"Education Revolution"

by Carole Lomond

When the Colorado front range was being settled by gold seekers in the 1860s, unguided growth caused towns to mushroom along the Front Range. Railroad lines established the "Gateway to the Rockies" through Clear Creek Canyon leaving Mt. Vernon Canyon relatively undisturbed. The first settlers chose this quiet and peaceful place for some of the same reasons we chose it, but homesteading here during the 1870s required perseverance, luck, and skills few people have today. Parents taught their children as best they could at home. "Sunday School" was originally a substitute for public education.

The first "Rockland" school was built in 1874 with lumber from the mill "across the road" on the north downslope of Genesee Mountain near the Patrick House. Land, building materials, paint and labor were donated by homesteaders. Students, ranging in age from six to 20, walked to school for distances of 1/4 to 4 miles. Children had to do chores at home before walking several miles to school. During the winter, they were bundled in heavy coats, mufflers, mittens, and high boots appropriate for foot plowing through snow drifts while carrying a lunch bucket and books the entire way. Water was hand pumped from outdoor wells or collected in buckets from nearby streams and hauled to the schoolhouse. Wood burning stoves provided heat for warmth and cooking. Candles or kerosene lamps provided light for reading. Even after the historic Rockland Church was built in 1879, the Rockland School building continued to be the "center" of the community. The annual school Christmas program was the most important community event of the year. Every neighbor came from miles around by horse and buggy or sleigh to see Santa Claus visit the students near a tree decorated with popcorn, cranberries, cookies, and decorations made by the school children. Mothers filled small stockings with hand made candy canes and a gift if enough money had been collected. The children performed a play and everyone sang Christmas songs together. Classes were held from three to seven months, depending on weather conditions and how much tax money had been collected to pay a teacher. School began in late October after the children had helped with harvesting crops and haying. They studied arithmetic, language, history, and geography. A spelling bee was a popular way to end the school day. Until the early 1920s when telephones, automobiles, and AM radio became common, most communication from the outside world came to Mt. Vernon Canyon from the weekly Golden Globe newspaper. Without today's media options, children were fascinated with imaginative ideas, riddles, and rhymes. When the weather was nasty, they enjoyed indoor recess games that challenged their ingenuity. During the early 1900s, the Ralston family usually provided room and board for the teacher and Lucian "Grandad" Ralston served on (and off) the school board for at least 30 years. Norm Ralston remembers "the old road crossed in front of the school about 1/8 mile from our ranch house. The teacher would have us fetch spring water from Dad's store. We scooped water out of buckets with a ladle that everybody used, until we invented a drinking fountain by plugging a faucet into a metal drum. It took about two buckets of water to fill it up. It was a big improvement!" "The wood stove had to be stoked and new logs added about every hour. If we ran out of wood, the teacher sent us across the gulch to get more from Dad. We could leave the school grounds when the teacher sent us like that, so we took our good ol' time fetching water or fire wood," he chuckled. According to hand written school board notes preserved at the R#l District archives, chemical toilets were installed and a coal shed was built next to the building to replace the old wood shed in 1925. A steady rise in population caused enrollment to rise from 17 students in 1921 to 36 students in 1936. Those who continued beyond the 4th grade were driven to Golden in Lucian Ralston's 1928 Packard, often by Strode Ralston . Residents approved of a mill levy increase from 3.6 to 5 mills to pay for the new school in 1937. They also voted to empower the School Board to "send any grade or grades to the Golden Schools at their option." The A.L. Hess family donated land for a larger and more "modern" school to be constructed south of U.S. Highway 40 at the junction of Lookout Mountain Road in 1939. The original school building was sold for a private home and was destroyed by 1-70 in 1969. The second Rockland school was constructed of blond brick. It had two classrooms, plenty of storage cabinets, two indoor toilets, and a kitchen. Everyone marveled at having electricity, a furnace and plumbing until there were problems unheard of in the old frame structure. The school became so overcrowded by 1948 that students had to be driven from the Ralston store to Golden for classes beyond the 4th grade. By the late 1940s, the mountain community was booming beyond what any early settlers could have imagined. Geologists, business executives, physicians, and construction workers commuted to the city while a few raised cattle and mink on local ranches. With 98 students enrolled in 1949, Rockland consolidated with Golden and Fairmont. Residents had to decide to build an addition or an entire new school. In 1950, voters approved of consolidating all 39 Jefferson County school districts into one-District R-1. Bond elections approved funding for many new schools and Mt.. Vernon Country Club (primarily led by the Pollacks, Weimers, and von Glinskis) donated land for a new school that still stands today with several additions. On January 23, 1955, the new "Ralston" school was dedicated and Grandad attended the ceremonies. After a major addition was completed in 1964, a plaque was placed near the cafeteria door that states: "This School was named in honor of a colorful pioneer who came to this area in 1879. He was the essence of the quiet strength of his beloved mountains." The second Rockland building continued to serve the community by housing, both the local Chamber of Commerce and the Genesee Grange #219. The pioneer community spirit of Mt. Vernon Canyon continues to be alive and well today at the Ralston Elementary School.

Our thanks to Carole Lomond for allowing us to include this abridged version of her article which appeared in the October / November 1995 issue of "City and Mountain Views."

Lucian M. "Grandad" Ralston 1872-1957

Mount Vernon Canyon pioneer settler Lucian McKee Ralston was an extraordinary, hard-working, enterprising, and stabilizing influence for the community from 1879 until he died in 1957. His example of integrity, strength, and generosity continues to inspire all public school children who attend the Ralston Elementary School named after him. His father, Captain Lucian Hunter Ralston, moved his family from Kentucky in 1879 and settled in a log cabin near Cody Park on Lookout Mountain.

Eight-year-old Lucian watched his father teach children at the Rockland School and help build the Rockland Church while raising potatoes and grain. In 1887, they established a ranch and general store where Interstate 70 lies between Lookout Mountain Exit 256 and Genesee Exit 254. After the death of his father, Lucian continued to manage the family ranch and store, freighted lumber to Idaho Springs and harvested hay.

In 1900 he married Bessie Lindsay. They established a variety of enterprises to support raising their seven children. The children helped grow and harvest grain, hay, and vegetables. They milked cows and tended the chickens to sell milk and eggs at the store where they each developed business and retailing skills.

Ralston served on the Rockland School Board of Education for 35 years, often as President. His family helped repair and maintain the school building, and teachers boarded at the Ralston ranch during the seven-month school year. He was the first Chaplain for the Genesee Grange #219 in 1913. He built a large room behind the store to provide space for community celebrations and meetings. He also served as a Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff.

When Denver officials began to explore for a mountain park system, Lucian encouraged them to purchase Genesee Mountain to preserve the wildlife habitat, plant diversity, and extraordinary views. It would also provide a pasture for herds of buffalo and elk; and open land for hiking and camping. He helped dig the grave for Buffalo Bill in 1917 and guided the Colorado Mountain Club in building the historic Beaver Brook Trail in 1919. Ralston worked for Denver Mountain Parks for 14 years, helping to build and maintain roads and establish picnic areas.

After Lucian's death, the Ralstons traded their Genesee Mountain land for a site south of Cold Springs ranch to allow for the Genesee development and construction of 1-70. "Ralston was a quiet man, he lived unpretentiously, and was a true man of the mountains. He gave many a helping hand and never had an unkind word to say of his fellow man." (Georgina Brown, The Shining Mountains.)

Reprinted Courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Commission,
Historically Jeffco magazine, Volume 10, Issue 18, 1997.

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