Pleasant Valley School

Location: Branson vicinity
County: Las Animas County
Date Constructed: 1938
Built by: WPA

Description

The Pleasant Valley School is located on ranch land with no other structures visible from the school. The Pleasant Valley School is rectangular in plan, and the walls and foundation are constructed of sandstone. A hipped roof covers the building. The hipped roof is covered with sheets of corrugated metal; the rafter tails are exposed.

The locally gray quarried sandstone is cut into quarry-faced ashlar blocks and is laid in regular courses. The mortar was applied somewhat sloppily, but workers incised regular, wide lines in the mortar that give it a much neater appearance overall. This is a technique commonly used on WPA projects in Las Animas County. The foundation is 3’ thick and extends to about 8” above grade. The first 4’ of the wall above the foundation is 2’ thick; above that the wall is 18” thick. The setback created by the different wall thicknesses is unusual and gives the building a distinctive appearance. A tall red brick interior chimney is centered on the north side.

The wide doorway has a heavy concrete surround. Above the doorway, “WPA 1938” has been roughly scratched into the stone. Window openings are located on either side of the door. The windows have concrete surrounds; the deep sills rest on top of the wider bottom portion of the wall and project beyond the wall. On the south wall a band of windows with a continuous concrete sill and lintel extends across the wall. A second door is located on the west side of the school, near the south wall. There are no openings on the north side.

The interior is a single room with no partitions. The original wood floor and ceiling are intact. Plaster covers the walls.

Significance

The Pleasant Valley School meets Criterion A in the area of Social History for its association with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative agenda to rescue the United States from the Great Depression. This agenda included the creation of an unprecedented number of policies, programs, and agencies to provide relief, employment, conserve natural resources, and assist in construction of public works—all with the greater goal of stimulating the devastated economy. Constructed by the WPA, the Pleasant Valley School presents an important record of the federal relief programs administered in Colorado’s eastern plains during the Great Depression. Though the dire economic conditions of the Depression affected all of Colorado, drought and dust storms hit the agricultural-based economy of the Eastern Plains especially hard. The construction of the school provided much-needed employment in an isolated, rural area of Las Animas County where little other work was available.

Additionally, the Pleasant Valley School meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Education. Educational facilities were a major focus of New Deal construction. The school is an excellent example of WPA efforts to improve rural education facilities in eastern Las Animas County. The WPA constructed new schools and barns for several rural school districts and repaired the facilities of many others. This building, constructed for a small school district with minimal matching funds, reflects WPA efforts to improve education and to help small communities with limited resources.

The Pleasant Valley School meets Criterion C in the area of Architecture. It is a good example of WPA Rustic architecture as applied to a simple, one-room school building. The stonework displays the labor-intensive, hand-craftsmanship associated with the WPA. This craftsmanship is particularly characteristic of projects from rural Las Animas county since there was little access to construction machinery or pre-fabricated materials. The WPA work crew was responsible for quarrying and finishing all the stone used in the building. Most of the WPA crew would have been farmers or ranchers with little previous construction experience who would have learned the necessary masonry skills on the job.

The period of significance is 1938, the time in which the WPA was involved in the construction of the school.

Historical Background

The Works Progress Administration (WPA), established in May 1935, continued the Civil Works Administration’s (CWA) efforts to both improve schools and provide jobs in rural Las Animas County. The Pleasant Valley School district submitted a WPA project proposal on August 28, 1936 for the construction of a new school for the Pleasant Valley District. The project also included the demolition of a “small frame structure”. The building to be demolished was presumably the existing school building, likely erected in 1916 when the district was established. The proposal presented the project cost as $3870. The federal government would cover $3537 of total. According to the proposal, the district needed the new building “to afford the children a safe and pleasant place in which to attend school.”

There appears to have been a long delay between the approval of the project and the start of construction. The project file gives no indication of the reason. Construction was underway by the spring of 1938. In June 1938, the WPA suspended work when the project funds ran out. The initial budget had been underestimated. Many of the WPA projects took longer than originally estimated. The major reason was likely the inexperience of much of the work crews. These crews had to quarry the stone, transport it to the project site, and finish the stone before starting the actual building construction. The district submitted a second proposal on June 8, 1938 for additional funds to complete the school. The cost was $2650, with the entire supplemental amount in federal funds. The WPA crew resumed work on September 8, 1938. They completed the school on November 20, 1938.  A WPA project inspector reported that the construction was good but perhaps more substantial than needed, stating that the “foundation and wall look strong enough to carry a Woolworth building.”

The property owner does not know when children last attended school in the building. By circa 1950, it was no longer a school, but the owner remembers attending a community dance held in the building. At this time the building was also be used to store cake cattle feed. The building has been used for hay storage since 1970 or earlier.

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