The Summit Historical Society will host an open house at the Montezuma Schoolhouse today, allowing visitors to take guided tours of the building and the adjacent cemetery and learn more about the history of the area.
“There will be a hike up to the cemetery, which normally you can’t do because it goes through private property, and there are some interesting things up there,” said Christy Nelson, administrator with the Summit Historical Society.
At 10,400 feet, the Montezuma Schoolhouse is one of the highest elevation school buildings in the nation. This wood-frame, clapboard structure was the town’s second schoolhouse.
“One reason Montezuma is so important is that silver was discovered there in 1865, just one mile south of Montezuma, for the first time in Colorado,” said Deanna Speer, archivist for the Summit Historical Society.
The opening of silver mines in the area caused the town’s population to increase so rapidly that the first school, built in 1880, soon became too small to house the growing number of students. This larger structure opened in 1884, and the belfry, bell and entry hall were added later. Protestants held services in the building (the Catholics had their own church), and they greatly appreciated the purchase of an organ, made possible by funds raised through programs and box-supper socials.
“It’s on the historical register, and it’s one of the few schoolhouses in our nation that has the original playground with it,” Speer said.
While visitors like to sit at the one-room school’s original desks and leaf through primers, the more intriguing attractions are the two attached two-seater “outhouses,” one for girls and one for boys. The doors to these facilities were accessible from inside the school, and pupils and teachers used these double-seaters until the school closed in 1958.
The schoolhouse undoubtedly had a ladder or two on its roof, for town rules required that all buildings be so equipped to aid in firefighting. Despite the ladders and the tin collars around all chimneys and smokestacks, also required by town law, Montezuma suffered considerable fire damage in 1915, 1949 and 1958. The building has since been restored.
“It was historically restored about five years ago, with some necessary refurbishment to the rock foundation, by members of the Historical Society,” Speer said. “There were a number of other things that were restored, as well. Dirt has washed down with rain and collected on one side of the building and caused a lot of damage, they had to get that out of there and get the drainage away from the schoolhouse.”