Schoolhouse History

The Old Lewiston Schoolhouse is a classic one-room schoolhouse built in 1862 by the Good Templars Lodge as a Temperance Hall. Although school had been conducted inside an old church that stood on the present site of the Congregational Church, when that structure burned in 1865, the Lodge surrendered its charter and the Lewiston Schoolhouse was born.

The schoolhouse in it's infancy: late-1860's For many years the school had no plumbing or running water. Maintaining a reliable water supply, by frequent trips to the well at the nearby Kise house, was a responsibility shouldered by the school children, who drank from a common dipper.

The building's original design, though somewhat spartan (see photo, above right, from late-1860's), served it's purpose as an educational institution, while a later facelift (see photo, bottom of page, circa 1910) would add the now-familiar bell tower. Still more adornments were to come including the front porch and rear kitchen area that now comprise the schoolhouse.

For nearly a century, the schoolhouse was not only an educational facility, but also served the community as a town meeting hall, a local polling place, and a venue for performances by area thespians. In addition, it played host to grand balls, benefit dinners, church socials, public "Christmas Tree parties", and extra-curricular class exercises of reading, speaking and singing.

Student Enrollment

As many as 65 children were enrolled here annually, through 1887. By 1910, enrollment had plummeted to 40, and had fallen so drastically by the mid-1940's that students from Lewiston and Grass Valley (a nearby community) were taught at the Grass Valley School by a single teacher. (Pictured below: The class of 1912)

Lewiston's Class of 1912 The Bureau of Reclamation began construction of the Trinity Dam in 1957. When the school session got underway in August of that year, the head count of Lewiston's pupils was 227. This prompted the Bureau to convert it's own conference room into a makeshift classroom. Just one month later, ten teachers were teaching double shifts to a student population that had swelled to 334! The new Lewiston Elementary School was finished by January 1958, where it currently operates with an enrollment of 150 children.

The significance of having been in operation starting with the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, and finally ending in 1961, serving as a part time teaching facility during the John F. Kennedy administration, is just one more feather in the cap of the historic one room school!

An Uncertain Future

Twenty five years after last serving as a classroom, the Old Lewiston Schoolhouse (as it had become known), having been utilized as a storage facility by the school district in the interim, was donated, along with the adjoining pioneer cemetery, to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors by longtime county residents Fred and Linda Bergstrom.

A state ballot measure for the restoration of old buildings was signed into law in 1986. A portion of these dollars was designated for the California Library System. Trinity County applied for a grant on behalf of the schoolhouse in order to upgrade the aging structure and to make it suitable for inclusion as a county branch library, pending the approval of the Lewiston citizenry.

The nearby Congregational Church that overlooks the pioneer cemetery Upon receipt of two grants, totaling $40,000 and $60,000, from the State of California, local residents were polled concerning the future of the schoolhouse building, the majority supporting the development of a community library in the newly-restored schoolhouse. Through the hard work and determination of countless volunteers, donations of money, labor, and materials, and tireless fundraising efforts, that dream finally became a reality in 1993.

Due to the state's economic downturn of the early 90's, county funding never materialized, and the Schoolhouse Library has yet to be formally incorporated into the Trinity County Library System.

Growth and Prosperity

The front cover of the popular Old Lewiston Schoolhouse Community Newsletter For over a decade, the Old Lewiston Schoolhouse Library and Musuem has been open to the public two or more days a week. To focus on schoolhouse history, and local history in general, a museum was incorporated into the library in 1996 (See below). The following year saw the introduction of the Old Lewiston Schoolhouse Newsletter, a quarterly publication that made its way to every mailing address in Lewiston and beyond. Increasingly popular, it provided readers an in-depth look at the goings-on at the Schoolhouse and Old Town Lewiston at large. Our annual Ice Cream Social was begun that summer as well and quickly became our most succesful fundraising event each and every year. By 2003, a number of improvements had arrived at the Old Schoolhouse including a Bestsellers/New Releases section in the library, the Dewey Decimal Classification for our library stock and the creation of this very website.

Our Museum

In wonderful old display cases containing such artifacts as schoolbooks, teacher's bells, and toys used by children who attended school here, one can catch a magical glimpse of days gone by. Adorning the interior walls of the schoolhouse are numerous photographs of yesteryear including an aerial photo of Lewiston, pictures of the dam's construction (1957-1961), and various class photos like the amazing enlargement of the class of 1894 that greets you overhead as you enter the building! Several pictures of the neighboring church (which was built in 1896 for a grand total of $750.00!) show that it hasn't changed much over the years (see photo, above right). One photograph pays tribute to Mary Smith (for whom a local campground is named), the only woman to operate a dredge at that time. Many more images of local buildings and points of interest are on display for your enjoyment.
The erstwhile Wells Fargo stagecoach is depicted in one of Michele de Onate's history-themed tableau The history-themed artwork of local artist Michele de Onate can also be enjoyed in and around the building, which paint a fascinating portrait of Lewiston's glorious past in the form of three-dimensional humanoid figures, artistic reproductions of places and events from the town's past and a wonderful display of historical tableau on the interior walls and above each of the schoolhouse's windows. (See examples of Michele's work, and photos of her fine folk art, on her Facebook page: Michele de Onate)

A Nugget From Our Past: "The Grand Masked Ball Incident of 1905"

On Saturday evening, March 18, camera operator Harvey Clayton's attempt to photograph the event's masked participants proved tragic when the flash device belonging to one of the maskers, Chris Blakemore, exploded suddenly, causing injury to more than a dozen of the evening's revelers.
The unfortunate band leader, Louis Castner
The photograph presented here is the only known image from Clayton's camera that night, taken a split second before the mishap. In it, we see several unidentified maskers, some visibly reacting to the commotion taking place off camera as evidenced by the white flash in the far right of the frame.

Moments later, amid the mayhem that erupted, numerous party-goers lay injured and bleeding on the dance floor.

Two weeks after the incident, bandleader Lewis Preston Castner (pictured at left) would die from his injuries at his home in French Gulch, where he is buried.

Today, a small, thumb-shaped hole can be spotted on the left half of the blackboard that still hangs on the front wall inside the Old Lewiston Schoolhouse. It is believed to have been caused by a chunk of flying debris from the exploding flash unit, yet another eerie remnant of the freak accident that took place there more than a hundred years ago.

This eerie photo was the exact one captured when the flash bulb exploded! Following is a list of known casualties of the Grand Masked Ball Incident:
*Julia Domenici (head wound, skull fracture)
*Allen Hammond (neck laceration)
*Harvey Clayton (hand injury, ear drum)
*Adeline Pauline (breast wound)
*Lewis P. Castner (neck and shoulder laceration) Died April 1, 1905
*Adele Castner (neck wound) Lewis's daughter
*Mrs. W.H. Lowden (leg injury)
*George Thorn (eye injury)
*Grover Robinson (arm wound)
*Tony Caton (head injury)
*Frank Caton (arm wound)
*Louis Dickey (arm wound)
*Others present suffered superficial cuts and scratches

A Bright Tomorrow

Winifred Blakemore poses with her students: 1897 The Old Lewiston Schoolhouse Library and Museum, now listed on the National Park Service's Register of Historic Places, along with the rest of the Lewiston Historic District, is a non-profit, all-volunteer community service organization. Striving to maintain our beloved library and museum as a fascinating and integral part of our community, and preserving the legacy of this institution is the shared goal of all our devoted volunteers.

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