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Bonsall Schoolhouse

Originally Published In Village News Nov. 12 & 19, 1998

Contributed by the Fallbrook Historical Society

Don Rivers, President

Recently I ran across a very interesting book: "The Little Old Bonsall Schoolhouse" a history of Bonsall School that was written by Virginia Funk, with drawings by Barbara Crow Harlan and published by the Bonsall Woman's Club in 1984. I would like to share some of this interesting booklet with you. This booklet is available at the Historical Museum in its entirety for your pleasure.

The Little Old Bonsall Schoolhouse

by Virginia Funk


Researching the little old Bonsall schoolhouse was like stepping back in time to an era when children learned the three "R's" in basic education with no time for frills. In our research we uncovered a fount of Bonsall lore which should interest old and new residents alike.

Records show that Bonsall was originally known as "Mt. Fairview" and later as "Osgood," after the chief engineer who was in charge of the Southern California Railroad Survey Crew in the 1870s. A petition for a post office in 1889 recommended the names of "Reed," "Favorite," or Bonsall." Post office headquarters in Washington, DC chose the latter, the name of a retired Methodist minister, James Bonsall, who developed a fruit tree nursery in the area in 1889.

Apparently, Mr. Bonsall was taking a load of lumber south through Gopher Canyon when his wagon broke down. He found the area so appealing, he purchased some acreage from a settler, built a home and developed his nursery all with a cash capital of $3.00. His enterprise was very successful and his house still stands today.

In the late 1800s, the hamlet of Bonsall offered the services of a post office, blacksmith shop complete with tethering rock to tether the horses while shopping, a general store, hotel and local school. The fertile valley became the center of a small dairy industry.

The post office was the community center; the postman carried more than just mail. He toted cream from the Creamery in Bonsall to the train at Oceanside for shipment to San Diego.

The post office was a tiny five-by-five foot space inside the general store in the south (east) bank of the San Luis Rey River where the Bonsall Community Church now stands. In the early 1900s the store was known as George D. Stevens & Co., "dealers in dry goods and groceries, hats, caps, shoes, hardware and notions, ladies and children's furnishings." In 1918, when Bonsall's population was only 100, John Patten, who worked in Mr. Stevens' store, inherited the store upon the death of Mr. Stevens. Patten and his wife, Evelyn, ran the store until his death in 1937. Soon after, Evelyn bought a store across the river on the site of former Perry's Market, and ran it until she sold it to the Wilson Perrys' in 1945.

The old hotel stood opposite the original schoolhouse. It was run by two sisters who provided accommodations for travelers and for teachers on the occasions when roads were impassable due to heavy rains.

Former postmaster and Bonsall resident, Joseph Koehler, came to North County from Chicago, Illinois when he was nine years old and attended school in our little old schoolhouse. He recalled when, in 1916 the flood waters of the San Luis Rey River washed out the concrete bridge that crossed the stream where West Lilac Road crosses it now, and a one-lane wooden bridge with a turnout in the center was constructed in its place, which was used until 1927. The San Luis Rey River Bridge AKA the Bonsall Bridge, was built downstream in 1924-25 and was used until it became too small to handle modern traffic.

The community surrounding the schoolhouse was one of large ranches and small farms. The valley floor had several dairies of good size, registered Herford cattle, wine grapes, truck farms, chicken, turkey and olive ranches, pig farms, an ostrich farm and several rabbitries. Some people raised thoroughbred horses. Bees were plentiful. All water was pumped from wells along the river.

Now days, as one travels from our present post office via Old River Road, it is so easy to drive past the school buildings without giving thought of their contribution to the quality of our life here. There is an excellent modern school of high academic standing (along with the new Norman L. Sullivan Middle School at 7350 West Lilac), a fleet of busses to transport the eager pupils to class, and there, sitting midst a group of eucalyptus trees is the "little old schoolhouse." What a wealth of living has passed through her doors (and still does).

She has quite a story to tell. A peek back reveals a long path of progress:


The "little old Bonsall schoolhouse," as she is known affectionately to area residents, has been serving the community since she opened her doors on Aug. 26, 1895 at her original location, the present driveway entrance to the school grounds.

Grandparents and great-grandparents of present-day students received their primary education in the one room structure. Until 1920, one teacher taught all grades.

Looking even further back, where did local children learn their three R's before "Mount Fairview School?"

It is hard to pinpoint the exact location of the early schools. Four schools existed which later made up the Bonsall District: "Mount Fairview," which had its beginning in 1882 and was located near the present site of our little old schoolhouse. The Monserate School which was located north of State Route 76 and east of I-15, the "River School" on North River Road west of State Route 76 and the Oaks School in Moosa Canyon near Castle Creek golf course. Teachers were hired for three months at a time back then. The school year usually ran for seven and one half months, beginning in mid-summer and closing for several months in mid-year. Our research indicated the children had time off to help plant the crops.

A Legend Is Born

In the spring and summer of 1891, meetings were held for the purpose of locating a site and raising money to build a new school. It was decided to have a bond election on June 20, 1891, the amount to be $740.00. At a meeting June 13, 1891, Joseph Rooker proposed to donate an acre of land for the school site. The school board accepted.

When the bond election failed, supplies were purchased to fix up the old school building which had to be continually refurbished and used for the next couple of years. On Aug. 25, 1891, the district elected to extend the number of grades offered from eight to twelve, thereby presenting students a high school education.

In the fall of 1893, meeting was again held for the purpose of building and relocating Mount Fairview School District. At the meeting held Nov. 4, W.A. Stratton donated a lot 150' X 200'. On Dec. 2, 1893 it was decided to hold another bond election. Notices were posted on May 19, 1894 and the bond election was held a week later. The amount of money involved was $900.00 plus interest at seven percent. The bonds passed. All 21 voters had approved.

A meeting of the people of the school district was called for Dec. 15, at 2 p.m., a popular hour to get things done 90 years ago, so they could give instructions as to how to dispose of the original Mount Fairview schoolhouse. By unanimous vote they elected to have the building sold at auction but retain the use of the "house" until the new schoolhouse was ready to be occupied, at which time it must be moved off the premises within 10 days.

Construction of the new Mount Fairview School continued at a steady pace. On Jan. 24, 1895, Jonathon Stratton was paid $1.50 for hauling a load of bricks from Escondido. G.H. Brodie was paid $6 for three days work as stone mason on the foundation. William Robinson received $5.25 for three and one half days labor as his helper. A month later, the contractor received his first payment of $400.

Mrs. Elise Averill was the first teacher hired to instruct the children in the new schoolhouse. She received $60 per month. Nettie Dusing was appointed "Janitoress" at a salary of $4 per month.

According to the "Census Marshall's" report dated April 1895, 41 children were attending area schools, 14 girls and 9 boys from 5 to 17 years of age; with 18 in the under-five age group. Many years passed before there would be an increase in attendance number.

Students came from sturdy stock. They walked to school or came by buggy and knew class was about to begin when the teacher stood in the doorway and rang the school bell. Lunches were brought in tin lard pails and eaten outdoors in nice weather. In the school's small confines, good behavior was a necessity. Children learned in an atmosphere of firm but fair discipline. . .and from each other. They got a "licking" if they were disobedient and were made to wear a dunce (fool's) cap. A wood heating stove was used for warmth and outhouses were the fashion.

An Era Ends, A New One Begins

Bonsall Union School District was so named July 25, 1919, when the board of directors met to choose the new name for the school. Miss Matilda O'Neal was elected principal at the meeting at a salary of $100 per month; Miss Roberta Ellis was teacher for $90 per month. On Oct. 2 funds received from the sale of the River School ($75), and Monserate School ($188) along with Oaks School were added to the school treasury and combined they became Bonsall Union School.

In 1920, a school bond election for $18,500 carried and a new school building of Spanish style, consisting of an auditorium, stage, small kitchen, two schoolrooms and a tiny principal's office was built and dedicated in 1922. The "Little Old Schoolhouse" was moved to a location behind the new one for use as a primary school, its name, Mount Fairview, forgotten by many but not by all.

Additional classrooms were added over a period of 29 years beginning in 1954. As student registration increased, so did the size of the school. In 1984 there were 30 classrooms and two trailers being used on campus.

A note from the author included in the booklet:

It's taken four years to gather the history within these pages. We hope you have enjoyed reading what we have uncovered along the way. But more than that, we hope as you drive by the 'Little Old Schoolhouse' you'll look at her and treasure her as you would anything that has contributed to our American heritage. Who knows? You might even hear the original bell ringing in the bell tower the Bonsall Lions installed!

In addition to the writing of Virginia Funk and the drawings by Barbara Crow Harlan, the research was done by Perciclair Borchert, chairman, Kay Hoxie, Clair Borchert Raahauge and Delia Henderson. Because of the very nature of the informal sources, we cannot fully guarantee the accuracy of all the information this endeavor imparts.