There’s a certain air of romance surrounding one-room schoolhouses. Perhaps because they are no more. Few graduates of these small rural centers of learning are still alive, but the image of the young schoolmarm who often boarded with a local family and had to stoke the wood-burning stove every morning before school remains bright. When she became a married lady, she no longer had a job.
The construction of a schoolhouse was the sign of the permanence of a settlement and the importance of education. These one-room schoolhouses also served as meeting places for a community.
Pleasant Valley School, the oldest school building in Larimer County, hasn’t been a place of learning in many years, but it recently has taken on a new life. Located in Bellvue, just north of Pleasant Valley on the Noosa Yoghurt campus, it has undergone a two-year rehabilitation project to restore it to its original condition.
It is the only stone school remaining in the county, but by 2003, when Sherry Graves, Rob Graves’ mother and matriarch of the family, saw to it that the building was added to the National Registry of Historic Places, it was in serious disrepair. It had served for many years as a home for employees of Graves Dairy, now known as Morning Fresh Dairy. Sherry had long hoped to renovate the building. It wasn’t until the success of Noosa Yoghurt, and the company’s interest in giving back to the community, that the project became possible. With her daughter-in-law, Lori Graves, Sherry has worked hard to bring the project to fruition. It now serves as an educational and historical resource for the community.
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The school’s history goes back to 1862 when Abner Loomis settled in the valley. Because there was no school in the area, he took it upon himself to build one on his property. The 24-by-40-foot structure was built to last from sturdy sandstone blocks quarried in the hills nearby. Sources place the date of construction at either 1867 or 1879. It is likely that the first school was built from wood and then replaced with the stone building at the later date.
When William Charles (“WC”) Graves bought the property for $6,000 from C.E. Harrington in 1897, the school had become the center of school district #7. WC’s son Charley attended all eight grades there. The fourth generation of the Graves family now owns and operates Morning Fresh Dairy on the property. Its 1200 cows provide most of the milk for Noosa Yoghurt, co-founded by Rob Graves. In conjunction with the dairy, Lori and Rob own and operate the Howling Cow Café, where patrons can enjoy sandwiches, drinks, dairy products and, of course, Noosa Yoghurt.
By 1913, when the school consolidation movement spread across the United States, advocated by President Theodore Roosevelt as a way to “improve rural education,” the school closed. By that time, Cache La Poudre School in adjacent LaPorte had opened, and students from area farms and ranches attended the larger school. Charley Graves remodeled the building to house farm and dairy employees, which it did until the recent past.
Stephanie Giard, who does marketing for Morning Fresh and Noosa, had a major role in the recent remodeling, coordinating the construction. The exterior sandstone was redone, the interior torn out, the windows replaced in their original positions, new flooring and walls constructed, and an old-fashioned wood-burning stove installed in the middle of the room. Local experts Kevin Murray of Empire Carpentry and David Lingle made sure the restoration was as authentic as possible.
Several old-style desks and items used in one-room schools have been donated, and Giard welcomes any items from the era that people are willing to share. Retired school teacher Lois Mahoney donated the model of an old-time schoolmarm who stands tall in the room, and Carol Tunner donated an old desk.
Interest was high as several hundred people attended a celebration when the work was complete. “We’ll be conducting regular tours starting this spring,” Giard said. Noosa and Morning Fresh will work together to organize regular tours of the building beginning in the spring. Information on upcoming tours will be posted on the Noosa website.