THE HIDDEN SIDE OF HACKBERRY

With its Mission-style architecture, the school was the grandest building in town.

Almost every traveller on the section of Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman, Arizona, stops at the famous Hackberry General Store. But few realise that there is more to Hackberry than a cold soda and some picturesque photo opportunities with old cars. Just to the south of the General Store and Route 66 lies the remains of what was, from 1874 until shortly after the Great War, a thriving town.

Originally a mining camp at the foot of the Peacock Mountains, Hackberry supported the twin trades of ranching and mining – indeed, it was the former that brought the railroad to Hackberry in 1882, as much to transport cattle as to carry ore from the Hackberry Silver Mine. By the time the mine closed, some $3 million of gold and silver had been dug out and perhaps one of the obvious indications of the temporary prosperity of the town can be seen in its now disused elementary school.

By the time this photo was taken in 1924, the school had been open for 7 years. Sadly, I don’t know whether the teacher is the ‘pleasant young Miss Jones’. Photo courtesy of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts

At a time when most schools were little more than wooden shacks or barns (for example, the Red School in Valentine to the west), the community of Hackberry commissioned a rather grandiose stone building. In May 1917, the School’s Board of Trustees called for bids for the erection of ‘a one-story public school building, to accommodate at least 80 pupils and cost not to exceed Seven Thousand Dollars; building to include all necessary wardrobe closest, teacher’s room, library room, etc, and to have chimney and fresh air vents for heating and ventilating purposes and to be as nearly fire-proof as the sum to be expended will permit.” You have to love that ‘nearly fire-proof’, but clearly not if it was going to cost more money!

The design that was accepted turned out to be a quite ornate Mission-style building with red roof tiles, two tiny decorative towers and even a Spanish-style bell. Nor did the Trustees hang about once having made a decision. At the end of August 1917, the Mohave County Miner reported that contractor Axel Ericson was completing the cornice work on the school (incidentally, Mr Ericson had just won the contract for his next job, which would be installing radiators and steam heating in the Hotel Brunswick in Kingman).

The bell still seems operational, but I decided not to try…

The school had two classrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living quarters for a teacher, one of the first of whom was a Miss Jones who, a visit to Kingman being enough of an occasion to make the local newspaper, was described as ‘a pleasant young teacher’. To the young children who attended Hackberry Elementary School – they ranged from kindergarten age to the 8th grade – the building must have seemed almost like a castle. Teachers came and went; children grew up but often stayed in the town. Many of them were Griggs and several generations of that family were taught in the school. In fact, virtually everyone in Hackberry now (although that’s only around 20 people) is either a Griggs or related to the family.

An abandoned basketball hoop beside the school.

But, by 1994, the Board of Trustees (all of them, by the way, retired and without children in the school) decided that the little school should be closed. The parents of the 22 remaining pupils fought the decision but without success, even though the reasoning seems in hindsight a little vague. Joseph Averna, one of the three Trustees called the school ‘inefficient and ineffective’ (it quite possibly was, the tendency to follow the curriculum was, by all accounts, less than enthusiastic) and, on the eve of the meeting to decide the future of the Hackberry Elementary school, proclaimed; “We are going to drag [the parents] kicking and screaming in the 20th century. The people who pay the bills want the school closed.” He then went on to admit that no-one had actually looked at a budget, nor did they know how much money would be saved by the closure. Nonetheless, the decision to shut the school was made the following day.

Today children are bussed to schools miles away, leaving Hackberry as more of a ghost town than ever, while the school – which is owned by the Griggs family – stays resolutely shut and fenced off. The family hopes one day to refurbish, but no new generation of Griggs will ever be taught there.

Hackberry Elementary School, still as if the children had just left for the day.

10 thoughts on “THE HIDDEN SIDE OF HACKBERRY

  1. What a remnant of past glory! It is truly a beautiful structure speaking to us of a strong past that has since faded. I will look for this place. Isn’t there an Indian school that was built in nearby Valentine and never used?

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is indeed, a very imposing building that has stood unused overlooking Route 66 since 1937. There is also the ‘Red House’ school, a wooden (and now sadly dilapidated) building which was for the white children. I intend to write a future post about the schools and their history. 🙂

      Like

  2. Pingback: Yucca | ROUTE 66 – 66 days on and off Route 66

  3. My Great Grandfather Fred Bouchard helped build this school. i would love to know if there are photos from when this was being built.

    Like

  4. Great story, and photos! In the 25 years I spent in Northern Arizona, including a few trips on this stretch of Route 66, I never knew this structure was there. I also seem to recall reading that an old Harvey House was now serving as the local water board office for the town of Peach Springs. Anyone know if that’s still standing?

    Like

    • Now, very few people know that there was a Harvey House restaurant in Peach Springs. It was, by all account, quite primitive and only lasted from 1884-1889. Fred Harvey also had a dairy farm at Peach Springs to provide fresh milk for passengers but water supply was a problem and in 1912 he moved the dairy farm to Del Rio, north of Chino Valley.

      Like

  5. My sister and I attended school here. I “graduated” 8th grade in ‘94, along with 3 others. Crazy to think we were it. The closing of the school was without a doubt, an early lesson in politics for us. I remember my hands shaking as I stood up and spoke to a roomful of parents and news cameras. Despite being told by one of the board members to not say anything negative about the board or the school closing, I used the opportunity to do just that. Afterwards, my dad and grandpa told me how proud they were that I’d spoke my mind. Something that still gets me in trouble today haha. Thanks for the pics. It looks as if we were just dismissed from class yesterday. And you shoulda rang the bell. After checking it for yellow jacket nest of course. That wasn’t very much fun.

    Like

      • I remember I’d finished up the customary generic speech that I was reading off my notecards. The place was packed, standing room only. The double doors in the back were open and people were crowded out into the main entryway. A couple news cameras were in the back and on the side. My eyes found my grandpa. And he knew what I was about to do. He was sitting there with his arms crossed and he gave me a nod. Despite this being 25 years ago, this moment left a huge impression on me and I remember parts of it so clearly.
        I remember trying so hard not to cry as I started out by saying something to the effect of…. Ummm, I was warned by some people earlier today, not to say anything in regards to my school being shut down, but I just graduated so I will say what I want because it needs to be heard. The lessons that I’ve learned here over the last 6 years, may have been taught to me in an unconventional way, but because of that, they will stick with me forever. I didn’t learn about metaphors by reading about them in the standard boring textbook. Our teacher had us listen to and dissect a Jackson Brown song titled “Doctor my Eyes”. We didn’t learn about the Grand Canyon or the desert in books. We visited those places, saw them with our own eyes, touched the prickly cactus’s and smelled the rain storms as they moved in across the sky. I learned social skills with kids of all ages because we all rode the same school bus. We all ate a home cooked lunch at the same table and played together on the playground.
        The adults in charge, making the decisions, never bothered to ask us if we wanted to continue to go to school here. They never explained how riding a bus 1 hour each way to school everyday, would be better for us. Or how attending a school where a teacher has 25 other kids needing their attention. In fact, they haven’t given us any examples of why it is best that we don’t attend school here anymore and I’m realizing now, it’s because there aren’t any good reasons. I’m thankful that I was able to graduate from here today, but I’m sad that my sister won’t be afforded the same opportunity. And I’m sad for this old schoolhouse that for almost 100 years, had generation after generation, walking through its doors, will now sit here empty and alone in the middle of nowhere.

        And I sat back down and I remember those that were sitting, were now standing and clapping. After the ceremony was over, we all walked out the big front doors, under the bell that taught us about yellow jackets, down the stairs that I’d slipped on and busted my lip open, down the walkway past the corner of the building that I had my first kiss at during recess not long before, never to return again.
        And here it is, 25 years later. That once grand building that was so loved by many, sits alone and sad in the middle of no where. A missed opportunity to shape the lives of more generations, in a way that would stay with them forever.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s