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Top Ten: Schoolhouses

“Still sits the schoolhouse by the road, a ragged beggar, sleeping; around it still the sumachs grow, and blackberry vines are creeping. Within, the master’s desk is seen, deep-scarred by raps official; the warping floor, the battered seats, the jack-knife’s carved initial; the charcoal frescoes on its wall; its door’s worn sill, betraying the feet that, creeping slow to school, went storming out to playing!” ~John Greenleaf Whittier, In School Days

1. Tubac Schoolhouse – The Tubac school may have been the first public school operated within the boundaries of modern Arizona and the first supported with public funds. In 1876 ten Tubac residents petitioned the Pima County Superintendent of Schools for a school. The following year Mr. T. Lillie Mercer became Tubac’s first teacher, earning a salary of $30 per year. There were about 30 students and three of them were children of Mr. Mercer. Class was held at one end of the Otero general store while dry goods, groceries, and liquor were sold at the other. Since most of the students were of Mexican descent, Spanish was included in the curriculum. In 1884 Mrs. Sarah M. Black came to teach in the Tubac school, the first schoolhouse in Arizona, and by 1885 there was a new adobe school with a packed dirt floor. The school was funded by Mr. Sabino Otero, a rancher and philanthropist who was one of Southern Arizona’s most prominent citizens. By the 1890’s there were over 115 students and sometimes as many as 140 students and three teachers. Today, teachers can bring a class of 3rd to 5th grade students and spend a day in the 1885 schoolhouse. This is an opportunity for children to learn what a day of school would have been like over 100 years ago. The program immerses kids in the experience from the clothes they wear, the chalkboards they use, the homemade lunchpails, to the rules on the chalkboard they must follow. The authentic desks, complete with inkwells, and the woodburning stove for heat make this an experience the children and teachers won’t soon forget. The schoolhouse can accommodate 25 children at a time. Reservations are required and can be made by calling the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park office.

2. Strawberry Schoolhouse – The restored log schoolhouse is the oldest standing school in Arizona. Built in 1884, it was restored in the 1960s and has been rededicated as an historic monument and a living history museum. To visit the schoolhouse, go north on Highway 87 to Strawberry, turn west on Fossil Creek Road (approximately 1.5 miles).

3. Prescott Schoolhouse – The schoolhouse on the grounds of the Sharlot Hall Museum is a replica, constructed in 1962 by the Prescott Rotary Club, of the first public schoolhouse in Prescott, originally built in 1867. Displays describe school life at the time.

4. Pioneer Schoolhouse – This one-room schoolhouse was the first completely restored building at Pioneer Living History Museum. It was originally located in Gordon Canyon, AZ and was in use from 1880-1922. Also at Pioneer Living History Museum is the teacherage, an original structure which was the home for the teacher who taught at the schoolhouse.

5. Fairbank Schoolhouse – The unique stone schoolhouse is one of the few remaining buildings left in the ghost town of Fairbank. It was built in the late 1920’s of gypsum block and classes were held there until 1944. The schoolhouse fell into disrepair after closing, but the Bureau of Land Management acquired the land in 1987 and meticulously restored the building in 2007. The schoolhouse now serves as a Visitor’s Center and Museum. Children are welcome to sit in the student desks and imagine what it was like to attend school there. The town of Fairbank, a national historic site and part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, was once an important supply point for Tombstone and was an active community over halfway into the 20th century. Fairbank is located ten miles west of Tombstone on State Highway 82, and about 10 miles east of the intersection of State Highway 90 and State Highway 82.

6. Little Adobe Schoolhouse – The Little Adobe Schoolhouse, an authentic reproduction of Mesa’s original one-room school, was a grassroots project built by Mesa residents for the 1976 bicentennial. Descendants of pioneer families, including relatives of Mesa’s first schoolteacher, donated items to make the little museum authentic. The building was constructed by vocational technology students from local high schools. Home economics students made the period costumes that mannequins wore inside the schoolroom. Visitors to the Little Adobe Schoolhouse could walk inside and see a detailed reproduction of the old schoolhouse, complete with a schoolteacher and children at their desks. An audio tape told about the first school and its history. Although it was only a replica, it was the city’s first period museum. The dedication of the Little Adobe Schoolhouse in 1976 prompted a surge of public interest in Mesa’s heritage, which led to the development of the Mesa Southwest Museum. The two buildings shared the same site at Macdonald and First streets. Ironically, in 1998, the Little Adobe Schoolhouse was unceremoniously demolished to make room for an expansion of the Mesa Southwest Museum, now known as the Arizona Museum of Natural History. Since then, the Mesa Historical Society has taken on the project of building a new schoolhouse replica. It may be part of a re-created village on a site near the Mesa Historical Museum. Land owned by the historical society on Horne Road is being surveyed to determine where the first school was located and where the new replica should be built. The new structure, which will feature posts and beams filled in with adobe, will be as authentic as possible. The time capsule buried when the original Little Adobe Schoolhouse replica was constructed, as well as all the items from the interior of the building, have been saved and will be included in the next location.

7. Lehi School – The former Lehi School, built in 1913, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest standing school building in Mesa today. Now housing the Mesa Historical Museum, the former elementary school is located at Lehi and Horne Roads. The original Lehi School, built on land donated by the Rogers family in the 1880’s, was a one room adobe building (see above). The community had outgrown the little adobe schoolhouse by the early 1910’s. The current building was constructed in 1914 and the adobe schoolhouse was demolished. Lehi continued to grow and the new schoolhouse was soon outgrown. The building was expanded in the 1920’s with the addition of two new classrooms. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the Works Progress Administration made additional improvements, including the auditorium. While poorly designed, the auditorium was so well constructed that it was designated as a bomb shelter during the Cold War. The school’s first mechanical cooling system was installed in the main building in the 1950’s. The school was condemned by the school district in 1976, but due to the sturdy construction of the auditorium, it was simply abandoned rather than being demolished. The City of Mesa purchased the site and resold it to the Mesa Historical Museum.

8. Little Red Schoolhouse – The 1910 “Little Red Schoolhouse,” originally named Scottsdale Grammar School, contained two large classrooms, an entrance hall, two small rooms for storage of supplies and books, and was erected over a full sized basement. More than just a school, the building was also the center of the social life of the community. It was used for a Sunday school and church, a polling place, a Farm Improvement Society, and Red Cross bandage rolling. After Scottsdale High School and a new Scottsdale Elementary School were built, the brick schoolhouse was used as a school for Mexican-American pupils. The historic Little Red Schoolhouse now houses the Scottsdale Historical Museum, where artifacts include period school furniture, photos of early Scottsdale, and pioneer tools.

9. Phoenix Indian School – Founded in 1891, the United States Industrial Indian School at Phoenix, later known as the Phoenix Indian School, was a coeducational, federal boarding school. Native American Indian children were brought from the reservations to be educated and assimilated into the white man’s culture. The campus had fourteen brick and twenty frame buildings which included a large schoolhouse, a two-story building containing employee quarters and a student dining hall, a shop for vocational training, several dormitories, a bathhouse, boiler house, water and sewer system. There were acres of fields where they grew hay, turnips, cabbages, tomatoes, and melons. They also had horses, mules, cattle, pigs, ducks, turkeys, and chickens. These provided for the vocational education of the students and also contributed to the school’s self-sufficiency. An act of Congress, signed by President Ronald Reagan in November 1988, was to close the Phoenix Indian School and pass its administration from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the National Park Service. Nineteen students, the last graduating class, walked up to the stage inside Memorial Hall and received their diplomas on May 24, 1990. Most of the old buildings were demolished and the grounds made into Indian School Park, but three of the old buildings remain: the Band Building, Dining Hall, and Memorial Hall.

10. Valentine School – The tiny town of Valentine on Historic Route 66 contains two old school buildings. The large brick Indian School that had been established in 1900 for the Hualapai children is now closed, but the site is still the headquarters for the Truxton Canyon Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A couple of miles down the road, there is a little red one-room schoolhouse that was used by the town’s white children. If you walk up the steps and peek in the front door, you can see that most of the wooden floor boards have rotted away leaving wide gaps where you can peer down into the basement. At the rear entrance there is a set of steps that leads downstairs, and what looks like a coat closet. Most of the old tin ceiling tiles remain intact. Two outhouses (perhaps boys and girls?) stand on one side of the schoolyard, still with their wooden seats.


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