Summerland School

Summerlanders have had their own school building since the late 1800s.

Editor’s note: This series on Carpinteria’s early schools originally ran in CVN in 2011. Parts one and two can be found at coastalview.com.

While Carpinteria schools were popping up to serve the girls and boys of the valley, Summerland was also wrestling with a growing population and a lack of educational opportunities for its youngsters.

By the end of the 1800s, Summerland was in transition. Carved out as a Spiritualist colony by early landowner H.L. Williams, the discovery of oil soon had the little town booming—with new wells being drilled every day and speculators moving into town from all over the globe. “As the town filled with workers and their families, the school filled until there was no room for the many children,” wrote May Lambert in her book “Growing up with Summerland, 1874-1975.”

As a low-budget remedy to the school’s space crunch, the porch of the schoolhouse was boarded up and two rows of seats were added. Unfortunately, as Lambert described, the makeshift walls left a two-inch gap along the floor “through which cold air blew on the children’s feet.”

Another obstacle to a Summerland education in the late 1800s was the placement of the little schoolhouse. The building was one of the first permanent structures to go up in Summerland, though its date of construction is unclear. Built at the top of the hillside on Whitney Avenue, the little schoolhouse presented a challenging walk on any day of the year, but during and after the rains, the uphill hike was a muddy mess.

Opal Miller Lambert, May’s daughter-in-law, recalled that when it rained, the students cut up burlap sacks and tied them to their feet to trek to school. During heavy rains, when the mud was deep, the teacher simply canceled school.

The town desperately needed a new school, but funding was scarce. Two bond measures failed. By that point May remembered that, “The town was divided as bad as the Hatfields and the McCoys.” In a third election, over two-thirds of the voters cast ballots in favor of the new school.

(May was serving as a school trustee at the time of the bond measures. Her recollection of landing the position is worth noting: “One night during 1917, as I was cooking dinner, I learned that I had been elected a School Trustee and Clerk of the Board. It was news to me, as I hadn’t even voted.”)

In 1919, the town erected a second small schoolhouse on the corner of Valencia Road and Lillie Avenue to house the youngest children. Finally, in 1930, a larger school was built on the corner of Valencia Street and Varley Road and the two little schoolhouses were demolished.

For the next several issues of Coastal View News, “Throwback Thursday” will continue to cover the history of Carpinteria schools. Next week, the history of Aliso School will be presented.

To learn more about Carpinteria’s unique and interesting past, visit the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History, open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at 956 Maple Ave.

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