The long-forgotten and isolated Soapstone Springs School

Located not far from the Wyoming line was the Soapstone Springs School, one of the most isolated in Larimer County. The area included widely scattered ranches. The school was constructed in 1908 in response for the need to educate area children. It served only a dozen or so families spread out in this vast area.

The schoolhouse was finely crafted of milled lumber, smooth and even. It had clapboard siding and sash windows. The 20-foot by 20-foot concrete foundation was made of a mixture of cement and coarse sand aggregate. Bags of cement had to be hauled in by wagon. The foundation is uneven with some portions composed mainly of rubble stone.

Near the school, and now overgrown with brush, was the well used to supply drinking water for the students. In the well, the rock wall was carefully crafted to create a smooth lining.

The frame building took the form of a typical one room, country school. Most Colorado country schools included eight grades. In the case of Soapstone, only the first five grades were taught. Beyond the fifth grade, students attended Waverly, Buckeye or Carr depending on where their families lived.

The Soapstone Springs School was within District 55 dating back to 1888. It included seven schools covering an area of nearly 1,000 square miles in this sparsely occupied part of Larimer County. The superintendent was required by law to make the rounds to every school once a quarter and inspect the physical condition of the building. The superintendent also had to review the curriculum and the school supplies. It has been suggested that the mental health of the teacher was among the items checked.

As a tradition in the district, there was a period approximately one month after the start of the school year where the students were excused to help harvest sugar beets. Classes resumed in October.

Soapstone was like most Colorado one room schools and relied on a single teacher. It became obvious that education was anything but uniform. For one thing, the teacher had to span multiple grades with a disparity of ages and maturity. Older students were often called upon to help the younger students. Some teachers were gifted in math and science and probably emphasized these subjects. Others were better at English and social studies. This ultimately sealed the fate of the one-room, one-teacher school in Colorado.

Teachers were typically young single women. Life for them was extremely difficult especially at Soapstone at an elevation of well over 6,000 feet. Some schools had the luxury of a teacherage where the teacher could stay, but in the case of Soapstone, teachers were given room and board by area families.

The teacher had the duty of getting up early each school day, carrying water from the well and building a fire in the stove. They also had janitorial duties such as cleaning the outhouses, sweeping the floor and washing the blackboards. Grading papers and preparing lessons went with the job. At Soapstone, they were paid substantially less than their counterparts in Fort Collins. This resulted in a high turnover, and there were at least four teachers at the Soapstone Springs School during its 18 years.

As the time came to close Soapstone, students were relocated to the Buckeye School, which opened in 1925. However, when the school closed the following year, only the teacher and student Evelyn Bear remained.

Today, its foundation sits within the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, owned and administered by the City of Fort Collins. The site is a short walk south of County Road 15, below the Lindenmeier archeological site. It’s hard to say just what happened to the structure, but in the case of other Colorado country schools, the building was typically sold or auctioned to the highest bidder. It was usually disassembled and the lumber used elsewhere for ranch buildings or fencing. In some cases, the building was moved to become a storage shed or part of a barn.

To reach the Soapstone Springs School site, travel north from Fort Collins on County Road 15 to the entrance to the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Continue north for a little over 2 miles then follow County Road 15 to the west for about a half mile. The foundation is within sight of the road on the left hand side.

The author would like to thank Suzy Riding, Visitor Information Services, City of Fort Collins Natural Areas for information on the Soapstone Springs School.

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