School days

The Guffey school in the 1980s. (courtesy photo)

Although there has been a school in Guffey for over one hundred twenty years, the school building, at its present site, will be celebrating one hundred years in 2018.

The school is planning some special events throughout the 2018 school year, according to Principal Martine Walker.

The first school in Guffey opened in 1895 at an unknown location, but not the present site, according to Charles “Charlie” Alfred Dell (1905 – 1983) in “Guffey: One Hundred Years of Memories.”

The first school was a town school, and Dell’s aunt taught in that first school.

Several years later, an addition was added to the existing town schoolhouse and it became part of a school district, said Dell.

Besides Dell’s aunt, another of the Guffey School’s early teachers was Hilda Dorothea “Thea” Carlson, born in Idaho Springs in 1893. Thea graduated from the State Teachers College of Colorado in Greeley in 1913, and accepted a teaching position at the Guffey School.

Carlson taught for three school years there before marrying her best friend Helen’s brother, the cowboy from Guffey, William Ferrington in 1916. The Ferringtons homesteaded northeast of Guffey (from “A Guffey Teacher,” by Linda Bjorklund in the November, 2014 Ute Country News.)

In March, 1918, the electors of a proposed joint school district between Fremont and Park Counties, met for a vote on the consolidated school district. Out of 79 ballots cast, 76 were in favor of the joint school district then and Guffey School was in Joint District 49.

Among those voting were the Ferringtons and Helen Ferrington. A board of school directors were also elected.

In April, the voters of Joint District 49 met and voted a one-time-only levy tax of seven mills for the purpose of selecting and buying a site, constructing a schoolhouse and furnishing it.

Lots 1, 18, 19 and 20 in block 18 were approved for purchase from E.C. Carver. In May, two contractors from Cripple Creek, J.C. Harker “Hawkie” and his father, were selected with the lowest bid of $3,790 to build the schoolhouse, according to Ellen N. Pigg, Joint District 49 board of director’s secretary.

According to Dell, many of the old buildings in Guffey and buildings the county donated were torn down and the lumber re-used in construction of the new schoolhouse.

Everyone helped, even the kids, and Dell said “after that we had the cleanest little town you ever saw.”

Unfortunately, with World War I, the cost of building materials almost doubled and the school could not be completed at its first estimated cost. The board decided to complete only the three rooms, leaving the exterior, the hall and the water unfinished.

Originally, the school was heated by wood and had two chimneys. At some point there was also a water tank added in the attic, filled by a hand pump that supplied water for the school.

By September, the three rooms were complete and Principal Margaret MacKenzie ($110/month salary) and Ruth Merriam, primary and intermediate grade teacher ($90/month) were hired.

From early October that year until early December, the school was closed because of the flu epidemic.

Finally in early December the school re-opened and another teacher was needed and hired because of the thirty-four pupils. Edna Terry was hired as intermediate teacher. There was one teacher for first – fourth grades, one for fifth – eight, and one for high school.

Also in 1918, teacher housing was built across from the school. It was 30 feet in length and 32 feet wide and only one story.

The property was owned by E.T. Hickey in 1897, before the building was built for the teacher, but there is no mention of how the site was purchased, who purchased it, or who built the housing.

According to Maude Marie (West) Ownbey in her “100 Years of Guffey” book, the outside of the housing was built from dynamite boxes; that’s what’s under the wooden siding.

All the window glass came from Cripple Creek after the 1896 fires. “That’s recycling Guffey-style,” Ownbey said.

The Ownbeys purchased the teacherage in the 1960s and it is still in the family today.

Lillian Fayetta (Pike) Langerock was ten years old when she and her family moved to Guffey in 1928. Langerock remembers two teachers well, Mrs. Kirkpatrick and Mrs. Koontz, when she went to the Guffey School. She remembers that the teachers’ housing had a marble counter top in the kitchen, and Koontz had parties for the school students.

Some of them included “taffy pulls and candy making parties, card parties, Halloween parties and cookouts in the creek bed south of the jail, potatoes fried over an open fire (full of ashes), wieners and marshmallows, and we loved it.”

Sometime in the 1950s, the school was temporarily closed and then was permanently closed in 1961, when the state ordered all school districts to re-district.

There were so few students in Guffey’s first – sixth grades that they were bused to Cripple Creek and Canon City. It was at this time that the Guffey School joined other schools in this part of Park County under the RE-2 school district.

In the 1960s and 1970s when the school was closed, the Guffey Community Club held meetings in the school and hosted dances where they served alcohol, according to club minutes provided by Ownbey. The club disbanded because of internal differences.

Bob and Peg Larson moved to Guffey in the summer of 1977, and Bob taught school and Peg was a speech therapist in Canon City. When Bob got out of teaching in Canon City around 1979, mainly because of the long drive, many community members and parents of students approached him about re-starting the school in Guffey, eliminating the long bus rides for the students.

The Larsons approached the RE-2 school board about re-starting the Guffey School, but they were turned down for lack of funds.

In 1980, the Larsons opened a private school in their small home in Pike Trails west of Guffey, called Black Mountain Elementary School. Bob taught grades K – sixth and Peg kept her job in Canon City.

Funding came from a monthly tuition of $50, some paid in cash, but mostly by gratuities or bartering, said Peg Larson in an interview. More than half the school supplies were acquired and donated by the Larsons.

The number of students that year fluctuated from seven to 12 with 10 ending the year, said Peg. They held the Christmas program that year at the old school because it was too much for their small house, she remembers.

In 1981, under pressure from school students parents and the Larsons, as well as seeing the success of the Larsons Black Mountain School, the RE-2 school board voted to remodel and modernize the old Guffey School building and re-open for classes. They hired Bob as teacher for grades K – sixth for the 1981 – 82 school year and Lennie Dilts as his aid.

According to Bob, it also was becoming a little too much to continue having the school at their house. “When the school was there,” Bob said, “that little house took a beating.”

The remodel was started in May, 1981, but due to construction delays, was not able to open until Dec. 10 that year, at a cost of about $32,000 to the district.

So the Larsons continued to host another half of a school year at their house with even more students that before, related Peg.

When the Guffey School finally re-opened, there were nineteen students in grades K – sixth. The remodeled school had three rooms, a stage and indoor plumbing.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Larson retired and the RE-2 board had to hire two teachers to replace him, said Peg Larson. In 1988, Peg started teaching at the Guffey School.

In 1995, the RE-2 district created the charter school, with two operating sites, Lake George and Guffey.

Early in 1996, the RE-2 board approved operating funds for the charter school, which was to open in the fall of 1996.

Ginny Jaramillo was hired as administrator/principal of both schools and Frank Ruvo (president of the Guffey Community Charter School’s board of directors today) stepped up as president of the charter school board from vice president.

By the summer of 1999, the two schools, Lake George and Guffey, decided to separate and each become a separate charter school. There were unresolved conflicts between the two schools.

The Flume, July 23, 1999, reported that, “the charter school board does not represent the Guffey community, said concerned citizens, and it was felt that Guffey needed to govern and manage its own school. The RE-2 board approved the application for a separate charter school in Guffey after two executive sessions and considerably public debate.”

Peg Larson was the RE-2 board member from Guffey at the time and voted for the separation. She had been teaching for the charter school in Guffey since 1996 and at the Guffey School since 1988.

In the fall of 1996, a 4,500 square foot addition to the old adobe schoolhouse was started on the south side of the Guffey Community Charter School.

The addition included a multi-purpose room, office space, and kitchen upstairs; two bathrooms on the original schoolhouse level and classrooms downstairs.

Unfortunately, due to improper and inadequate construction problems and legal problems resulting from that, the opening of the addition was delayed until October, 1997.

To fix the unsafe structure cost the district an additional $300,000, reported the Rocky Mountain News.

Another big event occurred at the GCCS when the roof of the original schoolhouse started sagging and had to be replaced in 2011. The problem was noticed a couple of days before school was to start that year. That part of the building was closed and the 10 middle school students who had their classroom there were bused one mile to Mountain Light Real Estate, at Colorado State Highway 9 and Park County Road 102, for classes.

First the interior drop ceiling was torn out, exposing the heavy, 93-year old beams, rafters and roof decking. The roof decking was actually milled one inch “X” wooden decking, not flakeboard or plywood.

One could see the old, grey, weathered wood of the second-hand lumber used and the lighter newly-milled wood that was used in construction in 1918. Also, several of the old rafters had snapped with the stress.

Looking up, one could see the two old chimneys going up through the roof. The chimneys were taken down to below the new roof line. One could also see the old water tank which was removed, as well. Then the entire roof was torn off and with it, sadly, another piece of Guffey history was gone.

Ruvo said that they found bits and pieces of old newspapers from the 1920s that had apparently been used as insulation. The old beams and rafters were replaced with modern, engineered trusses.

The old school bell, which rang in 1918 and still rings today, was housed in a bell tower on the north side of the original schoolhouse. The tower was removed with the roof and is now housed in a cupola on the roof in the front of the building.

High speed internet came to the GCCS and the local surrounding area in 2014. With grants and donations, the RE-2 school district purchased the twenty acres and the hill (the highest point in the Guffey bowl) east of the school to acquire line-of-sight access to South Park Telephone’s high speed internet service.

High speed internet is a must for schools in this day and age, said Pam Moore, then school principal and spearhead for the project.

Over the years, the Guffey school has been a center of the community. Community members have volunteered their time teaching, tutoring and mentoring students. Many dedicated community members have donated countless hours to get the Guffey school where it is today.

The school has sponsored many community events, including the 9Health Fair, town hall meetings, flu shot clinics, informative and educational programs with guest speakers, fundraising events, a carnival, seminars, and a community garden, to name just a few.

The school also offers their annual programs like open house, a Halloween parade, Veteran’ Day program, winter program, Pie Palooza, spring program and graduation ceremonies.

Join the GCCS in celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2018. First though, Walker is looking for people who have memories of the Guffey School and who would be willing to share their memories with the public at perhaps a community potluck.

Everything is still in the planning stages, Walker said. Contact Walker at with your Guffey School memories.

Anyone with information and/or pictures of the location of the original 1895 schoolhouse, pictures of the addition and year, pictures of the schoolhouse in 1918 – 1981, or any other information about the school, please contact the writer of this article through The Flume.

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