Following Gwillim R. Gwillim’s founding of the hamlet of Gwillimville in 1869 in the valley on West Cherry Creek a few miles east of Monument (the headwaters being the springs to the south of Highway 105 and on the Searle Ranch property), one of the inevitable items on the settlement agenda was a community school. As more families — including Richard “R.J.” Gwillim, who was followed by two other brothers — joined the Welsh-born Gwillim in the area, the construction of an education-specific building became a practical idea. R.J. Gwillim was named first secretary of the district school board under the oversight of El Paso County schools, and would serve as district superintendent for several years.
The area’s first schoolhouse was dedicated on June 14, 1882, according to newspaper accounts. “The house is of frame and is a model country school house. It is painted, plastered, and furnished with patent folding seats, globe, desk, maps, etc.” The news article goes on to describe the dedication ceremony, which was notably marked by a sermon from the Rev. John Hipp of nearby Spring Valley, and included the singing of hymns and a closing prayer. It is noted that “In the afternoon large delegations arrived from Monument, Table Rock [a few miles to the east] and Spring Valley,” another small community located six miles down the creek to the north.
The total cost of the school’s construction was around $775 including furnishings and was paid for by “issuing notes payable in the same manner as district orders, thus saving the discount which always occurs in the sale of bonds.” The schoolhouse was built by John Pring of Husted (a community located on what is now U.S. Air Force Academy property), who would go on to establish the community of Pring three miles south of Monument.
The school’s original location was 1.5 miles north of what is now Highway 105, and here’s where the history gets a bit fuzzy … “A few years later Gwillim R. Gwillim donated a piece of land for a new school which was about one-quarter mile west of Gwillimville and was closer to the road so the children would not have to walk through the cattle pasture to get to school,” according to local historian Susan (Steppler) Koch. Subsequent accounts of the Gwillimville School’s several relocations don’t make clear whether they’re talking about the original 1882 model or “Schoolhouse 2.0,” located closer to the Gwillimville Cabin, in which your humble columnist presently resides.
We’ll fast-forward a century from when the first G-School was still new. In 1985 “the building” — we’re still not sure which one — having spent the previous 50-odd years as part of the Presbyterian Church in Monument (Susan Koch notes its having been renovated in 1938 and ’39 by the Monument Homemakers Club), was moved to its current location next to Village Inn and across the street from 7-Eleven and became home to the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce. Having outgrown the small and structurally outdated building in recent years (nice job, Terri Hayes and Co.), the Chamber relocated in January 2015 to the former town hall/police station it now occupies on 2nd Street. Since that time the old schoolhouse has been unoccupied and is noticeably worse for the inattention.
Here’s where Tri-Lakes Chamber board members Merrilee Ellis and Ann Pappas, come in. They’re spearheading a project that will renovate, update and render inhabitable once again the venerable structure. It won’t be going anywhere, just fixed up and cleaned up for use as a community meeting place, available by reservation to local businesses, groups and individual citizens.
“It’s a shame to see this piece of our area history sitting unloved and unused,” say Ellis, owner of Hope Hypnotherapy in Monument. “It’s the perfect size for smallish groups to meet, and can serve a good purpose in the community again.” The project is receiving support through donated materials from Home Depot, Force Broadband and Waste Management, and the Ellis-Pappas Axis of Goodness hopes to have the old place re-opened for “business” by sometime in the fall.
“It’s one of those things that you think about driving by there, and it just takes a little initiative to make something happen,” says Pappas, publisher of Forest Living magazine. There’s a fair amount of work involved, but it’s great to see community members taking a proprietary interest in this effort.” The Gwillim boys would be proud. (Special thanks to Roger Davis of the Lucretia Vaile Museum in Palmer Lake for his assistance with this column.)
Charlie Searle has lived in Monument since 1994 and is active in a variety of pursuits in the Tri-Lakes area. Contact Charlie at AlongTheDivide@pikespeaknewspapers.com.