A former stone schoolhouse: 1913 – 1932
I recently got the chance to look inside of the old stone Napa Redwoods schoolhouse on Redwood Road, past Hess Winery. Mary Montella, with her husband Jeff Newman, has owned the home built from the core of the school for almost 30 years now. She herself has done a good bit of research on the school’s history (practically everything after this paragraph comes courtesy of Mary). She had not seen any photos of the school house in its original form, so was thrilled to see the picture above. Another thrill came when we were joined by Robert Streich Jr. and his long-suffering wife Dorothy (as all spouses of history buffs are). Bob’s great-grandfather Nicholas Streich started Castle Rock Vineyards farther up the road in 1881. His grandfather Ernest took over the winery and vineyard in 1890 or so, when he was only 22, and built it into a reputable small winery (see The Jordans in the Redwoods–Part 3: Two Winemakers Make Their Mark). But what was important today was that Ernest had been a trustee and the treasurer of the Napa Redwoods school district when the stone school was built—so Bob arrived with the actual blueprints for the school in hand. Bob also had a large county wall map from 1915 that showed the school on it (image shown below).
School started in the 1850s
Napa Redwoods School was first located higher up the road, near its end, in the area of what is now Castle Rock Vineyards property. According to historian Peggy Meister, with whom Mary talked, the school had eleven students in 1857, 48 in 1865, 71 in 1871, and in 1881, when the Streichs arrived, the school was back down to ten students. (The higher number of students in the 1860s and 70s was likely due to the logging of the canyons’s redwoods and influx of loggers’ families during that time.) If a school had more than 40 students, it was assigned two teachers. The property was close enough to the Sonoma County line that at least one family of three children walked over the ridge from the Sonoma side to attend school here around 1912 (this ended tragically, see “A ‘Brutal Crime’ in a Peaceful Place”). Most of the families in the area were German immigrants.
That school’s buildings burned twice (perhaps leading the district to build this one in stone; according to Meister, it is the only one-room schoolhouse built of stone in Napa County). Additionally, the school site had moved between properties a couple times over the years, but with this deeded property it became possible to build something more permanent for the first time.
A larger school, more centrally located
By 1913, Redwood Road went through above the canyon so those in the bowl of the upper valley could get through to the site of the deeded property. The school was built on three acres of land donated for a token price by Nickel and Brown Bros., who ran cattle in the hills across the creek and who had a butcher shop in Napa. The school was designed by well known Napa Valley architect William Henry Corlett, who also designed the Migliavacca and Noyes (now the Wine Spectator offices) mansions in Napa, the recently closed Franklin Station post office in downtown Napa, and the Spanish Revival-style St. Helena Public Library (now the city’s recreation department offices) on the southeast corner of Adams and Oak streets. The school was built by local Italian stonemasons (the names Joe Somazzi and Anton Fraguelli have come up) from rock quarried in the hills nearby.
According to the blueprints, there was a standing wood stove near the back corner that vented through a flue to the roof. Boys and girls wardrobes and bathrooms were on each side of the front entry hall, with a teacher’s storage closet as well.
The school building becomes a home
The school had 17 students in 1924 and closed in 1932 when enrollment dropped below six students, and kids were bussed to town (this was also around the time that all the small local school districts unified). The building was later sold to Waldmar and Marguerite Augustine and was added on to as a house fairly soon after that. The Augustines owned the house until the 1970s. It sits right off Redwood Road and seen easiest in the winter when the leaves are down. The new additions—to the front and a side, along with a second-story—partially mask the original school building. But the south side of the house is that of the school and features the classic large school windows to let in the southern light. Meister says that the windows always made up the left side of a classroom in order to make the best light for the students who were required to learn to write right-handed. So, in this case, the students would have faced the fireplace in the current dining-living room. And as you can see from the photo, that room is inviting and full of light.
The Montella-Newmans repaired cracks in the mortar between the stone blocks that were caused by the Labor Day Quake of 2000 and the 6.0 South Napa Earthquake of 2014 and also did some structural reinforcement to protect the building from future quake issues. Not shown here are exterior metal beams reinforcing the south wall outside the large windows.
Mary also pointed out how the darker stones on the arch in their kitchen nook, the former front entry, match those in the black and white photo here of Emily Streich in a buggy outside the front door in 1921 (see inside the white circles below); not that we needed the verification, but it is always nice to find those kind of visual confirmations.
Thanks very much to Mary for the tour and to Bob for the blueprints and the large map.