How much is 115 years of schoolhouse history worth? About $25,000, local historians say

In the past eight weeks, the South County Historical Society has raised $900 to repair a historic schoolhouse in Arroyo Grande.

Now, it just needs to raise about $24,100 more.

The society is trying to repair the Santa Manuela Schoolhouse, a 115-year-old building the group has owned since 1975, but it first needs to raise the money from the public.

“The importance of the repairs were for safety issues to allow the continued use of the schoolhouse as a museum,” historical society member Vivian Krug-Cotton said. “The schoolhouse is a living piece of history, toured by locals and tourists year-round.”

The schoolhouse has a long — and eventful — history in South County.

It was first built in 1901 by Ben Stewart (who would serve as Arroyo Grande City Clerk for 25 years) on a plot of land that today is covered by Lopez Lake. It acted as the school for children in the upper Arroyo Grande Valley until 1957.

It remained there until the Lopez Reservoir was built in 1969, when the building was moved across the canyon to higher ground. The schoolhouse was routinely vandalized by campers, however, so when the historical society took it over in 1975, the group decided to restore the building and move it closer to the marina to curb the vandalism. That proved unsuccessful as well, so in 1986, the building was moved into town to a property on Branch Street owned by the Lucia Mar Unified School District.

It was moved a final time in 1999 to its current location on Short Street near the end of the city’s Swinging Bridge.

The schoolhouse was completely restored to its original condition including student chairs, chalkboards, maps and books, and is toured by school children and visitors. It is one of the only remaining one-room schoolhouses in the state.

Now, the building needs some major repairs, Krug-Cotton said. It started with the removal of thousands of acorns placed in holes by woodpeckers throughout the upper portion of the building, and it has expanded to reinforcing the bell tower, replacing dry rot boards, repainting the exterior and installing a new roof.

The group has begun some of the repairs using some of its reserves. Repairs are expected take about six weeks to complete, with an estimated cost of about $35,000.

The society has started a crowdfunding account on FreeFunder, where people can donate to the schoolhouse.

“Donating to the South County Historical Society and the schoolhouse restoration fund ensures that the history of the South County is preserved for generations to come,” Krug-Cotton said. “Visiting the schoolhouse and other historical society museums give you access to the past. You can get a glimpse of what the daily lives of South County residents was like not that long ago and how our community began.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the length of time the Society has been fundraising. It is eight weeks.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie