By Jay W. Eby

By 1900 the Prescott Free Academy (Days Past, 29 Aug 1999) had proven to be too small for Prescott’s growing population, and the Board of the School District enlisted David Kilpatrick to design a larger and more modern building which came to be known as the Washington School.  (Kilpatrick also designed Prescott National Bank and the Hotel St. Michael.)

In her May 13, 1983, Days Past article, Sylvia Neely said: “In 1906, the Teacher’s Handbook had this description of the Washington School:  ‘This building is now the most modern and sanitary public building in Arizona and cost, exclusive of furniture, $53,000.  It contains on the first and second floors ten recitation rooms besides offices, a library and four teachers rooms.’”

The new school building was indeed modern.  Architect Kilpatrick had designed it around a new heating concept, the B. F. Sturtevant System.  The heating plant was not only invented by Sturtevant, it was installed and tested by the inventor’s company.  As described in an August 7, 1903, article in the Courier, it was a steam driven, forced air, heating and ventilating system.

Invented and produced by Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant, this unique system had a six foot tall blower that forced air from outside through heating coils then through vents in the walls to the rooms.  Warm air entered the rooms through the upper vents and exited through lower vents to be expelled through vents above the roof.

A shoe maker from Maine, Ben Sturtevant, after inventing a machine to cut and drive the wooden pegs into shoes, devised an induction fan to clear away the shop dust that irritated his workers.  Careful attention to design of the impellers allowed Sturtevant to produce a blower that was strong and efficient.  By using a linear steam engine to turn the fan rapidly he was able to produce an integrated heating and ventilating system.  The major application was on US Navy war ships to ventilate the lower decks.

Several different heating and cooling systems have been installed at Washington School over its 113 year life, but the design and use of a forced air system was both innovative and quite modern for 1903.  How the architect, David Kilpatrick, who lived and worked in Prescott, knew of the Sturtevant System is not known.

Washington School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and may be the oldest school building in continual use as a school in Arizona.  Discovery Gardens Preschool now occupies Washington School.

“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.