Manzana Creek Schoolhouse (1893)

Manzana schoolhouse, Santa Barbara County Historical Landmark No. 2.

“I got paid $50 a month for teaching and paid $14 for room and board, and that was a shared bed at that, with at least one or two children.”

Cora McCroskey, at left, was Manzana schoolhouse’s first teacher

In the Santa Barbara backcountry, at the confluence of Manzana Creek and the Wild and Scenic Sisquoc River and accessible to the general public only by a long hike, there stands a schoolhouse established by nineteenth century pioneers. The following text is taken verbatim from a posterboard display located inside the old schoolhouse.

In the late 1800s, homesteaders from Kansas settled in the Sisquoc River Valley and struggled to farm the thin-soiled land along Manzana Creek and the Sisquoc River. By 1890, almost 200 people lived on 20 different homesteads in the valley. In March 1894, these settlers asked the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to establish a local schoolhouse. Classes began on the 4th of July of that year. Classes were held in the summer months when the river was low enough for the children to cross safely. The schoolhouse also functioned as a community center for social gatherings.

Teachers lived with local residents or rode on horseback or by wagon to the schoolhouse. Seven different instructors taught during the school’s short existence. Eventually, the weathered turned against the settlers and dry years made both farming and cattle unprofitable. Settlers moved away. In 1902 with only one student enrolled the school closed.

The schoolhouse was abandoned for several years, until two fur trappers from Lompoc moved in and set traplines along Manzana Creek in 1927. They used the building as a large drying rack for their pelts. One of these men trapped animals in the Sisquoc-Manzana area for about sixteen years until his death on Figueroa Mountain. Following World War II, the structure was used by campers, hikers and hunters. Ranchers even stored hay and salt inside the building for their cattle.

In 1966, the County Landmark Advisory Committee designated the old schoolhouse as the second Historic Landmark in Santa Barbara County. In 1988 a full fledged restoration project was initiated, a cooperative effort between the Los Padres Interpretative Association and the U.S. Forest Service. Such projects point to the need for protecting our cultural resources, while preserving them for the future enjoyment of others. Please help in this effort.

A detail of the pine planks making up the outside walls of the schoolhouse, which are riddled with holes from wood peckers.

The inside of the schoolhouse is covered in one hundred years worth of names and dates that have been written on and carved into the walls. While the older dates I find intriguing and view with pleasure as a piece of history, the newer ones make me cringe and even give rise to anger. It’s a contradiction of sorts I have long pondered and have yet to resolve.

The old black board inside the school was long ago turned into a free-for-all graffiti panel. R.L. Cooper carved his name and the date into the soft wood back in 1911 and one hundred years later, long after the building was officially designated a Historical Landmark, lamebrain Lars Peterson added his mark.

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8 Responses to Manzana Creek Schoolhouse (1893)

  1. Vicki says:

    what an interesting old building.. thank you for the close-ups..

  2. Great photos and interesting history, and I had a good laugh at the end. 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    Cora McCroskey is my great grandmother and was a textbook grandmother and a great lady. Great to see this writeup, she would be very impressed. I plan on visiting the schoolhouse in March 2013.

  4. Christian Farmer says:

    The hike to the manzana schoolhouse was so long but it was so cool we didn’t find the schoolhouse until the next morning then we saw it we went in there and we saw a board that tells a story

  5. it’s just graffiti. does the age matter?

  6. Nolan says:

    I understand your annoyance at the recent carvings, and normally I would share that feeling, but in this context I think it’s actually pretty neat. Two people with a hundred years between them, driven by the same impulse to leave their mark on the world. If Cooper’s and Lars’ dates were switched, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It helps give you a sense that we’re just the same as the people who lived a hundred years ago, and reminds you that we, too, are a part of history.

    I’d love for there to be a name next to theirs dated at the year 2111 someday. However that does raise the issue of more and more people wanting to carve their names and covering all the space. If only there was away to limit it to one mark per year, or decade, or something.

    I do think though that Lars went too far in invading Cooper’s space. He was there first Lars, he can have a big spot to himself.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      But this is an officially recognized historic landmark, the designated purpose of which is to protect and preserve such sites and objects.

      And obviously using the landmark as a free-for-all graffiti board is in direct violation of that designation in spirit if not in law.

      So if we’re going to ignore the historic designation aimed at preservation, and if we’re going to put a lesser value on that preservation and more value on people’s desire to cover the place in graffiti, then, yes, the place will be destroyed.

      Furthermore, we need to abide by consistent and set standards rather than the arbitrary, capricious and fickle opinions of each individual who would be under no obligation to refrain from spray painting the place with names and images if they saw fit based on the very same argument that they think it is “pretty neat.”

      Extending this logic further into the forest, every rock and tree would be open to defacement under the same arguments. Because surely if an historic landmark designation should be ignored so we can carve names that a hundred years from now may look neat, then it stands to reason that the rest of the forest would also be an open canvas suitable for the same purpose, including archaeological sites.

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