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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15 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.

      • mckaney says:

        It’s a building. What is the purpose of a building? It has utility… to provide shelter, privacy, to keep some goods organized, etc. What should be preserved is that utility. You state that “we need to abide by consistent and set standards rather than the arbitrary, capricious and fickle opinions of each individual” which seems to indicate that you place value on being rational. In my opinion, it is not rational to preserve it in a frozen state as a schoolhouse. That particular usage has come and gone, and while it is worth remembering through a written record, preserving it as a historical monument and removing any utility it might have to those who are currently living is completely irrational.

        Personally, I am a fan of graffiti in all its forms. Certainly there are situations that I find it to appear unpleasant, but that is a superficial and irrational response and I try to remember that. Graffiti does not equal vandalism, because it does not physically destroy anything. It is merely a pattern of colors appearing on a surface.

        However, I am human and of course share some emotional response to defacing things superficially. However, in this particular case the whole thing could be mitigated by placing some new surfaces on top of the old in order to protect the history while allowing those currently alive to also leave their mark. And if it were a transparent surface layer people can simultaneously observe the historical markings.

        But seriously, it’s not a school anymore. It’s a building and what better way to respect the trees that gave their lives for it than to make it useful.

      • Jack Elliott says:

        Hey mckaney. Thanks for your comment.

        “preserving it as a historical monument and removing any utility it might have to those who are currently living is completely irrational.”

        That, of course, depends on how a person defines utility. The utility of a building is not solely defined by nor limited to its value as a private shelter or storage shed.

        The underlying assumption of the Antiquities Act is that Americans value hitorical objects for many reasons other than their readily apparent mere utility. When a scholar discovers a 5,000 year old arrowhead they do not start using it to hunt wild game or sell it to some post-primitive throwback dude who does. No, it’s removed from cicrculation and protected. We recognize that the object has taken on a greater value than its original utility.

        By your suggested standard, much of what has lawfully been set aside in America for posterity would be removed from protection and opened to public use. For instance, the battlefields at Gettysburg National Military Park, by your suggestion it would seem, should be tilled and farmed or developed in some manner as per their greater industrial utility rather than be as they are placed off limits as weedy fields in perpetuity for sake of memorializing the events that transpired there. By the same reasoning, rare historical garments should also continue to be worn in contemporary times, presumably until they fall apart, rather than housed in museums in special protective casing. Lincoln’s Home should be used as a residence or for business rather than set aside as an Historic Site. If we were to follow your suggested rationale, then we would have very little in the way of historical artifacts because we would have failed to protect them.

        Interestingly, you touch on what was historically a huge argument in the environmental/conservation movement between preservationists and those advocating “wise use.” And that is the idea that wild country, wilderness, has utility in and of itself without being commercially exploited or used in any manner. This debate was won by the preservationists and resulted in wilderness designations which remove from commercial use these wild lands. In other words, the people decided the greater utility was found in protecting the woods and placing them off limits to most acitivities rather than in the greatest possible uses usually associated with undeveloped land.

        “Graffiti does not equal vandalism, because it does not physically destroy anything. ”

        That’s demonstrably false. Painting over Native American pictographs does indeed destroy them.

  7. Any beta on the trail to get here? Thanks!

  8. Lars Pedersen says:

    Just stumbled on this, as I ponder another visit to Manzana Schoolhouse and beyond. It’s been almost 40 years since my last, hopefully it’s still intact. I was mortified to see a reference to “lamebrain Lars Peterson” as I dug into my decreasingly accessible old memories trying to imagine that I could have done such a thing as defacing the cabin. But then I clicked on the photo and realized that that was in fact the spelling of the name, and the date was relatively recent. My name is Lars Pedersen, note d and e, but I’ve been correcting the misspelling for decades so my immediate assumption was that I’d screwed up in some idiotic fit of youthful narcissism that I’d long since forgotten about. Whew. Nope, wasn’t me. What an odd coincidence though.

  9. Patti says:

    Thank you so much for posting this story My grandmother was one of the students at this school her grandfather was Hiram Preserve Wheat I have looked for years for information on this area My grandmother told me how her family left here and went to El Centro by wagon it took 1 month they took there cattle.

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