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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

Long forgotten country school surfaces on ranch

Part 1

By Barry Schrader.................................March 9, 2006

History mysteries can be fun and the one being reported this week is great news for history buffs and Livermore Valley country school alumni

With some tips from Dick Finn and Ann Homan I pursued rumors that the old Midway Public School, closed in 1946, might still exist, ensconced away on the 4,800 acre Mulqueeney Ranch high up in the Altamont hills off Patterson Pass Road.

A few phone calls resulted in contact with Dave Mulqueeney, once a local businessman and Livermore Chamber president, but now a Paradise Realtor, who invited me to visit the family ranch and see the old school building, still in fairly good shape. It seems that his late father E. J. “Mul” Mulqueeney attended that school, and years after its closure and abandonment by the county he decided to rescue it from the hands of vandals and arsonists who had destroyed all the other rural schools in the valley left empty. Mulqueeney put it up on skids, hauled it a quarter mile down the road, up his long lane and out behind the ranch buildings for safe keeping. It has since been used as a tack room and storage shed for probably 40 or 50 years, but never altered or the interior changed. There is a horse stable attached to one side of it and the family wisely put a new metal roof on the schoolhouse in 1971, which has saved it from certain decay and ruin after years of winter rains.

An old newspaper clipping indicates that it was built in 1873 near the settlement of Midway which was a train stop for two railroads that needed extra engines added to pull the long freights through the Altamont Pass. Section hands for the railroads were housed near there and their children attended the little school, along with ranchers’ offspring. The town of Midway once had a post office, dance hall, hotel, two saloons, a slaughterhouse and some warehouses. The Saturday night dances were so popular that they attracted young folks from as far away as Oakland and one of the most popular local bands from Livermore was Jack Gardella’s. And, during Prohibition there were three or four stills operating in the hills around Midway. But the town’s population dwindled in the 1930s and early 40s and now the only remaining building is the schoolhouse.

As Dave showed me the old school we entered through the front door, which is the original one from the 1940s. Inside on the left is a cloak room including pegs with some of the students’ names still visible in chalk. Going through a small room on the right, once used for storing school materials and library “loaner” books from the county, we then entered the classroom, still intact with blackboards that actually have writing from 60 years ago. The old pot belly stove is gone as is all the school furniture, but the hole still remains in the ceiling for the stovepipe. The school was never electrified but the Mulqueeneys added a couple lightbulbs and plugs later to make it easier to see at night. The large windows on three sides are either boarded up or broken out now, but the frames are still there. The front porch is long gone, as is the sign that stated “Midway Public School,” but an old photo provided by one of its alums Elizabeth Derby Costa shows how it looked in 1941. The white paint is worn off from years of exposure to the elements, and a few sideboards are loose from the exterior walls, but a nice coat of paint and replacement windows would almost make it ready for another class of pupils!

At its original location, out back was a storage shed for wood used to feed the stove during the blustery winter months, which was the responsibility of the boys, and outhouses for girls and boys were at opposite ends of the shed. There was no bell atop the roof so the pupils were called in from recess by the teacher using a handheld ringer, former students recall.

Next week in Part Two there will be recollections from three former Midway students about their schooldays and lives during the Depression and Second World War years, until the school had to be closed by the county in 1946 when enrollment dropped to three. Those students were then sent to Mountain House to continue their schooling through eighth grade.

 

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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