Missouri Heights Schoolhouse History

They came from all over—Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Nova Scotia and, yes, Missouri. And they brought with them what they could carry in covered wagons, on horseback, and even on foot. They came over Independence Pass through Aspen and on the Rio Grande Railroad through Glenwood Springs.  

Pioneers all, hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families, they settled on the high mesa above the Roaring Fork valley. They homesteaded where Ute Indians once summered, and they cleared the land of sagebrush, cactus, scrub oak and pinion. They planted potatoes in soil so fertile that their crops rivaled those of Idaho. They toiled in rain-starved fields and scraped by with the help of their neighbors. They raised beef cattle and sheep and planted hay, wheat, alfalfa and barley. And those that came from Missouri named the high mesa after their home state. 

1937 BoysThe first schoolhouse on the Mesa would be built in 1888. Four more would follow. The last of the one-room schoolhouses, Missouri Heights Schoolhouse, was constructed in 1917, by area ranchers and farmers under the watchful eye of Fred Holgate, a carpenter and neighbor rancher. The site was donated by the Moore family ranch and most of the materials used were donated by community members. It was the schoolhouse most centrally located on the mesa and served not only as an education center for children living there, but as a gathering place for community meetings, socials and festive dances. Families would travel miles on horseback, in wagons and buggies to meet with neighboring ranchers and catch up on local gossip. Most gatherings began long past sunset, after feeding time, and lasted until the wee hours of the morning. There was always plenty of food, laughter and knee-slapping, foot-stomping music.

Girls & TeacherThe last class was held in 1956. Thereafter, children on the Heights were bussed to school in Carbondale. In the early 1960’s, Jim Quackenbush, a relative of the Moore family, sold the schoolhouse and surrounding property to the newly formed Missouri Heights Community League, a local organization created to preserve the Missouri Heights Schoolhouse. In 1963, the League was incorporated as a non-profit entity, elected a board of directors and began taking steps to make much needed repairs. In 1999, the schoolhouse was listed on both the National and State registries of historic places. The League received a grant from the Colorado Historical Society and, with additional community support, began extensive renovation of the schoolhouse and accessory buildings. Construction was completed in 2002.    

Today, as the old, historic ranches are being sold to make way for residential development, the schoolhouse serves as a vivid reminder of the ranching and farming traditions that once existed in Missouri Heights. The schoolhouse is the only remaining historic building on the mesa that is available for public use. With glorious views of Mount Sopris, it remains a wonderful venue for people to gather; for social occasions, weddings, meetings and indeed, for educational workshops.

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