Ouray County Rural Schools
Today Ouray and Ridgway are Ouray County’s only two school districts, but over 100 years ago Ouray had 13 independent school districts ranging from Colona in the north to Red Mountain in the south.
School District No. 6 included the southern end of the county with schools in Ironton, Guston and Red Mountain Town. In1891 District 6 attendance was 128 students. Although the Guston and Red Mountain Town schools were only a mile a apart, all the students could not attend one school due to the bad roads and the depth of the snow. Residents of Red Mountain Town boasted of having school at the highest altitude of any school in Colorado.
Just slightly further north and on the other side of Hayden Mountain was District No. 13 which had schools at the Camp Bird Mill (Level 14) and at Sneffels near the Revenue Mill. Barbara Spencer, who just celebrated her 95th birthday, taught grades 1-8 at the Camp Bird School in the late 1930s. She lived in the Mill Boarding House. The school closed in 1942 when the last two pupils moved to Ouray. District No. 12 served the Dexter Creek area with one school near the Calliope Mine.
Most rural schools were north of the City of Ouray in the ranching and farming areas of the county. District No. 3 was founded in 1878 with the Piedmont School. It closed in 1943 and still stands today on County Road 23. Verena Jacobson taught there in the late 1920s. On the other side of the valley was district No. 4 with the Portland School founded in 1878. The building today has been remodeled into a private residence.
Further north of Ridgway District No. 5 was the “Old Dallas School” founded in the town of Dallas in 1883. Directly to the west was District No. 2, referred to as the Upper Dallas district. It had three schools: Upper Dallas Mesa, Upper Dallas and Pleasant Valley. The Pleasant Valley School continued until 1940.
Two schools served district No. 7 on Log Hill Mesa. The Pine Grove School was founded in 1884 and lasted until 1941. The school was moved north of Montrose and eventually taken apart and moved back to Log Hill, but it has yet to be rebuilt. The Pinon Grove School on Log Hill was built in 1912 and closed in 1947. Log Hill resident Jeannie Logan moved it to her property and made it into a guesthouse.
District 9 served the families living along Cow Creek. The original Cow Creek School, built in 1889, was replaced with a new building in 1914. It lasted as a school until 1951. The building still stands on Owl Creek Road.
District 10, organized in 1897, was served by two schools. The Alkali School was located seven miles north of Ridgway. It closed in the late 1930s and the building demolished. The site is currently under the Ridgway Reservoir. Mayfield School was located near the confluence of the Uncompahgre River and Cow Creek. It closed in 1939 and was moved one-half mile north to a local ranch where it still serves as a storage building
The Jutten School and the Uncompahgre School, both located about nine miles south of Montrose, which served some Ouray County residents but the schools were located in Montrose County. District No. 8, the furthest north in Ouray County, served the Colona area with Brower School that served this area until 1915 when the two-storey Colona School was built. This beautiful building still exists today as the Colona Grange and efforts are being made to restore it. School District No. 1, Ouray, and School District No. 11, Ridgway will be separately discussed in future articles.
About the Author: Don Paulson is the curator at the Ouray County Historical Society and Ouray County Museum. He is also a retired Professor of Chemistry where he specialized in organic chemistry. Don is an active member of the Ridgway Railroad Museum, and an avid hiker, 4WD (jeep) enthusiast, and photographer in addition to his duties as curator for the museum.