Connects: Coulter Creek Road (CR 121), Red Canyon Road (CR 115)
Carbondale, CO – Schoolhouse
The Upper Cattle Creek Schoolhouse, originally called Coulter Creek School, is a one-room schoolhouse that was used from 1888 to 1947. This is an old building near Carbondale, CO.
A short history from historical research and interviews with former students
Raul Merrill Laurence, Boy Scout
The Upper Cattle Creek Schoolhouse has had a long history. By 1888, three years after Defiance (Glenwood Springs) was founded, the school had been constructed on land donated by Albert Coulter, a local rancher. It was common in those days for landowners to donate an acre of land to the school district. Building the school was a community effort. Two fathers, Patrick Waters and Frank Heuschkel, are known to have helped. Later, their children attended the school. Local ranchers helped construct several other buildings on the property; two outhouses, a coal shed, and a horse barn which has since been relocated to Spring Valley. By the 1920’s, a white wooden fence surrounded the property. Playground equipment and a flagpole were installed by C.W. Miller in 1930. The merry-go-round was recently restored as part of a Boy Scout Eagle project.
Mr. J.T. Stump was the first teacher, with an initial class of twelve students in grades 1-8. School started at 9:00 A.M. and ended at 4:00 P.M. Bible study came first. Parents appreciated the moral teachings because to take their children to church in town was a rate, laborious, all-day event. After Bible study, the children learned reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and grammar. The teacher started with the youngest students first, then worked his way up the grades. As the younger students were being taught, the older students were expected to study or tutor their younger classmates. Mr. J.T. Stump taught for many years. Subsequent teachers were usually female.
Once a week, the teacher prepared a large pot of stew for the class. All of the children were assigned to bring ingredients from their farms for the soup. Students brought carrots, onions, potatoes, turnips, beans, and meat. The hot meal simmered in a cast iron pot on the coal stove, which also provided heat for the school. On most days, however, students brought their noon meal from home. After eating a pleasant lunch with their teacher, the children were released fro the day’s only recess.
During lunch break, the children raced to play on the playground equipment or to start a game of “Kick the Can,” or “Red Rover.” Often, the teacher would join the students in a year-long softball game. During the winter, the children went sledding. A favorite recess activity for the older students was jumping off the high cliff south of the schoolhouse, and landing in the soft snowdrift below. When the teacher rang the bell, the students would file back into the school for a welcome after-lunch story, and several “not so welcome” lessons.
Punishment was rare. Children knew that there were severe consequences for misbehavior. One incident was retold by both Viola (Miller) Waters and Ethel (Waters) Heuschkel. One day, during recess, a hired hand tending to the horses, gathered some of the boys together behind the bard to teach them how to chew tobacco. When the boys were returned to class, the vigilant teacher proceeded to teach the boys how to chew soap. Viola remembers that the boys were very angry with her because she had been sent home to get the handmade soap bar.
Many teachers boarded with the C.W. Miller family 1/4 mile north of the schoolhouse. Students who lived far away boarded with classmates, or spent weeknights at the school. When snowstorms were severe, the children stayed overnight at the schoolhouse, and slept on wooden benches near the walls; the boys on the west side, and the girls on the east side. One year, during a six-week blizzard, all but two students were trapped at the school. The teacher became mother, father, cook, and companion to many stranded children.
Once a month, usually on Saturdays, the Upper Cattle Creek School held a dance. Everyone in the area was invited. Families and students from other schools such as Spring Valley, Lower Cattle Creek, and Missouri Heights, would come. When a “sister school” held a dance on the other weekends, Upper Cattle Creek families were invited to attend. Dances were something that everyone looked forward to. Mothers made cakes, pies, sandwiches, and all sorts of tasty things to eat. A community band provided music, with the teacher usually playing the piano. Everyone participated. Little children first learned to dance with their parents, and then with groups of girls or boys. On one special nights, a Father became his daughter’s official dance partner. Over the years, the boys would gain the courage and ask the girls to dance. Undoubtedly, many romances started at these weekly social gatherings.
One occurrence sticks in the mind of many valley residents. During a dance in the 1940’s, there was a shooting at the schoolhouse following a quarrel which arose between a jealous husband and a lustful neighbor. The frightened children hid behind the wooden porch. Several shots were fired before the adults were able to wrangle the gun away from the crazed husband. Fortunately, no one was hurt; however, several bullet holes forever marred the chalkboard.
In 1942, the school was closed forever to the sound of school children’s voices. The students of the high mountain valley were bused down to Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. All of the school equipment (desks, piano, coal stove, bell, and maps) was sold. Only the wooden benches that served as bed and chair to so many students, still remain in the schoolhouse. Though the school doors were closes, the schoolhouse was not abandoned. Dances and community meetings were held in the building until the 1980’s. The Consolidated Reservoir Water Board also held many meetings in it.
On February 12, 1977, the Upper Cattle Creek Schoolhouse Association purchased the school and the land on which it stands for $4000 from the Garfield County School District. If the building had not been purchased, the School District would have torn it down. The Upper Cattle Creek Schoolhouse Association had since maintained the property. The schoolhouse was painted in 1991, and a hostile colony of bees was exterminated in 1993. Boy Scout Troop 277 performed maintenance on the doors and playground equipment in 1997.
This building, which stands as a reminder of our past, has served many local ranchers and their families for over 100 years. Many lasting relationships have been fostered in this remote schoolhouse. A ribbon of memories tumble down these wooden steps, reminding us of joyful children shouting, “School’s out! Dance is on!”
Special thanks to organizations and individuals who provided historical information:
Ethel Heuschkel, former student
Patrick Coryell, former student
LeGrande Bair, former student
Elmer Bair, former resident
Laura Melton, attended dances
R. Merrill Laurence, attended meetings
Anita Witt, author of They Came from Missouri
Laura Van Dyne, photographs
James D. Peterson, Upper Cattle Creek Schoolhouse Association
Staff of the Garfield County Courthouse
Staff of the Frontier Historical Society
Special thanks to the companies which donated materials:
True Value, Glenwood Springs
BMC West, Aspen
BMC West, Glenwood Springs
Gran Farnum Printing, Glenwood Springs
A & H Graphics, Inc., Glenwood Springs
Special thanks for labor, time, and interest:
Boy Scouts of Troop 277
Boy Scout Troop 277 Committee Members
Dr. Clyde Earnhart
Roger Merrill Laurence Family”