Timber and Conejo Schools
The First Schoolhouses in the Conejo Valley
In the second half of the 1800s, Conejo Valley was a frontier where many pioneers started new lives, new families, and eventually new communities. As more and more children arrived or were born in the area, the community banded together in 1877 to build a schoolhouse. On March 24, 1877, the Conejo School District was established for the purpose of educating the children of the entire valley. The new schoolhouse, known as Conejo School, was located near the northwest corner of present-day Westlake Blvd. and Hampshire Road. Today there is a rock monument designating the location of the original school.
When land became available for sale in the Conejo Valley in 1873, Howard Mills of Santa Barbara was one of the first land developers, buying 22,000 acres. He sold most of it, but kept 6,000 acres for himself which he called the Triunfo Ranch. (This land eventually became Westlake Village.)
In 1876, he brought his three small girls from Santa Barbara to live with him. Because there was no school in the Conejo, Mills hired Julia Anderson to hold classes in his home for his own children and others in the area. Ventura Free Press stated that the school was a private school and that it was called "The Triunfo School."
Early the next year, Mills led a group of concerned parents to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to request the formation of a school district in the Conejo Valley. A census of the area was required to see if there was need. During the first months of 1877, a count was taken of the Conejo residents. It was found that there were 126 people living in the area. 54 were children under the age of 17, which was enough to qualify. So on March 24, 1877, the Conejo School District was established for the purpose of educating the children of the entire valley.
At that time, most of the children lived at the eastern end of the valley, so it was decided to build a school house there and $750.00 was raised from the parents for the structure. It was a great sacrifice for them because the Conejo Valley was in the middle of a disastrous drought during the year 1877, and many ranchers were having terrible losses.
Mills donated two acres of his land for the school site. When it was completed, the structure was given the name of "Conejo School." Because of the drought, Mills went bankrupt and he left the Conejo Valley.
Andrew Russell purchased Mr. Mill's Triunfo Ranch in 1881, and he renamed the ranch "The Conejo Ranch" but most people just called it the Russell Ranch.
Abigail Russell was a strong lady with deep convictions. When she and her family moved to the Mills' property in 1881, she discovered that the little schoolhouse was located on their property and since she had six children, she worked very hard to keep it open. In those days the ADA (Average Daily Attendance) requirement to keep a teacher was five children.
As land near the site of today's Civic Arts Plaza was sold off to developers, more people moved into the valley. Most did not want their children traveling such a great distance to Conejo School, so it was decided that a newer school should be built closer to the new housing development.
On July 15, 1924 a meeting was held to assign the contract for the construction of the new Conejo School. Work was to be started immediately. A old cook shack served as a temporary schoolhouse for the children's education until the completion of the new school.
In 1929, the new Conejo School opened at its current site on Conejo School Road. It was dedicated to Abigail Russell for her years of dedication to the school and the education of all of the children in the community. Like many schools of that era, the new Conejo School was built in the Mission Revival Style.
When Conejo School was built, it was to accommodate all the children in the Conejo Valley. Ten years later, enough children had moved into the western end of the valley that another school was needed.
Interested citizens who spearheaded the plan to form a new school district included Cecil Haigh, Mr. and Mrs. Wadleigh, Richard Hunt and Caspar Borchard. On January 5, 1888, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to establish the second school district, the Timber School District. It was called Timber District because of the tiny community of Timberville, that surrounded the Conejo Hotel known later as the Stagecoach Inn.
In December 1888, Cecil Haigh sold two acres of his land for a school site for $50.00. The original Timber School was built at the current intersection of Newbury and Kelley roads. Until the schoolhouse was finished, classes were held in the Conejo Hotel, now known as the Stagecoach Inn. Miss Mosher, the first teacher, received a salary of $40.00 per month. Initially there was an enrollment of 22 pupils. When the building was completed 1889, the class size was increased by an additional 20 children.
The new building was a one-room schoolhouse with two tiny anterooms which were used as cloakrooms. It had blackboards, desks, an organ, a mirror, a broom and dustpan, a shovel, and a coal oil lamp. Each child provided his own slate. The building was heated by a wood stove. There were two outhouses behind the building.
Back in the 1890's, Conejo Valley schoolchildren studied from McGuffey Readers, wrote on slates, shared a single tin cup for drinking and were responsible for the chores at school. Boys carried in wood from the woodshed and kept the fire stoked for warmth. On Friday afternoons, the students took turns sweeping out the school room.
A bell, which hung in the prominent bell tower, called the children to class and signaled recess and lunchtime. Ringing the heavy bell was a special honor, usually reserved for one of the older, stronger boys.
Timber School was used for church services and many community activities. May Day celebrations and school picnics were especially popular.
The Annual School Census, reported in May of 1900, lists Conejo School as having 25 students, and Timber School with 34 students.
The original Timber School burned or was torn down and was replaced in 1924 by a new Timber School, designed in the Mission Revival architectural style by Roy C. Wilson, the first licensed architect in Ventura County. The new school was bigger, and had running water and electricity. A Timber School Auditorium was constructed in 1948.
Both the school and auditorium buildings remain in place and are designated City of Thousand Oaks Historical Landmarks.
Timber School at the Museum Complex
The Timber School at the Stagecoach Inn Museum is a replica of the original and was constructed by students of Newbury Park High School under the able direction of their teacher, Randy Porter. A host of volunteers contributed both energy and materials. Many community groups and individuals donated needed funds for the project.
An effort has been made to portray a schoolroom of the 1890s in furnishings and decor. The contents of the room and its dimensions were found in historical records. Features include: original wall slate boards from the 1892 Santa Paula High School, and wainscoting from Dupar's Restaurant, an early landmark in Thousand Oaks.
Among the antiques displayed are: desks, organ, wood stove and clock, an 1893 map of the United States and the original California State Public School Register for Timber School from 1891 through 1893.
The school bell in the tower was specially cast. It is a duplicate of the old original bell which is now located in the grounds of Cypress Elementary School in Newbury Park.