May 4, 2007

Mojave town recaptures one-room school house history

San Bernardino County Sun
Trevor Summons, Correspondent

Out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Goffs is one of those dusty, almost forgotten places where people gathered in years gone by to try their luck with the harsh terrain.

It was the railroad coming through that gave some of their workers the idea of a school, and in 1914 the present structure was built on an acre of land to cater to the children of the employees of the Santa Fe Railroad.

Jo Ann and her husband Dennis bought the schoolhouse and surrounding area back in 1990, and have spent the past 17 years turning it into an interesting look at history.

The schoolhouse itself is a sanctuary to daily life almost a century ago, when a dozen or so children would be sitting at their desks under the control of a single teacher. The first of these was Clara Rippeto. The last ones, when the school closed in 1937, were Anna and Daniel Stern. By then, two teachers were employed to teach the first through eighth grades in the single room.

In the following years, the building was at one time used as a cafeteria by World War II troops in the area, but then it gradually fell into disrepair. It was in 1982 that Dennis Casebier passed through the area. He was saddened by what he saw and said that being convinced that it would eventually completely disappear; he took several photos of the dilapidated scene.

A couple called Jim and Bertha Wold bought the place soon after this and began to restore it before they put it on the market in 1990. It seemed prophetic that the Casebiers should then become the owners of the site, and their important work began.

Today, the schoolhouse contains many of the artifacts that were so familiar to the original occupants, and there is an atmosphere of caring and vibrancy that must have been totally absent when Casebier took his pictures.

The name of Goffs is cause for some speculation. It was one of the alphabet towns preceded by Fenner and followed by Homer. These towns were planned to stretch east of Amboy by Southern Pacific Railroad who were in deadly competition with Santa Fe.

Almost certainly it was named after a particular man, and in the records, there is one called Isaac Goff, who was a railroad locator for A&P, a subsidiary of Santa Fe Railroad, who eventually pushed the line through to the Pacific Ocean.

The present scene is shown as it was intended but there were other uses for the building. It was occasionally used for dances, and back in 1928, during one such event, a shot was fired from a Colt .45 and a man was killed. The victim, Leo Sweeney died at the scene and a suspected perpetrator, Doug Craig was charged with murder. The charge was eventually dismissed and Craig went free.

This was not the only piece of violence in the remote desert area. There is one grizzly artifact on the back wall of the schoolhouse.

In 1908, one Joseph "Hootch" Simpson was hung in Death Valley County by an angry citizenry, tired of his ways. The Press tore out to witness the scene but Hootch had already been cut down.
Nonetheless, in pursuit of a hot story the press persuaded those in attendance to re-hang Hootch so they could get photos. One of these is in the case with the actual noose that sent Hootch to the hereafter.

For the regular youngsters 412 in all who passed their days at the schoolhouse, no doubt there were some happy times away from the heat and dust of the desert, and a lot of evidence to that fact has been gathered by the enthusiastic owners of the site.

Goffs Schoolhouse is opened by appointment and you can find more information at (760) 733-4848 or on the Web site: