The Ascension School
Marguerite O'Neil Abbey
ASCENSION SCHOOL, 1927
Front row: James Busi, Kiyozumi Kato, Mary Nerelli, Doris
O'Neil, Lydia Luzi, Elmer Nerelli,
Minori Kato, Emil Nerelli and Dorolice Luzi. Back row: Kazuo Kato, Martha Busi,
Italia Luzi, Maria Busi, Dosolina Luzi, Marguerite O'Neii, A/do Nerelli, Howard York
and Art Swain. (Photo courtesy of Marguerite Q'Neil Abbey)
In the early days of San Luis Obispo County, the land was divided into small school districts. The goal was for every child to be able to attend a school. Trustees were elected to keep the school in repair, furnish wood for heating, hire the teachers and take care of any problem that arose.
As I remember, the Ascension School District extended from the Jack Creek bridge to Dover Canyon Road. The Josephine School District was on the west of the Ascension and the Oak Dale School District was on the east.
The Ascension School, located on the top of York Mountain west of Templeton, was named Ascension because one had to ascend the mountain to get there. The school was built on the south side of the road on the crest of the grade west of the winery. When it was built, the main road from the north county to the coast ran right by it.
The land for the school was given to the county by my grandfather, Andrew York, for as long as it was used as a school. (The land was probably donated in the early 1880s because county records show that there were 9 students at Ascension in 1882.) 1 attended Ascension School beginning with first grade in 1922 and continued through eighth grade. My mother, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins also attended. My aunt Lillie York and my sister Helen O'Neil both taught there.
Ascension School was a one-room schoolhouse, but it also had a small library in an alcove with an anteroom on each side. One of the anterooms was for coats, hats and lunch buckets. The lunch buckets were lard and tobacco cans. The other anteroom contained two wicker-covered jugs of drinking water that were carried from the winery. Our drinking cups were kept there too. The library consisted of only a few books---a set of encyclopedias and a few reference books. I also remember the Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Br'er Rabbit and Three Years Before the Mast. We were fascinated by an English history book that graphically told about various notables who had been beheaded. The school supervisor came about twice a year and brought a box of books. We read and reread everything we could get our hands on.
There was one book we all disliked---a bookkeeping book that appeared at school, and the teacher decided we should all learn bookkeeping. It was very tedious, so Doso Luzi solved the problem by throwing the book up into the belfry and ending our bookkeeping lessons.
The teacher's desk was in the front of the room and the organ was to the side. On the front wall hung a pendulum clock. A picture of George Washington hung on one side of it and a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the other. There were two windows on each side of the room with a real, slate blackboard in between. A dictionary and large globe sat at the back of the room; geography was a major part of the curriculum and we often dreamed of far away, exotic places. In the center of the room a potbellied stove stood with two rows of desks on each side. We were always scorching our dresses by huddling too close to the stove.
Fridays were always more relaxed than the rest of the week. We each had to recite a different poem every Friday. We learned about many of the poets. We also had art on Friday. We used different media and learned about many of the great artists and their work. Every day the teacher read to us from such books as the adventures of Tarzan and the Swiss Family Robinson. We sang and the teacher accompanied us on the organ.
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Ascension School, 1920, Left to right: Howard York, Lawrence Swain,
Mildred York, Guido Volpi, Charles Swain, Leo Volpi, Yancy O'Neil
and Helen O'Neil. Miss Grace Fox was the teacher.
(Photo courtesy of Marguerite O'Neil Abbey)
The schoolyard was approximately 1 acre, surrounded by a board fence. It contained a cistern with a hand pump where we washed our hands. There was a woodshed for stove wood and a large shed held hay for the horses of the
few students who rode to school. We never stayed in the confines of the schoolyard. There were trees to climb, open fields carpeted with wildflowers to run in and games to play. The favorite game of the boys, however, was to play tricks on the girls. They put lizards in our desks, pigtails in inkwells and continually harassed us. One time we girls thought it would be nice to have a flower garden. We transplanted wildflowers and carefully watered and tended them. They were thriving, but one morning they were all wilted. We learned that the boys had taken their pocketknives and run the blades just below the dirt to cut the roots of all our pretty flowers.
Most of the families stayed in the same place for
generations and many children attended Ascension School for eight years. We were like an extended family. Although I knew my father was an Irish immigrant, I don't think I fully understood the concept until other immigrant families
moved into the area. We had new classmates from Italy and Japan. They learned English quickly and many soon surpassed us in our studies. We all played together and became great friends. One time a family from Prince Edward Island, visiting at the Santa Rita Ranch, sent two boys to our school for several months. They were very well dressed, very mannerly and spoke with a strange accent. We didn't quite know what to make of them.
The schools were also used for neighborhood meetings, dances, potluck dinners, plays and voting. One election day, the trustees met at the school to serve on the election board. They arrived early, each carrying a lunch and a jug of homemade wine from his own vineyard. Each man was very proud of his wine, and comparing his wine with others was a ritual. There was no water that day at the school so a considerable amount of wine was consumed. When the county clerk arrived to tally the ballots at the end of the day, he noticed the condition of the trustees and the empty wine jugs and threw out the ballots. It was hushed up, but there was considerable grumbling about "flatlanders" not understanding the way of "hill people."
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Ascension School students enjoying crafts,, April 10, 1914
Sitting on ground (left to right): Lois Walker, Helen O'Neil.
Back row: Roland York, Yancy O'Neil, Iris
Anderson, Blossom York,
Miss Grace Hillyard (teacher), Wilfred York and Percy Peterson.
(Photo courtesy of
Marguerite O'Neil Abbey)
The Ascension School was closed in the early 1940's, and the district was consolidated with Oak Dale School. In the summer of 1950, the Oak Dale School building burned to the ground, so the vacant Ascension School was reopened for the next school year. The voters decided not to rebuild Oak Dale and all the students were thereafter bused to Templeton. The Ascension building was torn down, and the land reverted back to the York family.
In 1996 a 70-year reunion was held for those students who had attended Ascension School in the 1920s. Although those in attendance were in their late 70s and early 80s, many still had fond memories of the fun and mischief they shared at their Ascension School.
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