Tales from the Tread: Step back in time at the historic Mesa School
June 10, 2014
Step back in time and tour the historic Mesa Schoolhouse to experience student life at the turn-of-the-century. Bring the whole family to learn about historic toys and recess games, Routt County one-room school history and more. Kids can play with replica historic toys and enjoy other hands-on activities.
The Tread of Pioneers Museum presents open houses and tours at the school twice a month all summer long. The next open house is scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. June 19.
The red Mesa Schoolhouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located at 33985 U.S. Highway 40 (near the base of Rabbit Ears Pass). The tours are co-sponsored by the city of Steamboat Springs and Historic Routt County.
In pioneer times, make-shift schools began in the homes and outbuildings of settlers; mothers were the first teachers and bibles were the first school books.
The first school was built in Steamboat Springs by town founder James H. Crawford in 1884.
As the county population grew, dozens of one-room schools scattered the vast and isolated Routt County landscape. The early schools were centrally located to serve students who lived nearby and needed to walk or ride horseback to school.
Although historical records indicate that the first Mesa Schoolhouse was built on private property in 1890, the present Mesa Schoolhouse was built by Art Gumprecht in 1916.
This classic Routt County schoolhouse is a one-story, wood frame structure, with a covered porch entry and bell tower. Originally, the white three-room schoolhouse included a small library, art room and cloakroom.
Sometime later, a small house called a "teacherage" was constructed so that the teacher could live onsite and take care of all teaching, student activities, school maintenance and coordinating the school as a community center for all types of social functions in the isolated rural area.
In a video recorded during a 2002 talk at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, Natalie Stanko reminisced about her time teaching at the Mesa School in the 1930s:
“When you were given the job of teacher, you were also given the job of janitor. It was your responsibility to keep the school going and clean, keep the fires going in the winter and carrying in coal and kindling.
“My biggest problem in teaching at a country school was that with so many grades, you had to develop a curriculum among all the grades with different subjects. But the biggest duty, in the wintertime, was keeping the schoolhouse warm.”
Stanko lived in the two-room teacherage house adjacent to the schoolhouse and was paid $85 per month. Stanko hauled hundreds of pails of coal, swept the floors and educated two dozen students in eight grades.
There were 96 districts at the peak of rural school use in Routt County.
The Mesa School was the last county school to be consolidated in 1959 and is one of a few that still stands in its original location.
After the school was privately owned for many years, Historic Routt County coordinated the purchase and rehab of the school and gave it to the city of Steamboat Springs to honor the city's centennial in 2000.
Since then, the building has been managed and maintained by the city for public use including meeting/event rentals.
The Tread of Pioneers Museum opens the school each summer for historical tours, education and interpretation. We hope you will join us this summer.
Candice Bannister is the executive director at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in downtown Steamboat Springs.