At one time, the small one-room schoolhouses that spread across rural America were the cornerstone of the local community, along with the local churches and the Town Hall. One special one-room school will be added to the National Historic Registry this week; the Maxwell School in Chaffee County.
The Chaffee County Heritage Area Advisory Board is inviting the public to the presentation of the National Historic Register for the Maxwell School from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 17. The plaque will be presented at 4:30 p.m. at the corner of CR 326 and CR 321/Rodeo Road in Buena Vista.
The Maxwell School, which was also known as Mount Princeton School, was built in 1888, and neighbors with long roots in the county say it was named for the tiny Maxwell creek which ran nearby. It served the children of local farmers and ranchers, with children riding horseback, or riding buckboards to school.
The school was built of handmade cement blocks, and the handprints can still be seen on the bricks. The school measures only 26 ft. by 31 ft. It has a bell tower, but the bell was removed years ago. During the time the school operated, there were 25 female teachers and one male teacher. The first teacher, whose name was Ermel Bunbury, was only 19-years-old. In those days, most rural teachers were women, who would board with local ranch families.
By the late 1920s, only a few children were attending the school. In 1933 it was closed, when the rural student population began to decline and children began to go to school in town. It sat abandoned for many years until a group of local residents became interested in its restoration in 1989. It was a stop-and-go effort due to funding, and because the school has experienced several incidents of vandalism.
The Chaffee County Heritage Area Advisory Board took an active interest, working for grants to restore and protect the school from disintegrating, and pushing to see it added to the National Historic Register.
“I can’t tell you what an achievement this is,” said Melanie Roth, past chairman and member of Chaffee County Heritage Area. “It has been a many-decade project to nominate the school.”
With its new status, the school might join other historic one-room schools across the state and nation, in becoming a teaching site for elementary school students to learn about what education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was like.
For those interested in attending the event, the area is still rugged and the grass is long, so sturdy shoes or boots are recommended and you’re advised to bring your own chairs. Parking is available on the road and behind the school.
Featured image: The Maxwell School is being placed on the National Historic Register. Photo by Jan Wondra.