Viewpoint - November 24, 2010

Guest opinion: Portola Valley schools to mark 150th birthday

by Nancy Lund

In 2011 the Portola Valley School District will celebrate its 150th birthday. Seems surprising, doesn't it, for such a long history in a town that has been incorporated for only 46 years? Here's how it came about.

In May of 1861, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors authorized the creation of Searsville School to serve the children of lumberjacks and those folks who provided services for them. It stood off Sand Hill Road near the reservoir that today bears the same name. By the 1870s, the redwoods had been cut, and Searsville was a sleepy little village. The reservoir, created in 1891, brought the end of the town and of the school.

To fill the gap, Mrs. Andrew Hallidie donated land for a new school at the base of the Hallidie estate in Portola Valley near an area that was becoming a community center for the former residents of Searsville. In 1894, a replacement school was built at what became 765 Portola Road. It boasted a bell tower, a small library, separate entries for boys and girls and a shed out back for the teacher's horse and the children's ponies.

When the population became large enough to require a second school in 1909, the schoolhouse that survives today was built, and the district's name was changed to Portola. Only men could vote at that time, and they passed a bond issue of $4,000 by a vote of 20 to 1 to fund the school. The new building had no plumbing and no electricity, but it did have a battery-operated doorbell.

Those two little one-room schoolhouses stood by the side of Portola Road until 1950 when the post World War II boom on the Peninsula sent the population skyrocketing. The 1894 school was sold for $10 and dismantled; a new, modern building rose on the site. That building served as Portola Valley School until 1977, when it was closed over concern about the San Andreas Fault that passed underneath the property. It was not until 1955 that the district received its current name: Portola Valley School District.

So that's a brief version of how the 150 years passed: two one-room schoolhouses and a multi-room school that served their time and disappeared, and one schoolhouse that survived. In 1954 voters (considerably more than 21!) saved the 1909 school from demolition. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two newly renovated schools, Corte Madera and Ormondale, stand today to take their place in the march of time.

Plans are under way to celebrate this significant birthday with a grand and glorious reunion of everyone who has had a connection to the schools on the weekend of Oct. 1-2, 2011. Stay tuned for more details.

Nancy Lund is Portola Valley's town historian.


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