Editor’s note: This series on Carpinteria’s early schools originally ran in CVN in 2011.
An education was a precious commodity in mid-19th century Carpinteria—one that few children in the rural outpost managed to acquire before public schools started popping up in the valley. The first of these was the Carpinteria School on Santa Monica Road at Upson Drive.
According to Jayne Craven Caldwell’s extensively researched history on local schools, covered in a chapter of “More About Carpinteria The Way It Was,” the Carpinteria School was built around 1858, at which time Montecito School District oversaw the two-room, adobe schoolhouse. A 1934 issue of the Carpinteria Chronicle, stated that, “The first district serving just Carpinteria Valley was formed in 1868. Prior to that time the valley’s educational opportunities were confined to those who could afford it.”
In the Carpinteria School, lower elementary students received instruction in one room, while upper grades were taught in the other. A belfry stood at the front of the building, and former student John Joseph Rodriguez remembered, “For fun the boys used to tie a small thread to the bell, carry it over to the tree, and tie it to a high branch where they could pull it occasionally, and the teacher couldn’t discover how it was being rung.”
By 1870, the original Carpinteria School had been rebuilt, though no reports indicate why the adobe schoolhouse failed to meet the district’s needs.
In 1874, Carpinteria teacher Ed Thurmond became the Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools and held the position for 25 years.
Bursting at the seams by 1883, the Carpinteria School was reported by Thurmond to be “probably the largest in the county.” (Evidently administrators had a more difficulties keeping track of attendance records then.) The school housed from 50 to 60 students at times.
In the early 1880s, Miss Dorcas Wheelcock headed the school. When she arrived, the grounds were “in fearful condition, partly covered with great nightshades and unsightly brush heaps…,” reported a Santa Barbara newspaper. At Wheelcock’s prodding, the school trustees fenced the grounds, and under her management, the students helped to remove brush and plant flowers and trees on the small campus.
The inside of the schoolhouse also needed work. Wheelcock temporarily resigned because the building had a chronic leaky roof and damp floor. Books grew mold, she complained, and the small organ, an instrument she called her “baby,” had to be moved over and over to “escape being baptized,” reported Reginald Ogan.
Two weeks after Wheelcock’s threat to leave, district trustees passed a $3,000 bond to construct a new schoolhouse in Carpinteria and lured Wheelcock back to her post. The next fall, an assistant was hired to instruct the first and second grades for $60 a month, while Wheelcock taught the “third and fourth primary grades and grammar grades” for $70 each month, according to Ogan.
Wheelcock eventually relocated to Santa Barbara, and various instructors rotated in to pass along their knowledge to the young minds of the Carpinteria School. By that time two other schoolhouses had served students on the eastern and western ends of town for many years. In 1913, however, the doors of all three tiny schools closed for good with the opening of the large, consolidated Union School.
The old schoolhouse on Santa Monica Road was torn down after its students relocated to the Union School. According to Tina Rodriguez, who wrote a regular history column in The Carpinteria Herald, materials from the Carpinteria School were used to construct a two-story building located on 7th Street across from The Palms.
To learn more about the history of the two other early schoolhouses, the Union School and other campuses to come, continue to follow the school series launched with this week’s “Throwback Thursday.”