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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Midway country school alums share memories

Part 2

By Barry Schrader.................................March 16, 2006

After last week’s column revealing the existence of a one-room country schoolhouse that had been thought gone for 60 years, several people came forward to report they attended the school in the 1930s and 40s, up to the time it was closed down due to lack of enrollment in 1946.

As reported last week, the 22x35 foot building still exists today in the Altamont hills on the Mulqueeney Ranch. It took on a personality after several alumni shared their schooldays’ memories from more than 60 years ago.

Among those alive today who attended Midway are Lois (Mulqueeney) Walker, Lori (Mulqueeney) Cornwell, Bill Brockman, Manuel Costa, Mary Monser, Yssa Coronado, Elizabeth “Liz” (Derby) Costa and her brothers Earl and Edward Derby.

This rural school near the corner of Patterson Pass and Midway roads was founded in 1873 when the ranchers in the area petitioned the County Board of Education to establish new boundaries for an elementary school district in that far eastern sector of Alameda County. Two other school districts in that area, Highland and Mountain House, adjoined it. In their petition the original trustees John Mulqueeney plus Franz and Reinhold Haera stated that there had been a private school operating at Midway but with the influx of children from the section gangs on the Southern Pacific Railroad there was now need for a public school. The ranchers and other residents of that area voted a tax on their properties totaling $1,000 for the purpose of building a schoolhouse and covering other educational expenses.

According to an 1883 plat map, kept in the archives of Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan’s office, a plot of land (about two acres) belonging to Franz Haera was acquired on which to build the school. The young teachers who were assigned there, just out of college, faced a sparse life in the hills around Midway. Several of them roomed with local ranchers, such as the Brockmans and Mulqueeneys.

Manuel Costa remembers being kicked by a horse that broke his leg, but was fortunate to have his teacher Mrs. Helen (Root) Forney tutor him for several weeks at home. He said the size of the student body ranged from 27 down to five over the years. His young twin sisters could only speak Portuguese but were enrolled early to bring the student count up to five so the school would not close at that time.

Bill Brockman, now a retired rancher living at Kimberly, Idaho, attended Midway until it closed in 1946 when he was in the sixth grade. So he and two other classmates were moved to Mountain House School through the 8th grade. Then Bill was sent to live with the McGlinchey family in Livermore so he could attend high school until he graduated in 1952.

Mary Monser only attended Midway for a few months in the fall of 1943 when she was an 8th grader but remembers the school well. Her parents had moved to Midway where her father became foreman of the railroad crew, but then got transferred into Livermore where the railroad put two boxcars together at 28 South P Street for their living quarters. Now that lot is occupied by Atom Appliance. She graduated from Livermore High in 1948 and went on to work for the VA Hospital, then at Sandia Lab for a number of years.

Yssa Coronado went to Midway until it closed, then it was decided he would go to Summit School at Altamont to finish his elementary grades. He has memories of his Midway teacher Miss Ann Freisman (later Mrs. Ann Schofield) taking her pupils on nature walks into the fields around the school, pointing out the “safe” mushrooms and other edible wild things, then bringing back a pan full of mushrooms to put on the pot belly stove where they were cooked and shared by all. He and others remembered “Pop Windeler’s store” nearby in Midway where the kids could go for a soda pop or jaw breakers after school. It was operated by the grandfather of the Mulqueeney kids.

Lori Cornwell went to Midway her first three years, then the family moved into Livermore where she finished grade school at St. Michaels. She recalls the country school had a set of rings in the school yard where they could swing around the pole at recess. She wore “bib overalls” to school every day as did many of the others. They carried their lunches in a lard pail and their noontime fare usually consisted of a cold sandwich, fruit and a thermos of milk.

Her older sister Lois Walker was at the rural school for seven grades until they moved to town. Most of the time there were only five in her class. For part of the time she had a pony and cart which she occasionally rode to school. Others who had horses also tethered them in the school yard. But most of the kids had to walk through the hills or along the dirt roads to get there each day.

Liz Costa (no relation to Manuel’s family) spent an afternoon sharing her remembrances of Midway. She also called on the memories of her two brothers to provide some history. Beside Miss Freisman she remembers teachers named Fern Ford and Max Hess. Two of the school’s trustees, Kathleen Brockman and Hilda Costa, drove to Oakland to pick up library books and school supplies for the classes. The students only got one pencil and one box of crayons plus a writing tablet at the beginning of each year and had to make them last a long time, she recalls.

During World War II the government provided packages of vegetable seeds and the classes planted a “Victory Garden” around the flagpole near the water pump. One of the “extra-curricular” activities the teacher encouraged was students walking a short distance to a little cemetery west of the school grounds to pull weeds. Now, Liz indicated, the fence and grave markers are all gone and the graveyard is just part of an open field across the road from the PG&E substation on Patterson Pass Road.

More than one alum remembered standing along the tracks waving to the soldiers aboard the troop trains. Could be they were carrying young men to and from Dublin’s Camp Parks and Camp Shoemaker. They also remember Mr. Brockman was the local Civil Defense official and came to the school to remind them that blackout curtains needed to be installed on all windows in case enemy bombers were looking for lights to guide their attacks. It likely wasn’t necessary since the school and nearby ranches had no electricity and the school’s kerosene lamps were seldom if ever used due to the large windows on two sides of the classroom.

An exciting development occurred just as this column was being written. The son of Ann Freisman Schofield contacted me to say his 87-year-old mother, who taught for years at Midway, is still alive and spending the winter in Scottsdale, Arizona. So if I reach her this column may continue on the same topic for yet another week.

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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