Pioneer Spirit

Pine area museums speak to aspirations of early settlers

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Tom Brossart photo

The Pine-Strawberry Museum is tucked away in the old schoolhouse which also serves as the Pine Community Center.

It’s commonplace to motor through Pine and never take notice of the historic pioneer homes that line both sides of Beeline Highway. Or to know that a museum is tucked away in the old schoolhouse which also serves as the Pine Community Center, a senior center and thrift store.

As a native Arizonan, I drove through the town hundreds of times on my way from the Valley to visit my family in Winslow.

But it wasn’t until 1990 when my wife Kay and I moved to Pine from Payson that we finally began to understand the significance of the homes and the important role the museum plays in preserving the area’s history.

The museum has its roots in a small room inside the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Public Library.

About two decades ago it was moved into old Pine School, which also once served as “the LDS Chapel.” The new facility is much larger, allowing for more room to display artifacts and documents — some of which Mormon settlers brought to the area in the 1800s.

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Tom Brossart photo

Visitors to the Pine Museum need to take time to study this ornate door and see the story it tells of the area’s history.

Among the artifacts that stir the curiosity of visitors are World War II uniforms, a barber chair used in the 1920s, farming implements from the 1800s, cupboards, tableware, sewing machines more than a hundred years old and period clothing.

Also drawing attention is the tin ceiling in the Main Room, which remains today exactly as it was in pioneer days.

As intriguing as the museum is, a thorough understanding of the history of tiny mountain hamlet can’t be obtained without a walk along Beeline to marvel at the pioneer homes, some of which were built just after Pine was settled in 1879.

Members of the Pine-Strawberry Archeological and Historical Society call the stroll a “Walking History Trail,” and markers have been erected in front of each home to explain the significance of the homes.

Some of the houses were originally small log cabins that were added onto over the years. Others were more elaborate and remain much the same as they were when built.

Among those that remain open to visitors is a home located adjacent to the Pine Post Office on the east side of Beeline.

Bert D. Randall, the first white male born in Pine, originally built it in 1905 after marrying Lucy Pearl.

Tales abound that Randall hired a craftsmen who spent a year hand carving banisters, casings and molding in the home.

Current Pine residents remember the Bondurant family living in the home for decades.

Also on the trail, at the north end of town, is a building that originally was the Ford Car Agency and garage.

On the south end of town and the east side of Beeline is Pine’s first post office, built by Frank Fuller in about 1928.

It was later converted into a service station and now is a stand in which honey and other products are sold.

A must see on the trail is the Lazear home in the middle of town. It began as a log structure which remains the heart of the house.

Lazear, his wife, Margaret and their three children lived in the home until the 1930s.

Also on the trail is the original Mulberry Inn — the area’s first motel-type accommodations

Near the Inn is a ditch that once served as an irrigation canal for the entire town running parallel to Beeline.

For more about the Walking History Trail visit: http://www.pinestrawhs.org/tour.html.

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Tom Brossart photo

Misbehaving students might be asked to sit in the dunce’s corner wearing the dunce cap.

Strawberry Schoolhouse

A short drive down winding Fossil Creek Road, past dozens of modern homes, is a piece of history quietly nestled on a corner lot of Strawberry.

Surrounded by development, the Strawberry Schoolhouse, a 125-year old “fossil,” has outlasted most everything around it and will likely outlive these new structures.

You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but this little schoolhouse has been around since Geronimo was still on the loose and being pursued by 20 percent of the U.S. Army, the Pleasant Valley War was raging in Tonto Basin and pioneers were still settling the state.

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Tom Brossart photo

The interior of the Strawberry Schoolhouse has been painstakingly refurbished to hold what you might expect in a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse.

The Strawberry Schoolhouse stands as evidence of the pioneer quest for knowledge.

The schoolhouse is made of thick, worn pine logs, chopped from the surrounding forests and hoisted into place during a one-day log-raising party in the autumn of 1884. Today, the logs grudgingly support a refurbished roof of shingles.

Although tired — evident by a slight tilt and slouch the entire building takes — these boards, crafted together with a half dovetail notch, have held up through enough students, cowboys, landowners and ranchers to make anything keel over in exhaustion.

Where others have fallen, however, dedicated volunteers and residents have kept this one-room schoolhouse standing, allowing visitors the opportunity to peek at what it was like to attend school in the Wild West.

The interior, painstakingly refurbished, holds what you might expect to find in a sparse, turn-of-the-century schoolhouse: a few rows of seating, a black, pot-belly stove, slate chalkboard, organ and teacher’s desk. The space also holds a few surprises that hint at the social norms of the time.

A dunce’s corner for misbehaving pupils and a set of rules hung neatly on the wall. The rules for teachers, who were primarily woman, include no keeping company with men, loitering in ice cream stores, smoking, dressing in bright colors and under no circumstances, dying your hair.

Schoolhouse volunteer Mary Hunt laughs as the list, noting things sure have changed for teachers in the 21st century.

Hunt’s family history is intricately connected to the schoolhouse, and the family donated several items to the building when it was restored.

Mary said her husband loved to visit the schoolhouse and its restoration meant a lot to him, like so many other old-timers in the area.

Mary can recall nearly the whole history of the schoolhouse, from its humble beginnings to its current state today.

She explained in 1884, the beginnings of the schoolhouse took shape. Families living in the area at the time asked the county school superintendent to build a school for local children. The superintendent approved the request and the Strawberry Valley School District was formed.

The location for the schoolhouse was decided by cowboys who used a cattle rope to count the distance in lengths between one cabin on the west end of the valley and another cabin on the east end. In the middle, the schoolhouse was built.

Inside, the interior was outfitted elegantly for the time. Wainscoting covered the lower half of the walls, with wallpaper above. The ceiling, originally cloth, was replaced with wood and the floor was made of sawn boards. Students sat at two-person factory-made desks, an upgrade from wooden benches and tables common at the time.

After three decades of use, officials were forced to close the school due to a lack of students.

Several families subsequently lived in the building until it was ultimately abandoned and left to rot.

Finally, in 1967, an official from the Page Land and Cattle Company bought the site just before the schoolhouse was to be torn down and handed it over to the Payson-Pine Chamber of Commerce. Volunteers shored up the outside of the structure so it was weatherproof and secure. More than a decade later, the historical society restored the interior and opened the schoolhouse to visitors. In 1981, the building was dedicated as a historical monument.

The Strawberry Schoolhouse is a place of history and rightfully holds the title of Oldest Standing Schoolhouse in Arizona.

If you go, the schoolhouse is located on Fossil Creek Road, 1.75 miles from Highway 87 in Strawberry. It is open on weekends and holidays May through September.

If you are lucky, Hunt might even let you in during the off-season. Hunt still lives nearby and often lets curious travelers in if she sees them standing outside.

For more information, visit www.pine strawhs.org/schoolhouse.html.

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