Yellow Creek Schoolhouse listed in the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties

Story by Brittany Sprout, Public Affairs Specialist

Imagine an entire town’s worth of children in one room – that probably seems a bit chaotic, right? Well, historically, that was the norm for many rural towns, and it worked out pretty well at the time! The BLM has officially (and happily) listed the Yellow Creek Schoolhouse in the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties to preserve this educational history indefinitely.

From 1906 to 1943, the Yellow Creek Schoolhouse in Rio Blanco County served as an education and social hub for communities in Northern Colorado. Like schools today, the Yellow Creek Schoolhouse served many purposes such as hosting events, educating the youth, and providing resources to families – except in 1906, these hubs tended to be much smaller than what we have today. They were known as one-room schoolhouses and were common in rural areas during the 19th and 20th centuries, before slowly closing and being replaced by larger schools by the mid-1900s.

 

A small rectangular building in a field.
The small rectangular Yellow Creek Schoolhouse stands with north and east facades and a wood shingled roof. This photo was taken in 1989 by Robert B. Watson. The school was open for nearly forty years except for closures that occurred due to the 1918 flu epidemic and smallpox in 1927. The BLM has maintained many records and photos on the history of Yellow Creek Schoolhouse and this historical designation will ensure further preservation.

 

The Yellow Creek Schoolhouse represents significant history in architecture, education, and social history for rural communities in Colorado. Preservation of Yellow Creek allows us to reflect on history and learn about the early development of Colorado communities and early education in rural America.

 

Handwritten drawing from a school newspaper featuring mountains and a small one room school.
The Yellow Creek School News Cover illustration from 1936 depicts a small, shed addition to the back of the school which is no longer standing. The initials on this illustration “H.L.G. Jr.” stand for Hugh L. Caldwell Jr., a student at the school.

 

One-room schoolhouses typically held a small number of pupils ranging from first graders to those in eighth grade ready to graduate, which is much different from our schools today. At the time, a majority of one-room schoolhouses had mostly female teachers, which is true for the Yellow Creek Schoolhouse. These schoolhouses also were sometimes the first and only school building in the area for decades and represented the American commitment to providing education to all children, regardless of population size or location. One-room schoolhouses allowed education to be readily available and provided a social center – the Yellow Creek Schoolhouse was known to host Christmas programs, dances, seasonal parties, fundraisers, and even a wedding.

 

Two photographs of small classes of students from 1915 (8 students) and 1927 (11 students and a teacher).
It was common to have small class sizes of five to fifteen students of varying ages in rural schoolhouses. Students were given books and materials based on their grade and could work at their own pace, practicing reading, writing, and mathematics every day. Students could rely on the teacher or older students to help with their studies, On the left is the Yellow Creek School student body sometime after 1915. The photo on the right depicts Yellow Creek School students and teacher Grace Armitage in the 1927–1928 school year.

 

The Yellow Creek Schoolhouse is a one-story gable roofed, rectangular building with large windows that could be opened to allow light and ventilation into the room. Windows were placed along long walls to provide the greatest amount of light. The teacher’s desk commonly sat opposite of the door, with an aisle up the middle to separate two sides of seating for students. It was common for schoolhouses to separate seating for boys and girls on either side of the room, although it is not confirmed if the Yellow Creek Schoolhouse followed this practice. Outside of the school, some fencing remains to indicate a schoolyard and depressions that could indicate privy pits. A small shed was also built in the late 1930s.

 

A small one room school building with a stove pipe on the roof.
Originally, the roof of the school was covered with dirt and eventually shingles were added in 1915. Today, only wood boards remain on the roof with few remnants of shingles. There is also a stove pipe on the eastern slope of the roof. Logs with square-notched corners can be seen where some of the original tin siding has fallen off.
The wall of an old building including writing and shipping information from the early 1900s.
The tin siding, textured to look like brick, still has the shipping information written on the walls from S.V. Shankland in Rifle Colorado. The Shankland family also funded new roofing sometime between 1908 and 1915. It is believed that the Shankland family or George Lambert built this building for unknown purposes before selling it to the school district where it officially became a schoolhouse.

 

Although there are many things we don’t know about the Yellow Creek Schoolhouse and other schoolhouses across America that have aged or been destroyed, we hope to preserve what we do know. The BLM is proud to preserve this small slice of history and share it with the public. We thank the State Historic Preservation Office for allowing us to make this site official!