Tales from the Tread: Moonhill Schoolhouse remains community hub

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Picture this: It’s the 1930s, and you have just been hired to teach in a one-room schoolhouse called Moonhill somewhere near Clark, Colorado.

This job will entail quite a few things.

Tales from the Tread

Tales from the Tread columns publish the first and third Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today.

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The Moonhill Schoolhouse, near Clark.

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Courtesy photo

Moonhill students, circa 1930.

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Trenia Sanford/courtesy

Community members enjoy a dance at Moonhill Schoolhouse.

• You, and you alone, will teach all ages, all grades, anywhere from 15 to 35 children.

• You will shovel snow, keep the wood- or coal-burning stove going and help manage the horses the kids ride to school.

• You will not get sick days; be ready to be the school nurse and the principal in charge of discipline, too.

• You will have a tiny bedroom cabin of sorts with a cook stove. Beef, game, milk eggs and other supplies will be provided for you.

• The boy’s outhouse will have a tendency to become mysteriously upended each Halloween, so watch out.

It worked well in Routt County for years. Children rode their horses to school, and parents helped the school and teacher survive. My mother, Jo Semotan, really loved Moonhill, because it had a nice hill behind for playing rodeo and building ski jumps and sled runs.

The schoolhouses, all built to the same general plan in the early 1900s, became a hive of social events, such as dances, card games, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings or even funerals.

Everybody danced. You had a good shot at meeting your future spouse there. My mother learned to dance there, and so did I, years after it was no longer a school. It’s also where I learned about how to best hobble-break my horse. You got good advice at the schoolhouse, and still can.

In the old days, the teacher became part of a very close group of people who lived, worked and played together. My mother still speaks so fondly of beloved Moonhill Schoolhouse teachers Maureen Barrows (who brought her young son, Moose along) and Harriet Wait Aspergren, who still reminisces about her teaching days at Moonhill.

In the ’50s, the schoolhouses and the brave teachers who taught in them went by the wayside with school consolidation. You might ask what do schoolhouses do when they retire?

Sadly, some of them were torn down or became private homes. Some lucky schoolhouses, such as Moonhill, are doing for the community what they did before. They’re perfect for it, because they’re centrally located and have lovely dance floors.

Just one small snag — there a lot of new people who didn’t grow up socializing in country schoolhouses. They may not know how to waltz or two-step or even know each other very well.

So we’re introducing a whole new group of people to schoolhouse fun. We have dances and covered dish suppers every fourth Saturday of the month. We teach Zumba at 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays year round, as well as yoga during the summer. In April, we’re hosting a Ladies Equine Tea. Yes, we will ride horses to tea and crumpets at the schoolhouse.

There are also workshops, and people hold their own celebrations, events or meetings there, because the space is very reasonable to rent. It’s also historical and quaint, a perfect country setting.

You won’t remember that TV show you watched on a Saturday night, but you will remember stomping and clapping at the dance. You will remember stories from longtime residents Larry Belton and Paul Bonnifield, and the recently departed Elaine Gay could have told you why you should never miss a schoolhouse dance.

If you haven’t danced there yet, come to our next supper dance Feb. 27. Bring your kids, too. Everybody can learn the Virginia Reel. If you don’t know how, we’ll also teach you the two step.

For more information, visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/moonhillschoolhouse, or watch the newspaper for events.

Trenia Sanford is a Tread of Pioneers Museum board member.

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