Eggers School offers glimpse into Poudre Canyon history

A ride up Poudre Canyon takes the traveler through scenery of massive proportions. Granite cliffs tower over the wild Cache la Poudre River rushing far below the roadway, impressive in their timelessness.

Human settlement in the canyon hasn’t been as permanent. The earliest inhabitants were only passing through – the summering Utes, the trapping French, the enterprising tie-hacks harvesting trees for the railroad that never came up the canyon. Later arrivals found precious little gold to mine, and towns like Manhattan and Poudre City joined the Native American rock shelters and burial grounds as mostly forgotten bits of history.

The canyon came into its own at the beginning of the 20th century, when tourists began driving along the river to camp and fish and hunt and marvel at that impressive scenery. Summer cabins sprang up like mushrooms after a gentle rain. Stores and gas stations followed to serve the seasonal visitors — and the Colorado State University forest researchers camped out in nearby Pingree Park. Small resorts still dot the canyon, and the number of inhabitants more than doubles from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Year-round residents who ran these early establishments needed more permanent services for themselves. Soon after Fred and Alma Eggers opened the post office near what early cattle ranchers had called the Round Corral – on the river near the bridge to Pingree Park – they decided their three sons and the children of the ranchers needed a school. The Eggers School (Elkhorn District No. 53) was completed in 1933, built with logs cut in the Chambers Lake area and chinked with a mixture of sawdust and cement.

The first class of 10 pupils was taught by Jesse Ault, who would drive seven of the students to school from as far away as the Koenig Ranch at Pingree Park in his Model T Ford. The Eggers School remained open for about a decade, closed during World War II, then reopened in 1948. Ethel Straight taught there until 1959, when a modern Poudre Canyon School — part of the new unified Poudre School District — opened in Old Poudre City, near the then-new Poudre Canyon Chapel. The new school building doubled as a community center for upper canyon residents, and the old log school was closed for good.

Moved but not forgotten
By the 1960s, the town of Eggers was also fading into history, its post office closed and families moved away. To protect the little one-room log schoolhouse from vandalism, it was moved to a donated parcel of land not far from the new school. While the board of directors of Old Poudre City, now owners of the Eggers School building, considered how to put it to good use, time flowed on as surely as the river through the canyon.

In 1978, nearly 20 years after the log school closed, Eggers School students held a reunion with Mrs. Straight. They reflected on the quality of the education they had received in the remote school. Among those were the three Case sisters, whose parents owned the renowned Arrowhead Lodge on the river. Sandy Case Lundt retired as principal of Poudre High School in 2009.

By 1995, the district had closed that “new” school and the building functioned only as a community center. The log building was used mostly for storage, but the old Eggers School was not forgotten. In 2011, with the new Poudre Canyon Fire Station No. 2 replacing the old community center next door, the board of Old Poudre City voted to turn the one-room schoolhouse into a museum of canyon history.

Enter local resident Fritz Venable and a tiny band of dedicated volunteers.

“It was just a mess, and we had to clean it all out,” she recalled. “We even washed the logs.”

Uncovering artifacts
In the process, Venable unearthed a veritable time capsule. The student desks with hinged seats were still intact. The two wood stoves were still there, even though they no longer heated the building. The canvas backdrop used to convert the schoolroom into a performing arts venue was in near-new condition, painted with advertisements from sponsors such as Steele’s Market and Ted’s Place.

Among the boxes of junk, Venable discovered a treasure trove of old books and student papers, including some of Mrs. Straight’s lesson plans from the early 1950s.

“They learned elocution by reciting their lessons in front of the whole class,” Venable said. “There were only about 10 or 11 kids in the school at one time, and the younger ones learned from the older ones.”

Perhaps the most amazing find was the blackboard still sporting chalk signatures from the 1978 reunion. Venable had those covered in Plexiglas. The rest of building is now filled with artifacts — many donated by long-ago Eggers students — that recreate the rural one-room school in the years just before the Space Age, in a place where the bear-guards on the windows still get a workout in the fall.

The museum opened in August, to coincide with the annual craft fair at the chapel, but has been closed for the winter. Venable plans to reopen on Mother’s Day weekend – May 12-13 – weather permitting, and to welcome visitors 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays through the summer. There is no admission fee, but donations are cheerfully accepted to help maintain the old Eggers School as it was.

“We could be open more if it gets busy, but we’ll have to see how it goes,” she said.

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