A Little Sleuthing Solves a Historical Mystery in Redding
As part of the 75-year celebration of Redding Adventist Academy, school officials endeavored to locate the site of the original school, begun in 1934.
Lauren Smith, who at 85 is the oldest living member of the Redding Adventist church, had long claimed that the first school building was the old Pacific Gas & Electric substation in what is now a city park on the Sacramento River. Today, only the stone framework of the original substation is standing. A chain link fence encloses the burnt-out remains, now a Redding historical landmark.
Smith, a contractor who pulled together an army of volunteers to begin building the current school facility in 1950, was nine years old when the first school opened. “I didn’t attend the school because we were so poor we couldn’t afford the 10-mile drive to school every day,” said Smith, whose four children attended RAA.
In an effort to verify Smith’s information, the school contacted the Shasta Historical Society, which reported that the building had been in the hands of three different electric companies since 1897. Unable to find information confirming that a school had been in this building, and, considering its ownership by electric companies, representatives of the historical society doubted that it could have housed a school in 1934.
Smith then produced a book that his father, Earl R. Smith, had published in 1964, titled The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Redding, California: A Story of the Church and the People Who Made It.
In a passage about her involvement with the church, early member Alice Sanders wrote, “We had no church school until many years later when a school was opened in the old PG&E substation located on the bank of the Sacramento River on Highway 44.”
The book also reports that Redding surgeon Leslie Kay organized the first Adventist school in Redding. “[H]e rented a room in an old storehouse that stood on the riverbank near where Highway 44 used to cross the river. ... This structure was built ‘away back when’ and was used for many years by the power company.”
A school representative took the book to the Shasta Historical Society, which continued to check old documents, including newspapers, phone directories and local church files. No record of the early school could be found, probably because there were only 10 children enrolled and there was no real need for a telephone listing, according to Renee McKean, staff and volunteer coordinator at the historical society.
According to McKean, history generally accepts as fact first-hand accounts such as the ones in Smith’s book, so the brick building is likely the original Adventist school. The society has requested a copy of the book for its archives. “Now when someone comes in with a question about early Adventist church history in the Redding area, we will have this book to show them,” she said.
In February, RAA kindergartners planted 75 Asiatic lily bulbs inside the fence that surrounds the old substation to commemorate the school’s anniversary.
“Commemorating the 75 years by planting bulbs reflects the planting of Christian school curriculum in the Redding area and reminds us of the many kids who have learned at our school and grown to be a blessing in the community," said Redding Adventist Academy Principal Tim Erich.
"It was fun planting the bulbs,” said kindergartner Jaylin Dederer. “I want to go back and see the flowers when they grow.”