The saga of the Pleasant Valley School tells of a building that rose from the ground, had its days of glory and then was unceremoniously put out to pasture.
In 1869, two years after Benjamin Wiley, the first settler to acquire property in the windswept and unclaimed land lying between the Spanish ranchos in the Santa Maria Valley, about 100 families were living here.
Since the little settlement showed enough promise to warrant a school, its citizens, many of whom were uneducated, wanted to establish an official school district. They had a petition framed and submitted the signed document to the school authorities in Santa Barbara.
However, their hopes were dashed when the county rejected the petition, stating that before funding would be allowed and the town was accepted as a legitimate district, they’d first have to build their own schoolhouse, obtain their own teacher and pay his or her salary for one year.
Instead of being discouraged, the pioneer fathers rose to the task, outlined the valley as the school district and began taking subscriptions for funds to build a schoolhouse. In October of that same year, a fundraising party was held at the home of Rudolph Cook. For a nominal fee, guests enjoyed dancing, grab bags, guessing games and a banquet.
When the party was over and the proceeds were counted, the group had netted $100.
The building of a school on the 1-acre piece of land donated by Martin Luther Tunnell on the east side of town took a lot of community effort, and what they lacked in funds, they more than made up for in determination and effort. Except for the ceiling, which was finally added two years later, the building was completed in three days at a cost of $510.
With Joel Miller (“Uncle Joe”) as the school’s first teacher, the 15 students who showed up when the school was officially opened in early 1870, sat on benches lined up against the walls. The public school district, known as Santa Maria, was formed.
With neither books nor a place from which to obtain them, each child brought books from home, with some even printed in a foreign language. One child had brought in the family Bible.
Later that year, the district was able to secure official textbooks and copybooks, while the students used quills for pens and furnished their own ink.
With a $100 donation from Paul Bradley, a 12-foot addition was made to the school in 1874, the building grew to 48 feet long and began to be used for events such as community meetings and religious services.
Curtis Tunnell, a grandson of Martin Luther Tunnell, once told me that when they began to hold dances at the school, his grandfather put his foot down, and told the school district that the school would have to move.
William “Billy” Smith then stepped in and offered to donate a 1-acre parcel of property located on what is now known as Battles and Bradley roads. He put in a proviso that the property would revert back to his heirs when it ceased to be used for school purposes. That proviso was destined to cause major problems down the road when the school finally closed its doors.
Billy Smith died in October 1901, and three years later Sarah sold the property to Joe Enos and moved to a house located at 619 S. Broadway in Santa Maria.
The next chapter of the Pleasant Valley School property saga took place in 1935 when the school was officially closed, with Thelma Battles serving as its last teacher.
The following year, The Times reported a major fight brewing between the Enos family and the board of education over the land at the corner of Battles and Bradley.
Holding a quit claim deed from Sarah Jane Smith to Joe Enos and citing the proviso that was placed on the property when and if the property was no longer being used for school purposes, the heirs claimed said property was rightfully theirs.
The Santa Maria school board and District Attorney Percy Heckendorf, legal adviser of all county school boards, refused to recognize any of the claims, while A.H. Brazil, former district attorney of San Luis Obispo County, served formal notice on the superintendent to remove the school furniture.
With the school district’s contention that the property had never been abandoned for school purposes, Heckendorf not only instructed the superintendent not to remove any furniture but also sent a notice to Brazil that he’d welcome a lawsuit.
Thus, the fight began with neither side willing to back down.
So far, I’ve been unable to determine when the court proceedings took place or the results. Although the people from the school district insist that “we must have won,” the Enos family owned the school property until the entire ranch was recently sold.
In 1985, Dr. Roger Ikola, intending to create Heritage Park, purchased the school building plus two residences and moved them onto his property near where Santa Maria Way and Highway 101 intersect.
The park never materialized and the buildings fell into deep disrepair until the larger residence of the two was sold and moved out to Sisquoc. The other residence, The Paulding House, was beyond repair and destroyed.
In 2007, the old Pleasant Valley School was sold to Tina and Paul McEnroe, who moved the building to their Rancho La Purisima, in Buellton, and immediately began its restoration.
Today, the fully restored Pleasant Valley School, is used to conduct living history days, when children from surrounding communities come to school dressed in period clothing and interact with Tina as she conducts classes, much as they did in the school’s early days.
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On Sept. 17, the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society is sponsoring a trip to the old Pleasant Valley School, the oldest one-room school in Santa Barbara County. If you would like to participate in this event, call the museum at 922-3130.
Since this school played such an important role in the history of Santa Maria, we hope to make it a special day.