Before the end of the school year last Thursday, third-grade students from Ramona Community and James Dukes schools experienced Ramona Town Hall from the inside out on a new tour plan introduced by the Ramona Town Hall Board.
Woody Kirkman, board president, and Ken Serfass, leader of the Town Hall Brass Band, led two tours a day until all the third-graders had seen the historic hall. Serfass dressed as Constable Woodward, the first lawman of Nuevo in the late 1890s to lead the students through the building.
Ramona history is related in tales of stagecoaches and colorful locals relating to the transformation from Nuevo into Ramona of today, said Serfass.
“Living history tours can be more educational and fun for the students because they begin to see the subject from the time perspective of the character taking them through it,” he said. “I worked in Old Town State Park in San Diego for two seasons and I know firsthand how that works. It goes from walking through an old building or sometimes a vacant lot to help you see this was a big part of life when it was built and it’s important now to tell some history to connect to where you are. Without our heritage being explained, we lose some of our culture, and it can be easy to forget this in the modern age of virtual entertainment.”
Portions of the building are still in retrofit and restoration. Many adults accompanying the students remarked at the true size of the building and discovered it is more than the two rooms facing Main Street. Among the comments heard were, “I had no idea there was a dance hall as part of it” and “I can’t wait to see the Main Hall when it’s finished.”
The students were greeted in the West Wing Hall by Kirkman and Serfass with an overview of the building’s origin and intended use. A.J. Barnett gave the building to the budding town of Nuevo as a central gathering point for recreation and a place to do business.
“Starting in the west side is good to help them see the process of rebuilding the hall,” said Kirkman. “They can see how it’s being reinforced for seismic protection for public safety. When they get into the East Wing Hall, they see how it looks after being restored. It’s sort of a before and after effect.”
Although the Main Hall isn’t ready to receive visitors, the tours give a peak inside the biggest section that will be restored for public use.
“Safety and insurance liability restrict access to the Main Hall right now, so we can let visitors into the vestibule, but not all the way inside,” said Serfass. “Even though people can’t go all the way in, they get a good enough view to appreciate what she once was and what we are going to have again in Ramona. We look forward to days of revived activity in here.”
The tour guides know their subject and one can see a twinkle in the “constable’s” eye when he relates what went on in the old hall.
“The Town Hall served as many things in her day, sort of an 1890s mall, with the town’s first high school in the upper floor and dentists, barbers, a bank in 1911, and the West Wing dedicated as a library — the one room Mr. Barnett decreed have that specific use,” said Serfass.
“The Main Hall served multi-purpose duty as well. Church services were held inside, a melodrama troupe performed, concerts were seen, and all-night dances along with funerals were all part of its activity. The silent pictures of the 1920’s were shown and later ‘talkies’ until the theater was built in the 1940s. There’s more to the story, so we encourage everyone to come visit.”
Tours of Ramona Town Hall over the summer may be arranged by telephone at 760-789-8696 or by email on the website: ramonatownhall.com.
The Town Hall guides would like to have groups no more than 10 per tour.