TASSAJARA VALLEY -- One of Betty Casey's fondest memories of her time as a young student at the Tassajara One-Room School House come from happy times she and her classmates would celebrate springtime by rolling around there on the tall green grass.
Back then, all the girls had to wear dresses, "and we would get grass stains on our clothes," she said, laughing. But it was also the place they learned the three R's of reading, writing and arithmetic and sang out songs with the lone teacher of 16 students of varying grades.
"We enjoyed our experience -- and we like telling people about it," she said.
The school operated as a one-room school from 1889 to 1946, and it is still standing on its orginal site in rural Contra Costa County, east of Danville, in restored condition at 1650 Finley Road.
And as one of the last living students to attend it, Casey, now 77, said the site continues to be a vital link to the past.
"I think that little school is the jewel of the valley," Casey said. "It's a little one-room schoolhouse with wooden floors, and it's picture postcard perfect ... with the bell on top and the flag pole out front. You should take a ride out there and see it."
And chances are that Casey will get her wish for flocks of visitors, who'll come to appreciate it, too. The State Historical Resources Commission, a nine-member review board responsible for registering and preserving California's cultural history, voted unanimously on Feb. 7 to recommend the Tassajara One-Room School for the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service has 45 days to approve the nomination, but there's a more than 90 percent likelihood it will be officially approved, said Jay Correia, a state historian for California State Parks' Office of Historic Preservation.
"When you look at the millions of buildings, it's fairly prestigious," he said. And to meet the criterion of the National Register, "it says this property counts and is worth saving and deserves to be protected."
The Museum of the San Ramon Valley, that took over ownership and management of the old school in October 2012, put in the application and request to the state last fall to be considered for the high historical distinction. It will make for Danville's third landmark on the National Register. Tao House, playwright Eugene O'Neill's Danville home, was listed in 1971 and the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot was listed in 1994.
"It's the only outstanding one-room school room in Contra Costa County, so we wanted to preserve that building because it's a very cool building," said Jerry Warren, the museum's president of the board of directors.
The building, which served as a grammar school for 57 years, almost didn't survive after it shuttered its doors, he said. In fact, it withstood neglect, vandalism and disrepair until 1970, when the Tassajara Fire District -- which later merged with the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District-- was formed. Its board agreed to take over the school and restored it for community meetings, fundraisers, dances, graduations, annual picnics and the like.
In 1994, Joan Kurtz, with her husband Don, also founded the Tassajara One-Room School living history program as a way to keep the school's history alive to thousands of third graders and their parents from all around the San Ramon Valley. Last year, about 2,700 students spent a half a day there -- girls in bonnets and long dresses, boy in suspenders -- going to school as if it was the year 1888.
"It's important for children to know what things were like a long time ago to give them an insight into history," Kurtz said. She said that such a listing on the National Register would be "wonderful."
Yet, with the official federal recognition, there also comes responsibility. It places restrictions on what the musuem and others can do it when restoring and replacing worn portions of the building, so that it can be preserved for future generations.
Keeping the school's legacy alive is essential, Warren said: "It's a treasure for Contra Costa County, and the museum wants to preserve it with all of its strength. We want to make sure that this continues to be a valuable resource in the community."
After all, "it's withstood the earthquakes and the storms, and it's a very sturdy old building," he said. "And several thousands of kids have tromped through it -- and it's still standing."
"And we're just really proud of it," he said.
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.
The Tassajara One-Room School, 1650 Finley Road in Tassajara Valley in Contra Costa County, has been recommended by the State Historical Resources Commission for listing on the National Register of Historic Places
Here's a timeline of its nearly 125-year history:
Jan. 12, 1889: All 10 Tassajara School District voters approved the sale of bonds to purchase, build and furnish a school for $1,700. The district had outgrown a smaller structure.
August 1889: The first class moves in with 41 students in 1st through 8th grade. The teacher was Richard D. Williams.
1946: Enrollment shrunk to 11 when two families moved away. The school closes, remaining students attend Danville public schools.
1946 to 1970: The building fell into disuse and was occasionally vandalized.
1970: The new volunteer Tassajara Fire Department took over the site, that was used for community meetings, dances, graduations and polling places. It was also given a new roof and foundation.
1990: The San Ramon Valley Fire District took over the building, installing a flagpole and water tower.
1994: The Tassajara One-Room School program begins. The living history program allows 3rd graders throughout San Ramon Valley to step back in time as if it was 1889.
1999: A historical plaque was placed by the San Ramon Valley Historical Society.
2005: The fire district tears down two historic buildings, the stable and septic area, which in the 1940s was the school's shop building.
2006: Shapell Homes builds handicapped bathrooms, re-roofs and paints historical outhouses
2012: Museum of the San Ramon Valley take over ownership of the Tassajara One-Room School
California has a total of 2,778 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Santa Clara County has 194, Alameda County has 159 and Contra Costa has 45.
For a list of California historical landmarks and resources by county, go to ohp.parks.ca.gov/listedresources/
Source: California State Prks Office of Historic Preservation