Back to the Basics: Frontier Schools

5 Oct

South Boulder Schoolhouse, Eldorado Springs, Colorado; 1880s. Photo by J.B. Sturtevant. Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

The first schoolhouse in Boulder, Colorado, was built in 1860. During the next hundred years, the people of Boulder County established sixty-six school districts. A district was established only after proof was provided that there were at least 10 children between the ages of five and twenty-one years of age living in the proposed area. The family with the most children often donated the land for the schoolhouse and took the teacher into its home to provide her or him a place to live.

In 1961, the remaining school districts were consolidated into the two we know today, the St. Vrain and Boulder Valley school districts. This move was not one that was embraced by everyone. In an oral history interview, Isabella Mayhoffer, a former county superintendent, commented that the two reorganized districts now spent more but accomplished no more with their special projects than the rural districts ever did. She remembered the rural school districts this way:

“The rural districts were a home-like situation where the teachers were extremely sincere and most of them very capable. They had a “tutor” attitude toward their children. It was a love affair. [The children] loved the school and the teacher loved them, and the community was back of them…sort of a family affair.”

The above information is taken from the beginning of Anne Dyni’s book, Back to the Basics: The Frontier Schools of Boulder County, Colorado, 1860­-1960. As part of her research for that book Anne Dyni conducted dozens of oral history interviews for the Maria Rogers Oral History Program. Those interviews and more have now been collected into the “Pioneer Schools of Boulder County Special Collection.” The collection is a work in progress, but you can hear our recently posted podcast in which teachers from one-room schoolhouses talk about their living situations and jobs, and you can listen to many of the interviews in their entirety by going to the special collection on our digital archive (click on the yellow “Special Collections” button and then on “Pioneer Schools of Boulder County” in the blue box.)

Back to the Basics: The Frontier Schools of Boulder County is full of fascinating facts and wonderful old photographs. It is available at all Boulder Library branches and can be purchased used from

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