The Fairview School
Story and photo by Eugene Blake
One-room country schoolhouses and those who attended them are becoming rare. But one of these school buildings – Fairview School seven miles north of Gunnison – is again becoming a vital part of the historic Ohio Creek community.
The school began in 1881 when local settlers established District 10 with the encouragement of a former teacher, Lewis Easterly, who served on its board for 52 years. By 1882 work had begun on a log school, but a tent was rented at the start of the fall term. Rev. Thomas Cook was hired as the first teacher. In 1883 the log schoolhouse was completed and given the name Fairview because of the view of the Anthracite Mountain Range and Carbon Peak to the north.
Newspaper records show there were 25 scholars in 1886 and 36 by 1905. Because of Easterly’s role in its formation and continued support, Fairview was sometimes referred to as the Easterly School. His daughter, Sara, became superintendent of schools in Gunnison County, continuing her father’s legacy. Easterly’s granddaughter, Helen Winslow, comments, “Grandfather was the youngest Civil War veteran of the Union Army. When he was nine years old, he went with his uncles to deliver horses to the Union forces. Then he enlisted. He regularly attended Grand Army of the Republic conventions – the last at age 97 shortly before his death.”
In 1906 the present school was built on property donated by T. W. Lightly. Three former Union soldiers, Robert McMaster and Frank and Hannibal Martin, were awarded the building contract. The old log structure was moved on skids about two miles to the Easterly Ranch where it can be seen today on the Frank Buffington property. Frank’s grandparents, Clyde and Grace Buffington, purchased the Easterly Ranch, and his sister, Judy Buffington Sammons, remembers, “Our dad used the old log school as a grainery.”
The new building consisted of one large room with a cloakroom, attic, and porch – much as it looks today. Large windows provided good lighting and, no doubt, a distracting view for the pupils. Wisely, blackboards obstructed the “fair view” to the north. Many students rode horses to school, where an eight-stall barn was erected in 1908. Drinking water was often carried from nearby Ohio Creek. Along with the elementary grades, Fairview provided two years of high school education.
Betty Moore Evans of Buena Vista, Colorado, and her sister, Rosalie Munis of Phillipsburg, Montana, attended Fairview for two years before the school was closed in 1936 and students were bused into Gunnison. They are believed to be the only surviving Fairview students. Betty remembers, “There were only 12 students at that time and the teacher had her hands full with the older kids.”
In the early years, the Ohio Creek Literary and Debating Society was organized, met at the school, and was most active in the less busy winter months. Musical performances and plays were presented by the school children for community entertainment. Other activities included church services, picnics, potluck suppers, elections, spelling bees, Christmas services, and dances – all pointing up the role of the Fairview School in the life of the Ohio Creek community. “When I was young, our parents, Jim and Betty Buffington, attended potluck dinners and dances at the Fairview School,” said Sammons.
For years the building was maintained by unofficial volunteers like the Reddens. There has been a Redden family member on the board since the founding of the association in 1964. At that time the school building was purchased by the nonprofit Fairview Community Association for $850 from the Gunnison Watershed School District. The original board of directors of the new community association were: Aubrey Spann, Harry Miller, Wilbur Redden, Pauline Moore, and Allan Stratman. Other family names that show up in records include Buffingtons, Guerrieris, Robbins, Trampes, Littles, Campbells, Eilebrechts, Gierharts, and Szallars – some of whom are still active in the organization.
Ohio Creek Home Extension Club met at the school. Phyllis Guerrieri remembers, “In the 1960s we were asked to sell pie at the all-day auction held to dispose of the buildings being covered by Blue Mesa Reservoir. We made enough money to put a corrugated steel roof on the schoolhouse and have the piano tuned. We also made curtains for the windows and appliquéd the brands from the local ranches on them.”
The building was used for 4-H club meetings, community events mostly of a social nature, and other gatherings. Some weddings were even performed there.
But time began to take its toll on the nearly century old structure. When the roof began to leak the diagonally laid, hardwood floor was threatened. In 2004, Gail Dusa, a relative newcomer to the community and board member of the Gunnison Rotary Club, proposed re-roofing the school as a club project. “I simply showed them a picture of the old roof, expressed my concerns about the floor, and the club membership voted to provide $8,500 for a new metal roof.”
As the renovation proceeded, it became obvious the electrical wiring needed to be replaced. Glen Duban, owner of the Castleton Ranch, responded positively to a request by Dusa.
Dexter Guerrieri of New York City, whose family belongs to the community association, arranged for Preservation Volunteers to spend part of two summers cleaning and painting. In 2003, some young French architectural students spent a month working on the school’s restoration.
The Gunnison Valley Leadership Class of 2005 accepted the school as their community service project, painted the building and outhouse, and installed a propane heating stove. Gunnison businessman and class member, John Solanik of Mountain Fireplaces, provided the stove.
In 1999, Rebecca Rose successfully encouraged the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners to designate the Fairview School a Gunnison County Landmark. A commemorative plaque is now displayed near the entrance to the school.
The 2011 board of directors of the Fairview Community Association was made up of both long-term and more recent residents: Dusa, president; LeeAnn Mick, vice-president; Julie Winn, secretary; Pam Christian and Brett Redden, co-treasurers; and Sammons, historian.
Dusa explains her passion for the Fairview School this way: “As a retired teacher, I’ve always felt an affinity for the school. All my great-great-grandfathers built schools. In 1893 one of those ancestors built a log school in Oregon which was also named Fairview. It was used until 1907. Getting acquainted with the local ranching families – people who have lived here for generations – reconnects me to my family’s pioneer ranching heritage.”
The Fairview Community Association now sponsors programs and events that attract local residents and summer visitors. Evening events usually start with a potluck supper followed by a guest speaker. Programs the past year were Duane Vandenbusche’s “History of the Ohio Creek Valley”; Bob Rosette, “Wild Mushrooms”; Dave Primus on “What’s Under Blue Mesa Reservoir”; and Judy Sammon’s “Tales Behind the Tombstones”. Other activities have included dances and cowboy poetry readings. A newer event is the community yard sale each August.
Dusa concludes, “Because of positive community support, this building can create another 100 years of memories while keeping memories of the last 100 years alive in the hearts and minds of all who pass through the doors of Fairview Schoolhouse.” g
Eugene Blake is a retired Presbyterian pastor and freelance writer – primarily for ag-related publications. Although he lives in Winfield, Kansas, he summers in Gunnison. Growing up in the Sandhills of Nebraska, he attended a one-room school and never dreamed he’d, one day, be asked to write about one.
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