One Room Of History

COVER STORY

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Nestled in the trees a mile-and-a-half down Fossil Creek Road in the tiny hamlet of Strawberry is one of Rim Country's treasures -- the Strawberry Schoolhouse.

The 30-by-20-foot one-room building, built in 1884 out of hand-hewn pine logs, served as the public school for children from 1885 to 1916.

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The Strawberry Schoolhouse on Fossil Creek Road in Strawberry is open on Saturdays.

Now, it is the oldest standing schoolhouse in Arizona, which earned it a place on the National Historic Register.

Public schools today are radically different for teacher and students, yet the concerns of parents remain constant, such as, "How far will my child need walk to school?"

Early settlers spread their homes throughout the 3.5 miles of Strawberry Valley, so it made sense to put it in the center.

"Two cowboys took a rope from one end of the road to the other and put the school in the middle," said schoolhouse docent, Marilyn Hunt.

Teachers received about $30 a month at the turn of the century, plus room and board.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the rules of conduct for teachers and students were restrictive by 21st century standards. Some of those rules follow, though they were not necessarily endemic to, the Strawberry Schoolhouse.

  • Teachers had to fill the lamps with oil, clean chimneys and arrive an hour early to start the fire in winter, so the classroom would be warm.
  • No teacher could smoke, imbibe liquor in any form, or frequent pool halls.
  • Male teachers were not to be shaved at a barbershop.
  • Men could take one evening a week for courting purposes, two if they went to church regularly.
  • Yet, female teachers, who married or engaged in unseemly conduct, faced dismissal by the school board.

These were the days when five minutes tardy could mean an hour after school and speaking out of turn or writing with the left hand could mean a rap on the knuckles with a ruler.

These were also the days of ink wells set in the corner of each wooden desk.

"Nothing shall be dipped into ink wells, except pens," was a tempting rule to break for some young men sitting behinds girls with braids or long ponytails.

Strawberry's school was part of Yavapai County in 1885 when, according to the book, "Rim Country History Illustrated", compiled by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, published in 1984, records Mollie Burgett as the first teacher the winter of 1886 and Carrie Nash as the school's second teacher.

A county record that hangs on the wall of the schoolhouse records Carrie Nash as the first teacher in 1885, with six boys and four girls as students.

Teachers came and went and some of their names were lost, but according to the record on the wall, Rebecca Boswell, who taught the class of 1900-01 had charge of the largest group of students in three decades of learning -- 12 boys and 13 girls.

"In 1900, Strawberry has 18 enrollees with the Peach and Jones and two Keith families providing the total," according to "Rim Country History Illustrated."

Gila County was established in 1881 from parts of Maricopa and Pinal counties. Gila purchased more land from Yavapai County in 1889.

Prior C. Miller would not accept the Peach children at the Strawberry Schoolhouse because, even though they lived just two miles from the school, they were technically in Gila County.

The county line was established well to the north of Fossil Creek Road (presumably over the summer) and there was no more trouble.

K. Johnson taught the last class of eight boys and four girls, according to the record on the wall. But there are conflicting stories about that.

The school closed its doors in 1916.

For the next few years, the school, with its sawed-board floor, was used for dances and occasionally as a residence.

"We nearly lost the school several times," Hunt said.

The first was probably in the 1930s, when a man brought his wife and children by to see where he had been educated. They lived there for a few days while the man looked for work.

It was cold, so they kept stoking the wood fire in the iron stove and the roof around the chimney caught fire.

"They threw snowballs up and saved the roof," Hunt said.

Eventually, the school fell into disrepair. By 1961, the little schoolhouse sat decaying on a lot for sale in the Summer Haven subdivision.

Albert Lufkin, whose daughter Donnetta has attended school in the one-room building, was driving by one

day when he saw two men carrying off the split shingle roof, Hunt said.

"He told them, ‘You're tearing down our schoolhouse,'" Hunt said. "‘We didn't know that, we'll tell our boss,' the workers said."

The John H. Page land company donated the land and schoolhouse to the Payson-Pine Chamber of Commerce for restoration.

Men in the area donated labor to make repairs, Hunt said.

The original windows and furnishings had been carried away over the years, so over time, they were replaced, as artifacts and antiques were discovered.

Lufkin and former student Stan Fuller each had large pieces of the slate chalkboard. Those are the only original items in the school.

"Most schools had pianos, but we didn't, we had an organ," Tuffy Peach said, at a dedication of the school as a historic site. Tuffy used to deliver mail on horseback in Strawberry and his sister Edith was the last teacher at the school.

Upon hearing this, Hunt's husband's grandmother donated an organ stored in her chicken shed.

A 118-year-old United States flag is displayed within the schoolhouse. It has just 42 stars. The desks in the schoolhouse came out of the basement of the Pine Strawberry School when they modernized.

The building is now a museum owned and operated by the Arizona Historical Society and operated by the Pine Strawberry Archaeological and Historical Society. Donations are accepted, but they are not required.

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