By Ray Carlson

The Prescott School District was created in 1871 with the Trustees responsible for providing the school house and teacher.  Their work never let up.  Over the next six years, they built a new school twice, made building improvements two other times, replaced the teacher twice and hired two additional teachers. 

Initially, they inherited a log cabin school with the Army Chaplain as their teacher. In 1872, they used new tax money to pay the Chaplain a salary and make improvements to the cabin but, by the summer, the Governor encouraged them to find an experienced female teacher and build a better school.  They succeeded, but the teacher got married and resigned after only six months. Next, they hired Moses Sherman, who was only twenty-one but had gone to Normal School in Oswego, NY, and had some teaching experience.  They cautiously offered him a one-year contract.

Sherman was young but seemed to generate excitement about learning among the students.  Two months later, the newspaper editor and Col. Bigelow, a School Trustee, visited Sherman's classroom.  The editor reported that “we unhesitatingly pronounce it a model school” and Sherman “a natural born school master.”  When Sherman began, the newspaper noted, the students “not only were but little advanced in their studies but lacked in deportment.”  Now, the editor stated “a more gentlemanly and ladylike school of sixty pupils would be hard to find anywhere.”  Col. Bigelow, who was respected for his knowledge, asked “cunning” questions that went beyond what was in the students’ books.  He acknowledged that several already “knew about as much as he did.”  In August Sherman concluded his first year, and the newspaper commended the Trustees for extending his contract for another year.

In December 1875 H.C. Hodge, a respected journalist and former teacher, visited Prescott and the school.  In a letter to the editor, he said he was “surprised and gratified to find, here in this far off land of almost entire isolation, a school which will compare favorably with those in the Old States.”    He commended Sherman noting that the students “are in their behavior, manners, and acquirements, an honor to themselves, their teacher and their parents.”  He added that the wonder was “how Mr. Sherman could succeed at all with over 100 students in a room barely large enough to comfortably seat 40.”  He suggested immediately enlarging the school house and employing a “competent assistant.  I deem this the Star School of the Territory, and the citizens should have a pride in it sufficient to keep it so.” 

In January 1876 the Trustees agreed it was necessary to build an addition or replace the school that was less than three years old.  The expansion was necessary just to allow all the students “to get into the building.”  The debate was whether to add a wooden addition or build a safer two story brick structure with room for expansion.  The latter approach was selected although it was acknowledged that the cost would be extraordinarily high. That approach also necessitated closing the school to allow for the excavation and foundation work necessary for a brick structure.

A special election was called in May to vote on a new tax to raise $6000 to cover the costs beyond the amount the District had available.  The proposal won by a vote of 268 to 44.  The Trustees also decided to allow Sherman to hire his older sister, Lucy, as a second teacher.

On October 23, the Shermans opened the new attractive two-story brick school house that was “as stout as the Rock of Gibraltar.”  The school was named the “Prescott Free Academy” and was the first school in the Territory to use different rooms for different grades. 

But the school's popularity continued to exceed its capacity.  In December 1877, the Trustees found it necessary to create a third division adding a third teacher, new equipment, and some renovations.   The town's growth combined with Sherman's enthusiasm for learning was generating an ongoing need for expansion.

The content of this article and the quotations are taken from The Weekly Arizona Miner. In Days Past next week, we will discuss the development of the Prescott Free Academy.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.