As one travels east from the town of Boonville on Highway 128 for about 17 miles at milemarker 46 there stands a little abandoned schoolhouse that is slowly melting to the ground. This little schoolhouse was placed there in the year of 1926. This was the second location of the school. The first location was across the highway from the Jim Hill Ranch driveway at milemarker 44. It is not known exactly what year it was built at that location, however the records show that it was approved by the County of Mendocino on November 21, 1860, and that it was number six in the County. When it was moved to the present location in 1926 the land it was placed on was donated by a Mr. Silas E. Gaskill. More can be learned about Mr. Gaskill by going to the “Mendocino County History Book.”
The school was taught first through eighth grade by only one teacher teaching all eight grades. I was enrolled into the first grade in the fall of 1938 and it had a student body of ten children spanning almost all eight grades. I must also mention that of the ten children I was the only boy in school. I always felt that I was well looked after. At the end of that school year in 1939, four of the girls graduated and went on to high school and two of the others moved to Boonville.
My first teacher was Mrs. Betta (Berk) Kerr. She was a very soft-spoken lady and made learning interesting. She taught for two years and then my third and fourth grade teacher was Christine Berk. During this time span one other student graduated and went to Cloverdale high school. Then my fifth and sixth grade was taught by Mrs. Alice Holland and my seventh and eighth grade teacher was Mrs. Eva Farrer. She was the wife of J.D. Farrar of Philo Lumber company.
During my second year I was given a job at the school of going there early each morning during the winter with my father where he stored the school bus in a large corrugated metal building. I was to open the schoolhouse and build a fire in a big pot bellied cast-iron stove to get the schoolhouse warm when the rest of the kids got there. I would also sweep the floors and dust the desks. For this I was paid 25 cents a day. This was my first paying job in my life. This was really big-time stuff.
My father, Ray Smoot, drove schoolbus for the Anderson Valley School District for 19 years. At Gaskill we didn't have some of the activities that other schools had. For instance, the schoolyard was too small to play baseball, besides there were not enough kids to make a team. We played jump rope, hide and seek, anti-over with the bus shed, hopscotch and other games to occupy ourselves. On rainy days we would play blackboard games like solitary, draw pictures and others.
The bathroom facilities were not the world's finest: for the girls was a small factory-made little house located up a little hill just west of the schoolhouse that had a room for only one person at a time. The boys bathroom was a common small redwood lumber outhouse with two holes in it. It was located several feet east of the big bus shed. In the winter there was a 2 x 12 plank walkway to the boy's outhouse so we wouldn't have to wade through the mud. There was a small wash sink on the front porch with running water but no hot water. Sometimes in early summer before school was out our water supply would dry up but we got by. In the fall there would be no water until it rained.
In June 1946 four of us graduated from the eighth grade and we were to go on to higher education facilities. One girl and myself went to Anderson Valley High School as freshmen. The other went to Cloverdale High School.
My first day as a freshman in high school was the most frightening day of my entire life. After going to Gaskill for eight years where the average pupil count was seven or eight, then to go to a new school where the student body count was 78 youngsters of all ages and I did not know a single one of them — I was petrified. I had never been in a school with so many rooms and not knowing which one to go to. I just started to follow the largest group of kids wherever they went. Bad decision. I was supposed to go to algebra for first period. But instead I follow the crowd to the geography class. After about a week I finally got my act together and made it all right.
After the four of us graduated from the eighth grade there were only three kids left in Gaskill school. The school managed to stay open for another year until 1947 when the state mandated that all schools must have hot and cold running water as well as flush toilets. This was an impossibility at Gaskill school so the little school was to be closed for good.
After I grew into adulthood I looked back at my experience at Gaskill school and could see how fortunate I had been to be educated in that manner. Many times while the teacher was conducting a class on a subject we were being exposed to their learning as well. This made it much easier for us when we reached that level. It may sound as though I am prejudiced about the Gaskill school but I am far from that. Looking back I find that there were about seven or eight other schools in the same situation throughout all of Anderson Valley and I am sure that they all had the same results. God bless our little one room schools.