Published in: Camel Valley Outlook
March 13, 1975
By Leslie Johnson
The Hastings Reservation is a very quiet place these days. Students from
various California universities come to silently, stealthily observe undisturbed
wildlife. But it wasn't. always so.
The hills surrounding the white New England ranch house at one
time rang with the whoops and hollers of adolescent cowboys and cowgirls,
galloping through the high meadow grass toward a steaming dinner
welcoming smiles of their instructors. Many years ago, Miss Celinea Wells
and: Miss Helen Lisle proper educated young New England women. were
to provide a solid Eastern education, (guaranteed to get you into practically
any private college that counted) in a healthy Western atmosphere.
Although Miss Lisle has died, Miss Wells is an amazingly active resident
of Carmel Valley Manor, with barely the time to grant an interview.
rate of activity she undertook as a young woman continues today with
her participation in bridge groups, musical ventures and a philosophy
She fondly remember is the first trip she and Miss Wells made to the
Carmel Valley area.
"We decided, this was the place for us. After our vacation here;
we asked the school (they operated in the East) for a sabbatical. We wired
our friend back here to find us a place to stay," Miss Wells tells
"It was just before the school term was set to begin, and we knew
we would have to explain to the parents," Miss Wells recounts.: "It
was going to he hard to ask for the leave, so we decided to ask the
difficult parents first. Of course, the mother told us how foolish we
seemed, but ended up with '"All right, go. But only if you take
Jimmy with you."'
The elated teachers ended up with seven children on a private sleeper
train, leaving New England for the long trek across the United States.
"Before we left, "Miss Wells explains, "We wired our friend
and told her we were coming with seven children 'Hurry up and find a place.'
She couldn't find anything, except the dairy ranch of one farmer, who
said it was unthinkable. So we wired her $500 She told us later he pleaded,
"Don't show me that, or I'll have to fix it up and rent it to them.'
After a delightful trip through the American west, the group found themselves.
in Carmel Valley, near what is now Farm Center. "We parked the children
at Pine Inn with a couple of counselors we'd brought along, and went out
to see this 'ranch' she'd found for us. Of course, it wasn't anywhere
near finished," Miss Wells says breathlessly.
So it was back to the Pine Inn to consult with the children who were told
they could stay at the Pine Inn, do studies in the morning and play on
the beach in the afternoon, or they could go out in Carmel Valley and
work like pioneers to get the place fixed up and then study. The children
chose Carmel Valley.
"That afternoon, we vent to Pacific Grove and bought cots and pots
and pans for the whole crew and hired ourselves a Chinaman to cook for
us, " Miss Wells says They also bought what they called a banana
wagon," a station wagon that could carry all of the children the
goods they would need ".
That first winter, one of the mothers thought it might be wise to come
to California and see exactly what those two young ladies were up to.
By then, the sleeping porches at least had been completed In addition,
each child had acquired a horse to take care of and sooner or later, mostly
sooner, to love.
"Mrs. Phillips sat there there on the stoop, and asked if she could
take her son with her for a couple of days, just to be with him for a
while. Of course we agreed. But her son didn't 'Who will take care of
my horse?' he asked when she told he could be gone for a few days."
Miss Wells smiles.
By the end of the school nd term, there were 20 students at the Carmel
Valley Ranch School Every child had a horse and they rode at least twice
a week to Point Lobos for painting lessons With George Siedendeck. There
was Latin and French, mathematics history, current events composition:
(taken care of by the weekly letter home which was corrected before it
Eventually, the school moved to what is now the Hastings Reservation,
on 16 acres of land purchased from an explorer for oil who had worn himself
out. His daughter so loved the area and the school, Hastings put in the
utilities before he sold the land to the two school teachers for their
An alumnae of Carmel Valley School, Mrs. Betty Monning of Carmel holds
nothing but beautiful memories of the three years she spent at the school.
"We learned so much, and never realized we were going to school,"
"Certainly, we did lessons in the morning. And whoever got their
lessons done got to go riding in the afternoon. But we didn't even get
a break at mealtimes. At lunch we might discuss current events, and at
the evening meal we always spoke French," she says.
Miss Wells explains, "We discovered, most of mealtime would be spent
in silly chatter about 'My horse is better than your horse,' so we set
the rules for table conversation. Everything the children did was ultimately
centered on well-rounded education."
Mrs. Monning's education (at that time she was Betty Wheeler) was certainly
well-rounded. When she left Carmel Valley Ranch School for the local high
school, she was ahead a grade because of her progress.
"But what I remember most of all is the wonderful time we had,"
she tells us now. "Every holiday had its special celebration, and
no one's birthday was ever forgotten. Every day something special happened
but I remember best the little details - like the moonlight rides, or
our Chinaman's gold teeth, or the way a counselor would laugh. It was
Carmel Valley Ranch School has produced numerous professional people and
successful business personnel, and Miss Wells is proud d all of them.
Her former students include three of the children of Under Secretary of
State Billy Phillips, one of whom is now head of the trade mission to
Red China, having served numerous years with the United Nations. .
Miss Wells keeps in touch with many of the former students and has through
the years, which have been characteristically active for her. At one point,
she and Miss Lisle, while still living at the ranch school, found themselves
teaching school full time during the war because students farther up the
Valley, couldn't get the public schools, monitoring a 24-hour airplane
watch, and caring for about 300 chinchillas, all at the same time, ''It
was a little tiring," she understates.
In reality, the ranch school of Miss Wells and Miss Lisle foretold the
individualized education many educators now press for our public schools.
The cost at the time was high ($2,000 in a time when a dollar was worth
a dollar), but so was the quality of the education. Each student's needs
were met separately; each student was encouraged to work at his own pace.
And there were rewards and punishments as well.
"Since we used boys' and girls' separate sleeping porches the counselors
knew exactly who was cutting up at night. Miss Wells cites as an example.
"Nothing much would be said at the time." But when a clear
night came along, Miss Wells might announce at sinner."It's such a beautiful
night, I think it's perfect for a moonlight ride. Of course, Johnny hasn't
been getting the sleep he needs lately so he won't be coming with us Mrs.
Monning agrees, "There was nothing more devastating than to be deprived
of enjoying your horse."
So the '"Eastern school in a Western atmosphere" was a success,
molding many of the business and political leaders of America and the
world today. Right here in Carmel Valley.
Mrs. Betty Monning of Carmel was one of the students at the Carmel Valley
Ranch School from 1929 to 1931. Her warm memories include performing in
"The Mikado", midnight rides through Valley canyons and painting
at Pt. Lobos
Evenings were spent rehearsing, studying, or in French conversation at
Carmel Valley Ranch School after it moved to what is now the Hastings
Reservation. John and Betty Davis, directors of the reservation, have
changed little in this living room since their occupancy of the New England
ranch style home. Photos courtesy of the Pat Hathaway Collection, Originals
by L. Josselyn.
In addition to a solid prep-school education practically guaranteeing
admission to the finer Eastern schools the ranch school gave students
a chance to "rough it", building shelters, cooking out on the
trail, and often taking 10 day rides through the surrounding area.
Miss Wells believes the most effective role of the school was to provide
a realistic family atmosphere which often contrasted greatly to the pampered
but isolated lives many of the children experienced. Mrs. Monning is fourth
from the left, facing the camera.
Lessons were given in the mornings in the girls's sleeping porch, whose
only source of heat was the fireplace. In an area where the temperature
may drop to 11 degrees, the boy's sleeping porch had no source of heat.
The children sawed the legs off the cots so they could raise the windows
without moving the beds each time. They also constructed their own tennis
court, cared for their horses, and participated in meal preparation.
Although she says there was no point in getting homesick, (you just couldn't
go home), Miss Wells saw to it that she and Miss Lisle had a proper
England parlor-bedroom combination, now the master bedroom at Hastings.
It was the children's responsibility to keep the fires going in each
the rooms. Except for the Chinese cook and one vaquero, there were no
additional employees at the school.