By Kathy Brown, Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum/Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society
The first segment of “Chalk Board Days” mentioned the students of Big Oak Flat walking over the Divide to be taught at a school in Garrote (Groveland) after their school's demise. That school, referred to as “The Little Red Schoolhouse,” was known to exist by 1867.
Mary Sweaney De Ferrari, who launched her teaching career in Groveland in 1912, wrote her first impressions of “Little Red Schoolhouse”. “It was a one-room, barn-like affair, spacious and cool. Three rows of double desks were nailed to the floor. Four windows were on each side of the room, and one at the end admitting light to the teacher's desk. Slate blackboards occupied the space between the windows. There was an organ, a dilapidated foot-pump instrument which squeaked out the marches and was used as an accompaniment to “America” and other favorites such as “Billy Boy” and Rig-a-Jig. ... In the center of the room was a box-heater, but it never did heat the room adequately.”
She also related that some of the children walked three miles to school. They were expected to to do chores at home, and at school as well, before the school day started. The boys hauled water from the well and stacked firewood brought in by wagon by area ranchers. The girls swept the floor and cleaned blackboards.
Mary taught in several Groveland area schools after attending Normal School. She told of passing a rigorous teachers' exam at the Tuolumne County Courthouse in 1912. It lasted six days and at the end she received her Teacher's Certificate. She said teachers were expected to follow a strict morality code. They were not allowed to smoke or drink in public and were supposed to avert their eyes when passing a saloon. Early teachers in this area were often housed in the Priest or Baird hotels or with area families.
In the mid-1910s Groveland's population exploded with the arrival of workers for the Hetch Hetchy project. Anticipating the increased need for a larger school for the children of these workers, a $3000 bond issue was passed by the citizens of Groveland in 1914. A new two-room school with gables, a red tile roof and a bell tower was erected on the site of the former “Little Red Schoolhouse.” It opened for classes in 1916. A Christmas Eve Ball was held to raise funds to purchase additional instructional materials. The crowd was so large the affair had to be transferred to the Opera Hall downtown.
This second Groveland schoolhouse was closed when Tenaya Elementary was built in 1964. In 1969 it became a promotional office for Boise Cascade during the development of Pine Mountain Lake. It was painted red though that school building was never known to be red when it served as school. Information on the PML development and tours of the lots available were launched from the former school. Afterwards, and to present day, it has served the community as a bank.
Until the mid-1900s many children of this area attended school just through 8th grade. For only about a year, a building on the north side of Main Street near the old stone bridge in Groveland served as a high school, before provision was made to bus area students to Sonora for secondary education. Groveland students returned home for classes in 1992 when Tioga High School, built with modular classrooms, opened. A gymnasium was added in 2008.
Today just two schools, Tenaya Elementary and Tioga High School, serve to publicly educate all of students who live in the same area where once many one or two-room schools were found. Ask around. You will still find local citizens who were educated in one of these small schoolhouses in chalk board days.
Taking You Back in History is provided by the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society (STCHS) and the Groveland Gateway Museum. The Museum is open Friday - Sunday 10a - 2p.