Schools & Scows in Early Sonoma
by George and Roger Emanuels
Sudden death is the common thread that ran through the three boarding schools which are depicted in Schools & Scows of Early Sonoma.
Saint Mary's Hall for Young Ladies was described by one writer one hundred years ago. She wrote, "Dr. Ver Mehr's school was the finest educational establishment north of San Francisco Bay." After founding Grace Chapel in San Francisco, the Rev. J.L. Ver Mehr moved to Sonoma and opened the school on September 1, 1853 in the Fitch house, a one-story adobe facing the west side of the broad plaza in Sonoma. Tragedy struck three years later when four of Ver Mehr's nine children died of diphtheria. The remaining family returned to San Francisco where they survived two major fires.
Next, Cumberland College served day and boarding students from December 1857, administered by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. By 1858 the school occupied the El Dorado Hotel, the one-story adobe built by Salvador Vallejo in 1844. A second floor was added soon after as a dormitory for boarding students.
Ninety-nine students were enrolled in the 1861 class. Boarders paid $4.50 per week plus the cost of candles burned, and $1.00 per week for laundry.
Recently discovered newspaper clippings of the era report that two Cumberland day students, brother and sister, died within two weeks. They were Henrietta and Willie Walker, children of Sonoma physician Dr. E.D. and Catherine Walker, author Roger Emanuels' great-great grandparents. It is chilling to read that "seven dear voices swelling the music in heaven from one household," suggesting that another five children in the family also died.
In the fall of 1864 the Cumberland College built a three-story building on Broadway and held classes there until about 1873. It was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and occupied by the Sonoma High School for about ten years. The stone foundation still exists at 870 Broadway.
Then there is the story of Amelia Lubeck and the Locust Grove School. She adopted her sister's seven children in 1869. In the next two decades "Auntie" Lubeck had adopted so many orphaned children that it became necessary to add buildings and hire teachers. The locust-lined entry to the school still exists on Broadway, 3.5 miles south of Sonoma. A collection of documents was recently discovered, many dating from over 100 years ago, collected by Mrs. Elmer Peterson, who occupied the property after Lubeck died. These documents tell a remarkable story of a large family and an abundance of love.
As people and cargo moved about San Francisco Bay, flat-bottom centerboard scows delivered produce and products up the tributaries and sloughs. Before the railroad and motor vehicles, the narrow Sonoma Creek was a busy route for farm produce and paving stones being shipped from the Sonoma Embarcadero in exchange for manufactured goods which arrived from San Francisco on the scows.
A remarkable collection of more than 300 photographs taken with a box camera 50-120 years ago has been preserved by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Groskopf of Sonoma. They add greatly to the knowledge of early shipping into Sonoma.
About the authors, father and son
George Emanuels (1908-2005), author of eight books on local and California history, and his wife Helen (1908-2003) moved to Sonoma in 1996. Finding little information published about early schools and scows of early Sonoma, he began to research the subject.
Son Roger is a cellist, teacher, radio producer and avid local history enthusiast. Their collaboration has produced this look at early life in Sonoma from 1847, including newly reported documents from the Civil War era.
Schools & Scows in Early Sonoma is published 1998 by the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, ISBN 0-9607520-7-2.