Editor’s Note: Object Lesson is an occasional series of features connecting area residents with local history by examining items in the collections of local museums.


One of the newest additions to the Mary Aaron Museum in Marysville is bringing to life an almost forgotten piece of local history.

Chris Pedigo, a Mary Aaron Museum board member, said he has been utilizing archived state reports to research the State Reform School – also known as the Marysville Reform School – for the past four years and discovered through his research that the state had lost all renderings of the large brick building.

“It is Marysville’s lost school,” said Pedigo.

To revive the building that has long since been torn down, museum board members enlisted Stuart Gilchrist to create a watercolor rendering of the facility, which is now housed at the museum.

Construction of the State Reform School was completed in 1861, and the facility opened in December of that year as California’s first state institution for the reform of juvenile offenders.

Made from more than one million bricks, the school sat on a large piece of property bought from Charles Covillaud about seven miles north of Marysville along the east bank of the Feather River, said Pedigo. Warren P. Miller, the architect who designed the building the Mary Aaron Museum now calls home, helped to design the reform school. 

“It was just a beautiful place right along the river,” said Pedigo. 

Archived records show that the school housed as many as 100 children at one time over it’s seven-year run, which was far less than the 200-plus maximum capacity that the school was designed for.

While at the reform school, Pedigo said, the students received instruction in several subjects including spelling, reading, writing, and geography in addition to having access to an onsite garden, library, church and gym.

“The children also cleaned and worked at the school as part of their daily life,” said Pedigo. “They did everything from scrubbing the floors to pumping their own water.”

When the school was shut down in 1868, administrators transferred the 28 students in their care to the San Francisco Industrial School, according to Pedigo.

The building was later torn down in 1872 and the land was sold to local farmers.

The Mary Aaron Museum, located at 704 D St., Marysville, is typically open to the public on the first weekend of each month from 1-4 p.m., excluding holidays.

Admission and guided tours of the museum are free, but donations are appreciated.

For more information, call 743-1004.

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