Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years: 1905-1915 (vol. 6)


Chapter 14—Finding a Site for Pacific Union College

Like the school of the prophets in the day of Elisha, where the place where they dwelt became “too strait” for them, the school at Healdsburg by 1908 found itself needing room to breathe and grow. Under the adverse circumstances the attendance was dropping and financial losses were heavy. The school building was now closely surrounded by the town, and the “boarding house” three blocks up the street was being choked by nearby residential housing. When built, the boarding house, on a five-acre tract of land, was in the country, and it had been planned that as funds were available, more land surrounding it would be purchased. But money was scarce, so part of the original acreage was sold. Houses soon sprang up. M. E. Cady, one-time president of Healdsburg College, said that Ellen White was once heard to comment, “While men slept, the enemy sowed houses.”—DF 153a, M. E. Cady, Founder's Day Address, 1947. 6BIO 176.1

The college home, or boarding house, was a three-story building with kitchen and laundry in the basement, dining room, parlor, and president's quarters on the first, or main, floor. Young women occupied the second floor and young men the third. The president and his wife served as preceptor and preceptress. 6BIO 176.2

Ellen White, who with W. C. White had led out in founding the college in 1882, was deeply interested in its welfare. About the time the college opened she bought a home a few blocks distant and made Healdsburg her headquarters. Since returning from Australia, she often visited the school, spoke to the students and faculty, and watched with interest the welfare of the institution. With the successful starting of the Avondale school in Australia in a country location, both Ellen White and conference constituency thought in terms of moving the college away from a crowded town to a place where the students would have “more opportunity to engage in agriculture, carpentering, and other lines of manual work” (Letter 141, 1904). At the California Conference session held in February, 1908, a comprehensive resolution was passed calling for the disposal of the school properties in Healdsburg and establishing “an industrial college” in the country that would provide work for students and “furnish at least the agricultural and dairy products necessary for the college home” (Pacific Union Recorder, February 27, 1908). The Educational Society, which carried legal control, took official action to this effect three weeks later on March 19. 6BIO 176.3

It was hoped that a property could be located rather quickly so that it could open in the fall on the new site. Consequently conference officials and Ellen White and her staff were on the constant lookout for a suitable place, perhaps with a building on it that could be put to immediate use. At the well-attended Oakland camp meeting in early June, a special session of the California Conference was called. Here on June 9, after considerable discussion and a divided vote, plans to close Healdsburg College were approved and a committee of seven appointed to search for a new site. W. C. White, as well as conference officers, was on this committee. From time to time various sites were examined. In August, a property near Sonoma came to the attention of conference officers. This property, two or three miles north of the town of Sonoma, consisted of 2,900 acres of land, hills, mountains, valleys, and flatlands. On it was a spacious three-story, thirty-eight room mansion called “The Castle” (36 WCW, p. 725; S. N. Haskell to EGW, August 13, 1908). Since the property was less than a mile from a tiny Western Pacific Railway station called Buena Vista, that was the name used in designating it for inspections and negotiations. The estate had been developed by a millionaire, a Mr. Johnson, about twenty-five years earlier, but soon after he had built and furnished the house, and landscaped the grounds with ornamental and fruit trees, he died. His heir squandered his inherited fortune, and the property was sold at auction. Currently it was owned by a Frenchman named Cailleaud (H. W. Cottrell to WCW, March 31, 1909), who felt he had too many land investments and wanted to sell this one. Hetty Haskell, wife of the conference president, described it as “a second Loma Linda, the finest thing we have seen anywhere” (Mrs. S. N. Haskell to EGW, August 13, 1908). 6BIO 177.1

The Haskells reported that the house and grounds needed a little outside repair and paint, as the mansion had been neglected for some time, but inside it was in perfect condition. Some of its thirty-eight rooms were large enough to be divided, and that made the building even more adaptable to school use. All the bathroom fixtures were marble, and there was even a large bell at the back of the house, which, Mrs. Haskell observed, “would be just the thing for schoolwork.” 6BIO 178.1

The grounds were well laid out and decorated with acres of flower gardens. The long entrance drive way was lined with trees, and the orchards boasted five kinds of plums and five varieties of peaches, and there were lemons, oranges, date palms, and chestnuts. 6BIO 178.2

A stone winery on the place was currently being used as a cow shed for a large dairy (S. N. Haskell to EGW, August 13, 1908). 6BIO 178.3