The Pastoral Period 1843-1954

It would seem advisable to present this period by describing the main characters and institutions which were to mold its history, as the Dixie District took shape.  Don Timoteo Murphy, John Lucas and James Miller are the early pioneers of this area.  St. Vincent School for Boys and the Dixie School are the institutions of this era.  Links to this period are provided by two individuals, Mary E. Silveira and Bernard Hoffman, who have contributed greatly to the Dixie School District.

Don Timoteo Murphy - The most outstanding of these men was, doubtlessly, Don Timoteo Murphy.  He was a giant of a man both in body and heart.  As a genial host, he was known far and wide for his wit and tall tales.  His contributions of talent and worldly goods were notable and far reaching.  In 1818, when he was twenty-eight years old, he came to California.  He made a living for a time trapping coastal otter.  In 1835, after the secularization of the missions, he was placed in care of the Nicasio Tribe of Indians by General Vallejo.  They had been granted one square league of land by the Mexican Government.  In 1837, General Vallejo placed all the small ranchos of the Nicasio Tribe into a common fund.  Murphy was appointed administrator of the San Rafael Mission.  In 1844, on a site to become 4th and C Streets, Dom Timoteo Murphy built San Rafael’s first home, a two-story, tile-roofed hacienda.  During the Gold Rush, he helped to organize a group of 30  ranchers, their Indian servants, 100 horses and 200 head of cattle and led them to the Sierra gold fields.  This was the beginning of the beef cattle industry in Marin County, as it proved a very shrewd business venture.  A slaughter house was built on the shores of San Rafael Creek.   To this slaughter house, herds of Longhorn were chased from the surrounding hills by hard-riding, Spanish-speaking vaqueros.  They raced down the main street of San Rafael (now 4th St.).  As they passed, huge clouds of dust filled the air and the clatter of their sharp hooves, as they thundered by, was deafening.  The beef was shipped four times weekly on Captain Higgins’ old sloop, the “Boston”, to San Francisco’s hungry populace.  At least 100 head passed through San Rafael every week.  Much of this beef was furnished by the Murphy Rancho.  Don Timoteo Murphy was appointed, by the Mexican Governor, as alcalde (mayor) or San Rafael and was later elected to this job.  Subsequently, he was appointed overseer for the San Rafael Mission Archangel.

In 1843, Murphy was granted five leagues of land, equal to 22,000 acres, by a grateful Mexican government.  This included Santa Margarita Rancho, Las Gallinas Rancho, and San Pedro Rancho, the land which now comprises the Dixie School District.  “He stocked his ranch with blooded cattle, merino sheep, pedigreed swine and bigboned horses…”

Mr. Murphy took ill suddenly with appendicitis and died, in 1853.  In his testament, he bequeathed 317 acres of land (across the road from Miller Manor)—to the archbishop of San Francisco “to aid in the establishment of a seminary or institution of learning.”  The southern half of the remaining real estate was willed to his brother, and the northern half to his nephew John Lucas.

John Lucas  -  John Lucas built a mansion for his wife, in the center of what is now Terra Linda.  It was known as the Lucas Home Ranch and later, around 1900, as the Freitas Home Ranch.  In the early days, longhorn steer were raised for beef.  Later, dairying was the chief industry.  The Lucas Home Ranch was noted for its hospitality.  The Lucas family had nine children.  Only one ever married.  She was Alice May who, in 1877, married Patrick Cadogan, a native of Ireland.  (See Appendix B)  Now standing on the site of the former mansion is St. Isabella’s Church and St. Isabella’s School.  This is most fitting as Don Timoteo Murphy, a devout Catholic, had always wanted part of his land used to this purpose.

James Miller - The James Miller family came to California in 1844 as part of the famous Murphy party who crossed the plains in covered wagons and opened a new route through the challenging Sierras.  They “crossed by way of Lake Tahoe and the head-waters of the American River… thence into California by the Truckee River and Pass, the first to utilize this subsequently favorite route and the first to get their wagons into California.”

In the next few years, Mr. Miller was to build three different structures.  The first was an adobe house in San Rafael.  The second was the first school to be built in San Rafael.  This was in 1849.  In time, he built a three-story mansion in what is now Marinwood.  Its former site is now the property of the Sequeira family on Miller Creek Road near Las Gallinas Avenue.  Only the cook house, a weather-worn red structure, visible from Miller Creek Road, is left of this beautiful estate.  In an interview with Mrs. Mary E. Silveira, she recalls that this residence was a three story mansion with 28 rooms, some 28 feet square with high ceilings.  Each of the ten Miller children had his own bedroom.  There was a beautiful wide, winding mahogany stairway.  The numerous fireplaces were all made of marble imported from Italy.  The kitchen, which was 24 x 27 ½ feet, had six outside doors.  One room served as a chapel where the family worshipped.  (The room was razed around 1935.) 

Mary E. Silveira - The present Mrs. Mary E. Silveira came to Miller Hall, the name given the mansion, as the bride of Mr. Silveira, who had been in the employee of Mr. Miller since he was sixteen years old, and who later became co-owner of the ranch.  She lived at the ranch for nineteen years.  She tells about the gracious life of the Miller Family.  She recalls the extensive vineyards on the hills where the Marinwood homes now stand.  They were planted in Zinfandel Wine Grapes, which were made into a delicious wine and sold by the barrel.  She says they also had a large herd of milking cows.  They made their own gas, she recalls, for cooking and lights.  Water was a problem because the copper pipes throughout the house became corroded.  There were many servants.  The members of the family dressed elaborately as was the custom in those days for people in their situation.  The home was furnished elegantly.  There were heavy red drapes with gold tassel trim.  Everything, she says, was just beautiful.

Her husband was made trustee of the one-room Dixie School and served in this capacity until his death.  Mary Silveira then assumed the position, which she held for eighteen and a half years.  She served her district well, and it recognized this faithful service by naming one of its schools in her honor.  She lived in a Spanish style home on the east side of Highway 101, opposite the original Dixie School house site, which stood on the west side of the highway.  This picturesque little white school, the original with added rooms has undergone restoration and serves as a community meeting hall as well as a historical museum housing documents and memorabilia of the original Dixie School house.  It duplicates, both in exterior and interior furnishings and fixtures, the appearance of the original little white school house.

Bernard Hoffman - A little to the south of Mrs. Silveira’s home lived Mr. Bernard Hoffman, another former trustee, who served in this capacity for fifty years.  The Bernard Hoffman School was named after him in recognition of his service.  Shortly before his death in 1968 he recalled having attended the Dixie School house, as a pupil, for eight years and having graduated 80 years ago.

St. Vincent’s School for Boys - St. Vincent’s School for Boys was started as St. Vincent’s Seminary by the Sisters of Charity on January 7, 1855.  The story starts with Don Timoteo Murphy’s will which bequeathed 317 acres of land across from Miller to “aid in the establishment of a seminary or institution of learning.”  The terms of the will had to be met by January 11, 1855.  Archbishop Joseph Alemany was involved in erecting a cathedral and had no time to build a school twenty-five miles away with no adequate communication.  One had to travel to San Rafael by sail or row boat, and then along a dusty or muddy road to the site, or else make the entire journey by boat and up the creek which flowed through the property.  The Archbishop appealed to the Sisters of Charity who had an orphanage and school on Market Street.  He asked if they would assume responsibility for building the new school and if they would do so by January 11, 1855.

Sister Francis McEnnis started at once for the new site at Las Gallinas, the name given to that portion of land.  With four Indians to row their boat, they made the hazardous trip across the bay and up the narrow creek crossing the property.  Mr. Miller met them.

The lumber and supplies were hauled by ox team and Mr. Miller and a Mr. Kirk built the building.  The school was completed and named St. Vincent’s Seminary, the name of the patron saint of the Daughter’s of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

On January 7, 1855, Sister Corsina McKay, Donna Barbara, Miss Glover and four children arrived by boat from San Francisco.  They took possession of the land and opened the tiny new school.  Formal education in the Dixie District had begun.

Because the new school was inaccessible and the Sisters were without the services of a priest, it was under consideration to return the property to the Archbishop.  Instead, the boys from the Market Street Orphanage were transferred, along with a priest, to the new school.

By the end of 1855, the Archbishop reported there were twenty-eight orphan boys under the care of Rev. Robert A. R. Maurice and a free school numbering forty pupils.  The number climbed to 133 by 1861.

In 1868, the Dominican Sisters (now of San Rafael) of Benicia took charge of the domestic chores at the request of the Archbishop.

In 1870, there were 200 boys, ranging in age from two to fifteen years.  A glimpse of the school life in October 1874, was reported in the San Rafael Weekly Herald:

“We visited first the school rooms, four in number capable of accommodating more than 300 pupils.  It being noon day, the rooms were empty; we passed directly thru the suite and out at a back door into the playyard where 280 youngsters were gathered ages 4 to 14.  The yard is surrounded by a plank fence with a roof resting on it, which enables the boys to pass entirely around in wet weather without being exposed.  Under the school rooms is the wash room where 100 tin basins stand ready for use in a long line of sinks which surround the room.  280 towels, each with a number on it, hang ready for use by their respective owners.  On the other side we found a commodious bathroom which has a capacity for bathing with hot or cold water all the boys once a week.  From the bathroom we passed upstairs to the refectory.

7 barrels of flour a week are baked into very wholesome bread, and 2 bullocks furnish meat during the same time; to which is added a most bountiful supply of vegetables raised on the place, and the milk of 40 cows. The cook stood by a French range and the baker exhibited his huge oven.

2 great windmills whirl their arms when there is sufficient breeze and exert their force in pumping water to the tanks on the hill; when the wind fails a horse power is ready for use which is also utilized in the laundry adjoining, in revolving the washing machine.  From the Laundry we go back to the main building again and up the stairs to the dormitories.  The snowy little beds, arranged in long and regular lines, were models of cleanliness.  In or adjoining each dormitory, (there are several) one or more grown persons sleep to insure order.  Downstairs very smallest children are kept.  From the infant’s room we go to the room where the clothes are kept.  A large number of big pidgeon holes are arranged around the room, each having a number on it, to which each boy answers.  The owner of each depository here stores his spare jacket, hat and boots.  We were painfully impressed with the meager wardrobe of these little men.  An old straw hat, not worth a dime was carefully stored inside an ancient pair of trousers.”

1873 saw the beginning of an event that was to occur once a year in the life of St. Vincent’s for a number of years.  It was the Annual Examination.  Crowds came from far and near (in 1873, the steamer Contra Costa had to make an extra round trip from San Quentin).  There was always an ambitious program.  “In 1875 the exercises were held in one of the large classrooms.  The guests occupied the students’ desks.  The program included eight band numbers, the oral examinations in Geography, U.S. History, Arithmetic, Algebra and Grammer.”  There were speeches and solos by the students.  The Chorus sang.

In 1878, the school accommodated 400 boys.  That year a railroad was completed between San Rafael and Petaluma.  It ran right through St. Vincent’s property and stopped at “Miller Station”, common to St. Vincent’s and Mr. Miller.  Visitors from San Francisco took the steamship to Point San Quentin and then the train to St. Vincent’s.  What had taken Sister Frances McEnnis a full day in a row boat in 1855 now took about two hours.

In 1889, several thousand fruit trees were planted.  Technical training became an important development.  The boys were taught sufficient farming to set out trees in the new orchards.  Many were given plots of land to cultivate.  Prizes were offered to reward them for their efforts.  A tailor shop, shoe shop and carpentry shop were set up for the older boys to learn trades.  The dairy farm was enlarged and the boys helped with the milking.  
    Life at St. Vincent’s in 1888 is recorded in a publication of the Marin Journal: 

“We are happy to state that everything appeared neat and comfortable.  There are at present 429 boys of all ages up to nineteen years in the asylum.  The dormitories are light and fully ventilated by numerous windows on three sides of the room.  The beds looked clean and each one was provided with a sheet, blanket, coverlid and pillow.  The long tables were set in the dining room, and from the enumeration of the articles furnished the boys at meals, it was evident that the kinds of food were wholesome and in as great abundance and variety as the resources of the asylum would allow.

The bathrooms were visited next- large rectangular rooms with continuous bath tubs extending around the walls and about a square in the center of the apartment.  The tubs were being filled in anticipation of the rush of a squad of 40 boys as soon as the school exercises should close.  An officer stands at the door of the bathroom and takes the numbers of the scholars as they enter, and in this way, the certainty of every boy having his weekly or semi-weekly scrub is assured.

The boys whom we did see on the grounds looked in good condition, and were dressed as well as most farmers’ children; in fact. Better than many of them.  A neat uniform, consisting of a grey mixed blouse belted in at the waist, with blue shoulder straps on which is displayed in metal figures the boy’s school number; pants of the same cloth and a peaked cap to match will be adopted as soon as enough suits are finished to clothe the entire school.  And military drill with wooden muskets has already been instituted, greatly to the delight of the boys.”

Necessary fixtures and piping were installed throughout the buildings providing gas and lights.  In an effort to find natural springs, digging began in the hills behind the Miller home.   A play yard was completed and the farm now boasted 87 cows and 11 horses.  A spring of water was discovered, a storage reservoir built and pipes laid to carry the water to the school.

As the boys matured and left St. Vincent’s their progress become a source of interest to the community.  An article in the Monitor stated that St. Vincent’s boys often made a name for themselves when they grew to manhood.  They became lawyers, doctors, ministers, law makers and one was a leading writer on the New York Herald.  Others became prosperous fruit growers and business men.  This, of course, did not account for all, but spoke well of the education received at the school.

In 1895, the priests of the Archdiocese quit as Directors of St. Vincent’s and the Dominican Sisters discontinued their services.  The Christian Brothers took charge of the school.  It was to be a man’s institution in every way for the next twenty-eight years.

The Christian Brothers were to emphasize religious teaching and recreation.  Between 1918 and 1919 they conducted a training school for Christian Brothers.  During this time thirty-seven Student Brothers were trained.  This practice was discontinued during the war and the training school closed.  The Student Brothers were needed for teaching.

During July of 1918 enrollment dropped to 165 boys.  “Children… were obtained from the Juvenile Court and from parents and guardians who commit their children to the Brothers’ care.  Of these, at present, there are 15 whole orphans, 64 half orphans, 120 court children, 4 abandoned children and 62 so-called borders…” The school could no longer be called an “orphanage” or “Orphanage Asylum.”  The terms no longer really fit.  It accommodated a much larger part of the community needs and the following report by an agent of the State Board of Control indicates that the activities had expanded beyond the restrictive definitions of an “asylum.”

Daily Program:

  • 6:45am - Rise

  • 7:15am Mass

  • 8:00am - Breakfast, followed by chores and play

  • 10:00am to 12:45pm - School

  • 1:00pm - Lunch    

  • 2:00pm to 4:30pm - School, followed by band, chores and play

  • 7:00pm - Supper, followed by play and study

  • 9:00pm - Washroom

  • 9:30pm - Bed in summer

By 1918, the schoolrooms had become inadequate.  They were poorly lighted and generally run down.  There were eight grades as in a public school and about 35 to 40 pupils in each class.  There was no kindergarten and no special classes for retarded or handicapped children.  The school, however, had in many ways compensated by continuing to develop an increasingly healthy and pleasant environment for the children.  The boys were shown a movie every week.  There were occasional lectures and theatricals produced by the boys themselves.  Hand ball, basketball and baseball were the favorite sports.

In 1921, the Christian Brothers gave up management of St. Vincent’s.  The Dominican Sisters agreed to take over the domestic work and the next year there were no teachers among the religious groups.  The Archbishop turned to the Marin County Superintendent of Schools.  St. Vincent’s was located in the Dixie School District where another school, the small one-room school known as the Dixie School, was located.  It had only ten pupils.  St. Vincent’s proposed to add nearly 400 pupils to the school roll of the district.  The only possible place for classes was in St. Vincent’s own building.

With the help of the State Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Will C. Wood, the County Superintendent of Schools, Mr. James B. Davidson, with the cooperation of the Dixie District Board of Trustees, and with the financial backing, for five months, of Archbishop Hanna of San Francisco, St. Vincent’s School was able to continue.  The domestic help was secured from lay people, and the institution continued to do its job.  It is noteworthy that teachers from Marin County public schools left their regular jobs for a year to assist at St. Vincent’s.

Between 1923 and 1930 several changes occurred: The best ideas of the cottage system were incorporated as new buildings were built; State Aid through the aid to needy program was available to pay for the older boys; for the first time the upper grades were structured into that of a Commercial High School; a two year academic high school was started with Latin, Algebra, geometry, history, English and religion; the name, St. Vincent’s School for Boys was formally adopted and the policy to accept no more delinquent boys was established; the C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization) developed its program at the school; a new swimming pool and gymnasium were built; new hobby clubs and a Boy Scout group were organized.  

In 1937, religious policy liberalized and mass was made optional for the older boys.  These boys were free to go to confession as they wished.  The older boys, too, were allowed greater social freedom and attended functions at nearby schools.  They went into town to shows and both gave and attended dances.

In 1940, under the Direction of Father Weber, the school became virtually self-sufficient in meeting its food needs.  It raised all of its own meat, vegetables and fruits as well as poultry and milk cows.

All the old buildings were gradually replaced.  Food production was self-contained and the school was able to function on a budget with the help of the Community Chests of San Francisco and Marin County.  In 1954, St. Vincent’s School for Boys had established a well-rounded program in a beautiful and complete plant.  A library and infirmary had been added.  New shops and a grammar school were added.  The refinements of a social worker, director of athletics and part-time remedial teacher were instituted.

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