Two Historic North State Schools Hold Many Great Memories
● By Brandi Barnett
Old SchoolSeptember 2015
By Laura Christman
Photos: Thomas Shedd
Millville and Ellis Schools are close in location and share a pioneer past. The former one-room schoolhouses along Whitmore Road in Millville hold lots of history for the small community east of Redding.
Lorale Tollett, 71, attended first through eighth grade at the redbrick Millville School. One teacher taught all eight grades. “The teacher was great. We’d all pack our lunches and go for walks way out back and check the wildflowers,” Tollett recalls. “We were always going on field trips – before the stickers got bad and the snakes were out.”
Students dug ditches and used branches to make forts next to the school. When a baseball game was scheduled with Whitmore, everyone (25 or so pupils) climbed into the back of a cattle truck to head up the hill for the competition.
“It was a big old cow truck,” Tollett says. “Back then you could do things like that.”
The land for the school was purchased for $80 and the building deeded in 1867. The two-story building had a dual identity: School was on the first floor; the Masons and Odd Fellows hall on the second floor. It was one of 10 or so buildings in California with such a partnership, according to Shasta Historical Society’s “The Covered Wagon.”
Students were not to go upstairs, notes Winifred Graham Saastad in an account for Millville Historical Society’s 2003 book, “Millville: A Bridge to the Past.” But her parents belonged to the Odd Fellows and Rebekah Lodge, and children were included at some events.
“We used to run and slide across the floor before the dancing began,” she says in the book. “That room also had a player piano … we were fascinated with the mechanics of the keys going up and down all by themselves.”
A wood stove warmed the building in winter. Students would bring a potato from home, put it in the coals, and have a baked potato for lunch, notes Marcene Coffelt in the Millville history book.
On spring days, older students were allowed to read their lessons under trees. Coffelt recalled how students sometimes would put one or two classmates, “who were small enough to fit, inside a 55-gallon metal drum and roll the horizontal drum down a small incline. It was great fun if your stomach could handle it.”
She remembered poems being recited on Fridays and bats swooping through the classroom when lights were turned off to show movies. “This caused quite a furor,” she noted.
Modern plumbing didn’t come to Millville School until the mid-1950s.
In 1956, Ellis School was moved from South Cow Creek Valley to the Millville School grounds to be the primary-grade classroom. Established in 1883, the school was named after John and Helen Ellis, who donated the original property. It was at two more locations in the valley, with the newest version built in 1920.
After Millville Elementary School was constructed on Brookdale Road in the mid-1960s, the old schoolhouses were left to the lodges. The redbrick school was showing its age. An edition of “The Covered Wagon” describes “bats in the dining room, honeybees in the wooden walls, myriads of pesky flies” plus faulty fuses. The lodges relocated to Palo Cedro in the early 1970s and the redbrick schoolhouse was sold. The building remains privately owned and is vacant.
Ellis School was briefly a church and used for storage by Millville Fire Department. Millville Historical Society acquired it in 1984 and moved it a short distance next to the Fire Hall to be the group’s museum and meeting place. Inside the bluish gray building are documents, photographs, memorabilia and artifacts, including a 118-year-old piano from Millville School. The museum also has an 1890 Buffalo Pitts grain separator. Historical Society President Rod Miranda says it is believed to be the only one remaining in the United States.
The historical society would like to join forces with the Fire Department to obtain the old redbrick Millville School and make it a community center, Miranda says. However, there’s no funding or a plan in play to purchase it.
“We’d like to get the old one and preserve it,” he says. “It’s a piece of Shasta County history, that’s for sure.”