On Saturday, Sept. 17 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the public is invited to participate in Back to School Night 1861 at the Old Columbia Schoolhouse in Columbia State Historic Park. This is a free event; any donations will support Friends of Columbia State Historic Park.
Festivities begin with music, costume dress-up, delicious hand-cranked ice cream, 1861 school lessons in the downstairs and tours of the upstairs, all led by costumed docents. Games and toys of the Gold Rush time period will also be a part of the event. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic supper and a blanket or chairs to enjoy the summer evening.
“The event is very hands-on for all to experience student life in the 1860’s,” said park docent and past Back to School Night event coordinator Donna Underwood. “From music to the lessons to the toys, each year this special event allows us all to step back and take a look at education and family life in the Gold Rush. It’s never too late to learn.”
The two-story brick school house on the hill was built in 1860 and the first class session began in 1861. Prior to this public school, students in Columbia could attend private schools usually held in teacher’s homes. The Columbia schoolhouse is thought to be the oldest two-story brick schoolhouse in California and was used until 1937 when it was forced to close because it did not meet new California earthquake standards. The building was purchased by the State of California in 1947 and money was raised to restore it to its former glory. Dimes, nickels and pennies were collected in metal schoolhouse-shaped banks throughout California and donations totaled around $57,000. Restoration of the building was completed in the 1950’s.
The building is still used today for field trips to teach approximately 10,000 students what school was like during the Gold Rush. These programs are given by trained volunteers and staff members with a passion for history and reenactment.
Back to School Night is sponsored by Friends of Columbia State Historic Park. For more information, please contact the park office at (209) 588-9128 or visit www.parks.ca.gov/columbia.