• Watson School restoration project

Watson School Restoration - Background

Project Background

Watson School is located on Bodega Highway between Sebastopol and the Town of Bodega, one mile west of Valley Ford-Freestone Road. The parcel is approximately three quarters of an acre in size. The original land was donated in 1856 by James Watson for the construction of a school to serve the communities of Bodega, Freestone and Valley Ford. James Watson also organized local pioneering families to help with the construction of the one-room, Greek-revival wooden schoolhouse. The school was built from redwood trees harvested along Joy Road and milled locally. The front of the schoolhouse has a functioning bell tower and bell. The school also has a unique sloping floor from the rear of the building to the front, which forms an amphitheater-shaped seating arrangement. A wood stove was installed as the only heating source for the building.

Watson School has the distinction of being the only one-room schoolhouse in public ownership within Sonoma County remaining on the original site, and is believed to be the longest operating one-room school, for more than 111 years (1856-1967), in California's public school history. A 1960-61 County School report indicated that the building had never been enlarged, remodeled, or altered, other than the addition of electrical wiring, modern plumbing and a new roof.

Watson School was designated as a Point of Historical Interest by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1966. The school was closed in 1967 and donated to Sonoma County Regional Parks Department to manage. In 1968, Regional Parks converted the grounds around the building to a Wayside Park with picnic tables, a portable restroom facility and a parking area.

From 1972 to 1976 the area was the location for the Running Fence art project, where Bulgarian artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude constructed a fabric fence that stretched 24.5 miles. In 2001 Wayside Park was renamed Running Fence Park, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the project.

In 1976 Watson School was named Sonoma County Landmark #23, and in 1978 Watson School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. During the 1970s the building's failing foundation was replaced, and by 1990 Watson School was closed to public access because of building failure requiring extensive repairs. 

Project Funding

The project as outlined in this proposal is to be completed in several phases, depending upon fundraising success, grants and other sources of available funding.

Regional Parks committed $19,700 in major maintenance funding and $20,000 in park mitigation fees to stabilize the building, perform pest work and hire design consultants to prepare the preliminary restoration plans. This work was completed in October 2006.

The Regional Parks Department and Regional Parks Foundation plan to continue community outreach efforts over the coming years through the local historical societies using the project brochures to provide historical information on Watson School and alert the community to the need for funding to restore the facility.

Contact Information

Mark Cleveland, Senior Park Planner

Planning Division

Sonoma County Regional Parks
Business Hours
Monday – Thursday
7:00 AM – 4:30 PM
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Office Location

Sonoma County Regional Parks
2300 County Center Drive
Suite 120A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

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