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Pinnacles plans to preserve schoolhouse traditions

Pinnacles National Park purchases Bear Valley Schoolhouse to preserve it's historical significance and support community traditions.
Bear Valley Schoolhouse during the 1916-1917 school year. Photo courtesy Deborah Norman.
Left horse: George Butterfield, Grace Butterfield, Lois Hain. Right horse: Carol Prewett, Evelyn Prewett, Winnie Krueger, Everett Prewett, Viella Butterfield. Photo courtesy Deborah Norman
From top: Grace Butterfield, Lois Hain, George Butterfield, Carol Prewett, Winnie Krueger, Viella Butterfield, Everett Prewett, Evelyn Prewett. Photo courtesy Deborah Norman
Students playing in San Benito River that runs through schoolyard: George Butterfield, Everett Prewett, Grace Butterfield, Lois Hain, Evelyn Prewett, Viella Butterfield, Winnie Krueger. Photo courtesy Deborah Norman
Kennedy family reunion at Bear Valley Hall. Front row Michael Tonjes, Alan Bacon, Kyle Kennedy, Middle row: Brian Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, Fay Kennedy, Leslie Tonjes, (?) Kennedy, Back row: Matt Kennedy, Richie Kennedy, Karissa Kennedy, Janelle Kennedy, Ann Kennedy, Christy Kennedy, Diane Barrett, Carrie Bacon Monteon, Stacey Bacon Schmidt. Photo courtesy Carrie Bacon Monteon.

The early settlers of Bear Valley established the first Bear Valley School in Spring of 1873. Shortly after construction was completed, Horace Bacon, one of the community’s remarkable educators, began teaching at Bear Valley School.

Under Horace Bacon’s stewardship, Bear Valley would become a key figure to the community.  After he began teaching here, the construction of a new building would replace the original schoolhouse. The new Bear Valley opened in 1903, with eleven students attending.

Bear Valley School District lapsed in 1950 as a result of declining attendance, the building remained open and had served a vital purpose for residents, now being referred to as Bear Valley Hall. The building was shuttered in 2002 due to its deteriorating physical condition. But the old schoolhouse has remained significant to local residents. Efforts were made to sell it to private ownership with intent of preserving the property. When efforts failed, in November 2011, the National Park Service Inc. purchased the schoolhouse for $150,000. Four days later Pinnacles National Park acquired the Bear Valley Schoolhouse.

Greg Schmidt, who grew up enjoying his summers in the area and works for NASA today has fond memories of the old building. "The school was closed for classes in the early 1950s, I’ve heard- several years before I was born. My dad and his siblings (Jef, Nadine and Charlotte) all went there. My great grandfather Horace Bacon taught there as did his daughter & my grandmother Edith Bacon Schmidt, as well as my aunt Nadine. The schoolhouse was used well into the 70s and perhaps 80s for community gatherings," Schmidt wrote in a recent email about the park's efforts to bring it back into use. 

The one-room, wood structure continues to hold strong emotional ties and historic associations to local residents, some of whom descended from the first generation of settlers to the area. “I would love to see the schoolhouse be back open to the public and serve as community building that everyone once went to,” said Stacey Bacon-Schmidt, south county resident. 

"We would have New Year’s Eve parties there, with music supplied by myself, my brother Rick, my cousin Brian, my Uncle Jef and my rather talented father Stan. I remember playing a lot of Swing Era music," Schmidt wrote. "The schoolhouse has long been a passion of mine and I’m so glad it’s being preserved," said Schmidt.  

“The school is part of our family history, because my grandmother was a teacher there, and we always had Mother's Day gatherings there, and other family occasions,” said Deborah Norman, former south county resident. Norman hopes to see the building be used for a community gathering place and educational purposes, like historic lectures on the families that settled there and the Native Americans before them.

In February 2012, PIPA supported the research and writing of the Historic Structure Report. The report guides the preservation and use of the property. The bell tower was removed and put in storage until rehabilitation will take place and preservation funding raised. “Currently the building can’t be used and we are working with a preservationist at the University of Oregon on what restoration can be done to the schoolhouse,” said Timothy Babalis, Historian of the National Park Service’s Pacific West Coast Regional Office.

"Funding, will not be from the NPS budget (except from staff salaries), but from a combination of visitor fees, private donations, and fundraising done by the Pinnacles National Park Foundation," mentioned Timothy Babalis. 

Pinnacles National Park says that once restored, Bear Valley School will serve as a location for visitors for educational and interpretive programs and as a resource to the community.

Other related stories:

Legacy of Women: Elizabeth Quigley Shell Bacon

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bstrohn's picture
Blaire Strohn (bstrohn)

Blaire Strohn is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University focusing on International Agriculture. Blaire also graduated from California State University, Fresno with a Bachelors Degree in Agriculture Communications. Born and raised on a cow/calf operation ranch in Paicines, she is passionate about the agriculture community and western way of life.


Submitted by (Jim Ostdick) on

Great article! Thanks for the knowledge.

Submitted by Peter Hain (peterhain) on

I'll have to track down the branch of the family tree Lois Hain sits on.  My grandfather, John Hain, attended school there as well.  The Hain family descendants used to gather at the schoolhouse for family reunions years ago.

Peter Hain

Submitted by (John Baker ) on

Many of Pedro parties right there

Julie Finigan Morris's picture

Nice job, Blaire! What a great part of San Benito County's rich heritage. I remember attending potlucks at the Bear Valley Schoolhouse in the early 90s. Rose and Ernie Prewett were two of my first friends when I moved here, and always made me feel so welcomed. Thanks for bringing this to BenitoLink readers! 

I remember Christmas parties in the late 60’s with the Melendy’s. South County has always had charm and a special place in my heart. Good luck with the restoration. 

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