Commerce City, Colorado

The Genesis of A Country High School

Mrs. Frances Pratt Douglass Teacher 1909-18 


C. Arthur Hochmuth, Class of 1912 Union High School

From an insignificant country high school which started a little over a half century ago in one room with one teacher, that at Adams City now ranks among the first ten in size in the state.l

Before the school's inception in 1908, there lived in the then sparsely settled area just north of Denver, several youngsters of or approaching high school age; among them were a few whose parents or relatives were on the local school boards. With this, perhaps as the main incentive, the directors of the Adams City, Derby and Rose Hill school districts got together and assisted by Mrs. Katherine M. Cook, County Superin­tendent of Schools, established what was to be known as Union High School No. 1 of Adams County. While there was some but no con­certed opposition from the local taxpayers, nearby Cline, later known as Welby, and Irondale districts refused to participate even though both had children who wished to attend high school. In addition, Welby, by its subsequent adverse attitude, as will be noted later, was to put a severe damper on the growth of the school.

The town of Adams City was founded for the definite purpose of placing it into contention for the county seat of the newly-formed Adams County. This occurred when, on November 15, 1902, Arapahoe County, of which Denver was the County Seat, was divided into Adams, Arapa­hoe and Denver Counties.2

Centered about what is now the intersection of 69th Avenue, Dahlia Street and the Brighton Road, the town consisted of a grocery store, the old frame Platte Valley Hall which formerly stood near the present 72nd Avenue and Dahlia Street, a blacksmith shop, four residences and a short railroad siding. The aged hall, scene of many an all-night country dance, had been moved, intact, to its new location and continued to fill the needs for all community and political affairs and later, for several years, the new high school's entertainment and graduation exercises. As the town lost its bid for the county seat to Brighton, no other buildings, with the exception of a new District No. 14 grammar school, were erected for many years.

This new school-house, sitting out in the middle of the prairie at what is now 69th Avenue and Cherry Street, was a four-room brick structure, built and put in use in 1907. Many folks complained that it was far too elaborate for a country school and when the eight grades were divided among three of the rooms, they sourly predicted there would never be enough kids to fill it.

This was a fortunate circumstance as the directors of Union High School were able to make arrangements for the use of the fourth room in which to hold its classes. These began in September, 1908, with about a dozen pupils, give or take an individual or two, making up the student body. Two were third-year students, having had two years of high school work elsewhere, and the remainder were beginners. Miss Ida Walker was the school's first teacher and received a salary of $80.00 a month. 4

Some of the students lived as far away as three miles and as school buses were non-existent at that time, each one, for a number of years to come, had to provide his own transportation to and from school. Vari­ous kinds of horse drawn vehicles, from carts to light spring-wagons, were used and a girl or two riding horseback was no exception. A large shed served as daytime protection for the animals. Some of the boys rode bicycles during good weather and slogged the distance on foot through the mud and snow. 

At the beginning of the first year of Union High School, two boys from Irondale enrolled. Since that district had refused to go along with the others in supporting it, the parents of the boys were billed for their tuition. Upon their continued refusal to pay it, the boys were required to leave after attending three months.

As a direct result of this action, Mrs. Cook, who had been elected State Superintendent of schools, was instrumental in having passed in the State Legislature an amendment6 to a law enacted in 1908.7 This amendment required a school district having no high school of its own to pay tuition in some other one for students who wished to continue their schooling. 

Welby, formerly Cline district, however, maintained that the amendment was unconstitutional because it gave the children con­trol of the school funds and refused to pay $98.00 tuition for five stu­dents who attended the high school during the term ending in 1910. The school's directors promptly brought suit to collect it and although they won in both the Adams County District Court and the Court of Appeals, the State Supreme Court, on November
1, 1915,8 reversed the decision ruling, for the most part, that "... the entire revenue of the dis­trict will be applied to grade schools .... "9 With this, some of the out­siders paid the $2.50 per month tuition 10 out of their own pockets but, nevertheless, the finding undoubtedly held down the attendance at the school and just how many youngsters it deprived of a high school edu­cation can never be determined. 

Mrs. Frances Pratt Douglass was engaged as teacher for the term of 1909 -10 which was the second year of the school's existence and re­ceived a salary of $100.00 per month. This very capable lady, a native of Batavia, New York, had come to Colorado with her husband for his health. Teaching the entire curriculum, she held four forty-five minute recitations in the mornings and three in the afternoons. Correcting written exercises and test papers occupied a good portion of the re­mainder of the day. Among her many extracurricular activities she formed a girls club, presented plays and entertainments, held reading, oratorical and story-writing contests and took the students on excur­sions to various points of interest.

As a means of keeping the parents and others advised of and inter­ested in what was going on in the school, Mrs. Douglass had each stu­dent write a weekly column of news items and sent the best to the Brighton Blade for publication. These clippings she preserved in a scrap­book thus providing a complete history of Union High School during its early years. 

The attendance, excluding drop-outs, during the first four years Mrs. Douglass taught at the high school remained around fourteen for each of those terms. From then on, with one exception, there was an in­crease annually. Two subjects were added to the curriculum for the term beginning in September, 1910, and a young man student at Den­ver University was engaged to teach four hours a week. Later on, when the attendance began to grow and more subjects taught, usually by a different assistant each year, these hours were increased but no other full-time teacher was ever employed while Mrs. Douglass was there. The school year of 1911 - 12 was the first in which there were students in all four grades with five of them being seniors.

A measurement of Mrs. Douglass' ability as a teacher may be found in the success of her graduates. The first class, in 1910, was comprised of a boy and a girl [Marian Andrew and Edward Cook], both of whom entered Colorado University. The girl, after her graduation from there, taught at District No. 14 grammar school for many years while the boy, cutting short his college work, taught in the Philippines under Civil Service.

The second graduating class, in 1912, consisted of four girls and a boy [Lelia Cook Cash, Margaret Andrew Cox, Arthur Hockmuth, Birdie Martin Kegan, and Lisa Muntwyler Russell]. One girl and the boy, having received scholarships from Denver University, attended and graduated from that institution. The girl later became instructor in German and Freshman English there. Two of the 
 girls, after leaving high school, went right to teaching grammar school and the fourth took up nursing. The lone girl graduate of 1913 [Gertrude Smith Falch] con­tinued on through Denver University and took up a high school teach­ing career. Members of graduating classes following these, of which there were never less than four in each, gave equally as good accounts of themselves as had their predecessors and although the school was unaccredited, a number of them received scholarships from Colorado University, Colorado State Agriculture College, Colorado College and Denver University. 

Athletics, in the form of basketball, got under way in Union High School during the 1910 - 11 season. As the school board provided no help whatever, it was a strictly do-it-yourself proposition on the part of the students and they had to buy a ball and baskets themselves. Small cottonwood trees, cut from the woods along the banks of the South Platte River, were used as uprights and a door that had fallen off a box­car on the railroad siding, when sawed in half, made good backboards. The court was laid out on the gravelly ground near the school. The girls and boys practiced together with Mrs. Douglass' assistant acting as coach but no regular games were played that year.

The next season the students again contributed enough to buy some lumber and put up more substantial and better looking basket sup­ports. The boy’s team, which included an eighth-grader who, inciden­tally, was the star of the team, had a two won and three lost record that year. Games were played at Brighton and Fort Lupton with the owners of cars in the neighborhood - all four of them - providing transpor­tation, free of charge, for the team and its rooters. From that time on the school had a basketball team every year and as it increased in size, other branches of sports were introduced. Adams City High School is now in Class AAA.

Likewise, Union High School soon outgrew its one-room confines and the first section of a new high school building was erected in 1916 and put in use in January of the next year. Besides a large classroom, it had a small office, storeroom, and furnace room. The enrollment at that time was forty-one, nine of which were in the graduating class. While the number of students during the succeeding term (1917-18) dropped to 35 and although Mrs. Douglass' salary had, by then, been raised to $122.22 a month, it was to be her last year there. With still no full time assistant and the ever increasing care required by Mr. Douglass, she found the strain too great and retired at the end of the term. From the school's shaky start, she had been, without a doubt, one of the chief factors in maintaining its continuation and growth and left behind her a well-established and progressive institution. In her nine years of teach­ing there, 43 students, 25 of whom were girls and 18 boys, had gradu­ated.

Then came the post-World War I years in which the school, like many other things, underwent rapid changes. Teachers came and went and as the population of the area increased producing more children of high school age, more classrooms and a gymnasium were added to the smaller building. In 1946-47, the surrounding districts consolidated to form School District No. 14 and Union High School No.1 passed from existence with Adams City High School taking its place. The school12colors were changed from purple and gold to green and gold and its athletic teams became the Eagles.

More buildings were erected as they were needed and in time, the school took its place among the largest in the state. For the term end­ing in June, 1963 [1962?], there were 61 teachers, an enrollment of 1250 stu­dents in the three upper classes and 249 graduates.13

Such was the origin and early years of the puny, little country high school that, in fifty-odd years, overtook and passed, in size, many older ones that had started out under conditions much more promising than it had. 

C. Arthur Hochmuth Class of 1912

I. State Board of Education.

2.     W Carl Dort. History of Adams County. 1960.

3.The foregoing events all occurred within the memory of the author. This has been refreshed with the assistance of Mrs. Freda Farney Gress, Mrs. Elenora Krogh Hansen and Mrs. Ruth Andrew Kinney, long­time graduates of the school. Mrs. Bertha Heid, County Superintendent of Schools and Miss 1. Pauline Driver, District No. 14 Librarian were also very helpful. Mrs. Gress and Mrs. Hansen contributed the pictures.

4.     This and other salary figures were obtained from the record of the County Superintendent of Schools.

5.     The author was one of these boys.

6.    Amended Session Laws of Colorado, 1909. Chapter 170. High School Districts. Item 15, page 402.

7.      Revised Statutes of Colorado. Article 5925. Powers of School Board. Section 60, item 15.

8.      Copy of letter to Miss Helen Lamb, County Superintendent of Schools, dated November 2, 1915 and signed by B. C. Hilliard.

9.      Review of entire case was published in the Brighton Blade. See note 11.

10.   See note 11.

11.   This scrapbook is the source of most of the details and figures from this point on. The book is now in the possession of Mrs. Gress.

12.  W. Carl Dorr. History of Adams County. 1960.

13.  State Board of Education.