a family than like a school. I had no discipline problems; these children came from homes where they knew how to work and be obedient. They were never out of order."
In 1967, the Board of Trustees made the decision to close the school and donate it to Sonoma County Regional Parks. The preservation of the school as a historical landmark was important. In 1978, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today. Watson District School is a testament of the frontier spirit of early California and the dedication of the community it served.