A history
Burrell School

Marlene Wiley

The second school building in the Summit area was Burrell School. Today, the building is a private home and winery, a visual reminder of life in the mountains over a hundred years ago. Lyman Burrell donated an acre of land to build a school named for his family. He could afford it. His homestead covered a thousand acres of the Rancho Soquel Augmentation.

The Burrell School District was formed in 1877. Mary Beattie Smith was the first teacher and a native of Rhode Island. After the Civil War, she went to the South to teach the freedmen. She married, then came to California with her husband who was in the Navy. They had two sons. After her husband died, she supported her family as a teacher. Mrs. Smith taught until about 1883. She was given the affectionate name of "The Mother of the School" because she was the first teacher.

The Burrell school building was a simple, white structure with a cloak room, two entrances, and a large classroom with blackboards. A grass fire in 1889 burned the building. The community rebuilt a school building on the original foundation, according to the present owner Dave Moulton. He has been under the building and found ashes.

The Burrell School District straddled the county line with students coming from Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. That meant that the teacher reported to the superintendents of both counties. A school that draws students from two counties is known as a joint district as in the title of the Loma Prieta "Joint" Union (consolidation of two or more schools in the same county) School District.

Unlike the Summit School District that had one teacher, Miss Olga Brecke, for thirty years beginning in 1921, the Burrell School District had many teachers over the years.

The next teacher that I can document after Mrs. Smith was Laura Josephine Berry who came to the mountains in the summer of 1883 as a newly graduated teacher from San Jose Normal School. Miss Berry rented a room from Reverend and Mrs. Arthur E. Sears whose home was across the road from the school. At that time their son Arthur L. Sears was in Missouri. When he came to California, he met and later married Miss Berry in 1888. Arthur and Laura each bought mountain property. The parcel on which they built their home was named Hazelhurst for the many hazelnut trees on the property. The location was also on the main road (Old San Jose Turnpike from Soquel) to the current Morrell Cut Off connecting with Summit Road to the Old Santa Cruz Highway. Their beautiful home still stands today.

A friendly rivalry continued among the mountain schools. Burrell School bragged that they had the first school bell, flagpole, and piano. The local newspaper, The Mountain Realty (1903 to 1927) carried a letter in its July 1908 issue about the first flagpole. The flagpole was made from a twenty-foot long redwood pole that Marvin M. Wilson and Erle T. Smith (son of Mrs. Mary Smith) selected, felled, and hauled to the school ground. The community held a fundraiser to purchase a flag and set a date to celebrate. On July 4, 1890, a large crowd of people, many from out of the mountains, attended the event. The Realty reported that ". . . Miss Minnie Morrell flung it (the flag) to the breeze while the strains of the Star Spangled Banner greeted its unfurling." The patriotic celebration included the Reverend J.R. Wright (for whom Wrights Station was named) and Reverend Arthur E. Sears who welcomed the crowd and gave the benediction. Someone read the Declaration of Independence, and the crowd sang patriotic songs. To further commemorate the day, a photograph was taken of the audience.

Burrell was also the first school to have a piano furnished by the board of trustees. Some people thought each school should have a piano and that school teachers should be able to play and teach the piano. The school bell, which was very loud, was used by the teacher to announce the beginning of school so that the children would come into the building.

Mixed in with the happy times was a tragic death. In 1908, Miss Ruth Hall, a teenage Burrell student, was killed by a trolley in San Jose. She was a wonderful pianist who had earned a scholarship to continue her music.

Until the late fifties, when the fruit was ripe, mountain schools closed so that the children could help with harvest. The norm seemed to be one week off, but Burrell closed for three weeks in September 1911 so that students could pick prunes.

In 1911, former students of Burrell School organized an alumni organization. About ten years ago, Burrell alumni organized reunion picnics that were expanded to include former Summit, Highland, and Hester Creek school alumni.

In the early years, a young woman teacher had to be single or a widow. Once a teacher married she had to resign her teaching position. Some of the young women who came come to a mountain school met a nice young mountain man and they married. Some of the Burrell teachers who married and stayed in the mountains were Laura (Berry) Sears, Ella (Johnson) Lindsay,. and Frances (Green) Lindsay.

Two sisters who were students at Burrell later became Burrell teachers. They were Lucy and Kay Papac who lived on San Jose-Soquel Road. Lucy Papac also taught at Los Gatos Elementary School. The last teacher at Burrell was Mrs. Robert (Eleanor) Bruce. Six of her 1951 students graduated as the last class.

The Radonich family of Highland Way have lived in the mountains since 1919. The four Radonich children—Peter, Andy, Bill, and Nancy—went to Burrell School. Often they walked. Three of the Radonich children live in the mountains today, along with a grandson and his children. The children have attended Loma Prieta and C.T. English Middle schools.

Juanita Goldmann graduated from Burrell School in 1889. She was a community volunteer and served as a Burrell School trustee. Shortly before the district consolidated, Miss Goldmann was honored with a fifty-year pin at the 1949 graduation ceremony.

After the consolidation, the Burrell school building was used for storage before it was sold at auction in late 1954 to Rudolph Hirsch, husband of Clara Burrell. Hirsch leased the building to the Loma Prieta Club for meetings and parties. The property passed to Mrs. Hedy Novotny, a niece by marriage to Hirsch. She sold ten acres of the property to Dave and Anne Moulton in 1973. The site is known today as Burrell School Vineyards and Winery.


Ron Powell, Soquel Augmentation Story, 1990 (unpublished)

Billie J. and Reece C. Jensen, A Trip Through Time and The Santa Cruz Mountains. 1994.

Photograph of the July 4, 1890 flag raising is on page 123 of the Jensen book.

The Mountain Realty. Issues: July 1908, August 1908, October 1911. Obituary of Erle T. Smith.

The photograph of Burrell School is, I believe, the original building, because this photo was among the numerous photographs in the Laura (Berry) Sears collection. Plus, Laura took many mountain photographs. As a teacher at Burrell in 1883, she would most likely have taken a photograph of "her" school.

A list of Burrell school teachers and school board trustees compiled by Marlene Wiley.

Loma Prieta Club minutes.


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