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Iconic Spots: Watson School

Friday, May 23rd, 2014 | Posted by | no responses
(Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

(Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent

Watson School, the picturesque landmark on the way to Bodega, got its start with potatoes. In 1856, James Watson gave Jasper O’Farrell 1,000 sacks of potatoes in exchange for 1,100 acres of land, then donated a little under an acre for a school.

The community donated the labor and the materials, mostly redwood. The floor was designed to slope so students at the back could see the front of the classroom. Generations of boys who owned marbles rejoiced over that decision.

Children came 10 at a time, learning from teachers like Margaret Witham, who lived a mile from the school and walked there every day. Another notable teacher, also the last, was Alice Entzminger. She and the school were retired in 1967.

The school was designated a Point of Historical Interest and donated to Sonoma County Regional Parks. The grounds around the school became Wayside Park.

In the 1980s, all her pupils held a reunion picnic at the school to honor her. A couple of the middle-aged men there confessed to being marble rollers. She kindly did not give them detention.

In 1976, the school had some unexpected visitors when Christo and Jeanne-Claude decided their Running Fence, a 24.5-mile-long sail of a fence, should cross through the property on its way to the sea. For two weeks, people swarmed the area following the fence’s progress. Wayside Park was renamed Running Fence Park.

Although it was a favorite picnic spot, the school fell into disrepair and was closed to the public for two decades. Then, thanks to a former student, it got a facelift. Daniel B. Furlong had fond memories of the first school he attended and in 2012 left $200,000 to restore it. The foundation was shored up, got fresh paint and broken windows replaced. Its original slate blackboard, teacher’s podium, window sashes and panes were preserved.

Stop by and visit the school, bring a picnic, take photographs and search for geocaches (there are some around there). Watson School is located at 14550 Bodega Highway, between Freestone and Bodega.

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Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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