As years passed and the population of the Payson School District grew — two wooden buildings along Main Street, close to the Presbyterian Church, continued to serve the elementary grades. There was no high school in Payson and few graduates went on to high school or higher education. Those who did went to live with friends or relatives in Globe, Mesa or Flagstaff and attend high school there.

However, in 1918 the school began to offer some high school subjects. A lean-to was added to one of the wooden school buildings and two rooms created for some basic high school classes. By 1920 enough subjects were taught to allow the 16 units needed for graduation. Still the school was not accredited and graduates had to take make-up classes if they went to college. It would be 1973 before the Payson High School was accredited.

The wooden school buildings were remodeled several times, but the reality was they simply were not adequate, either in size or construction. The lower grades were moved to a new site, where the Julia Randall School would later stand. The new building housed the first four grades and Miss Julia Randall became the teacher of grades one and two.

It was in the 1930s that the community took advantage of the government program called the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration). Unlike its predecessors, the new school was built of the reddish rock, which was used in several commercial buildings along Main Street. The rock was quarried south of town near where the Tonto Apaches living on Indian Hill would later set up their permanent camp.

A man named John Hughes owned the quarry, according to Anna Mae Deming, who added, “At least he lived there.” Immediately the school was dubbed “The Rock School.” Each room had a wood stove and the job of maintaining the stoves and keeping them supplied with wood was assigned to Hardin Ezell.

School superintendent and local historian Ira Murphy later wrote, “The building is known ... in educational circles as probably the poorest planned building in Arizona. The building is sturdy and will remain erect after most of us are gone, but the floor planning and the educational usage were never considered by those responsible.”

The new Rock School had a gymnasium and that was perhaps its best community asset, especially for the student sports program. Basketball had come into prominence and up to this point the event had to use Barkdoll’s dance hall.

At the dance hall baskets were erected, the sidelines came almost to the walls, and one row of chairs ringed the building for spectators. If the ball hit one of them it was called out of bounds. The ball was also out of bounds if it hit the big wood stove that heated the hall in winter. This proved a real handicap since the stove was inside the boundary lines. It was common for players to get branded on that stove on cold winter days when it was roaring hot. The home team that practiced in that unlikely court easily beat visiting teams. Further handicaps involved a dance floor that was usually slick from waxing, and the ceiling of the hall was below the top of the backboard at the hoops. This meant the Payson team had learned to work the ball in for close shots and to shoot without much of an arch.

After the Rock School building was completed the basketball games were moved to the new gymnasium. The court was still small, with little room for spectators, but the ceiling was higher. However, two wood stoves heated the building and stood in the corners of the playing floor. Basketball players continued to be branded as they raced to retrieve stray passes.

All 12 grades used the Rock School until a grade school was built about 1955. The Rock School then was used for the high school until the new high school was built in 1962. The Rock School was then used as the junior high until the new one (now Rim Country Middle School) was built.

However in these later years the old Rock School was returned to its original place as an elementary school. An updated façade was constructed, and many new classrooms were added. But the famous old landmark remains to stimulate memories for old-timers and teach Rim Country legends to newcomers.

Contact the reporter 

tmcquerrey@payson.com

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