A historic stop at the Strawberry Schoolhouse off State Route 87

A historic stop at the Strawberry Schoolhouse off State Route 87

By David Rookhuyzen / ADOT Communications
February 17, 2021

They say the journey is more important than the destination. We don't mean to contradict conventional wisdom, but as we've told you about before, one of the best parts of the state highway system is that it can take you to some pretty nifty destinations. 

And though you will need to go a stone's throw off the highway to get there, one of those places is the Strawberry Schoolhouse, accessible via State Route 87. As its name suggests, this one-room schoolhouse sits in the picturesque community of Strawberry, just north of Pine and about 20 minutes north of Payson. In his book, "Roadside History of Arizona," state historian Marshall Trimble said the Strawberry Valley had been used seasonally by cowboys to graze livestock before the first permanent white settlers arrived in 1877. The community's name came from an abundance of wild strawberries that grew in the area, Trimble writes.

According to the application to put the building on the National Register of Historic Places, public education was nearly nonexistent during Arizona's earliest territorial days. Governor Anson P. K. Safford – the namesake for the town in Graham County – is said to have been mortified that an 1870 census showed 1,923 youth between the age of 6 and 21, but not one public school. He went on something of an one-man crusade for education, making sure the legislature passed a funding mechanism for communities to organize schools.

Settlement in the Strawberry area happened toward the end of Governor Safford's push on the issue. In 1884 the community passed around a petition to both organize a school district and build the physical school house.

The 30-foot-by-20-foot edifice was built with a sandstone foundation and ponderosa pine log walls in 1885 to serve the education needs of local children. According to the application, the 10-foot high ceiling was originally made out of cloth before being replaced with a wooden one. The application also says that the furnishings were actually pretty good for a rural schoolhouse in Arizona. Instead of using the customary handmade wooden benches, factory-made desks that would sit two pupils were purchased. It also came with a blackboard large enough to fill a wall, the latest edition of Webster's dictionary, a current globe and even a pump organ.

When it was completed in the fall of 1885, it was the only public building in Strawberry and would sometimes double as a dance hall, church and meeting house for the community.

The school would serve for a little more than 30 years before shutting down in 1916 due to a lack of students. It fell into a state of disrepair as people "borrowed" furniture or other materials, including its windows, door and even the ceiling. In the 1960s, the property owner donated it to the Payson-Pine Chamber of Commerce for preservation. Today it is run as a museum under the auspices of the Pine-Strawberry Archaeological and Historical Society and is billed as the oldest standing schoolhouse in the state.

As we told you about in a previous blog, Strawberry had become connected to the wider world via an automobile-worthy road by 1927, though it would not be until 1959 – right before the schoolhouse was donated – that State Route 87 is officially shown on a map as being routed through Pine and Strawberry. 

So what could be a better excuse for taking a trip along a conveninent state highway than to visit such a historically significant building? 

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