Are you interested in a part of Eloy history? Are you interested in early education in the area? Are you interested in preserving historical buildings? Then you might be interested in the buildings located a short distance from Robson Ranch.
When you pull out of Robson Ranch and turn left, travel just two miles to Toltec Road and turn right. Just after the railroad tracks on your left is a landmark unlike any other in Pinal County. Recognized as an Arizona Centennial Legacy Project, the old Toltec Elementary School has two buildings with significant historical value to the community. Eligible for the National Historic Registry, they are currently being restored by the Santa Cruz Valley Historic Museum, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
There is a great deal of local history behind these buildings.
A significant aspect of Arizona history is the education of the migrant workers and Native-Americans who annually came to the state to harvest the cotton crop. Long before the Toltec area was annexed into the Eloy city limits in 1960, the Toltec School District No. 22 was established on May 6, 1913. On July 13, 1926 Frank W. Shedd & Co. donated the 1.73-acre school site to the Toltec School District.
Comprised entirely of rural farming south and west of Eloy, the Toltec area farmers like Shedd, Pretzer, Isom, Pearce, Alsdorf, Phillips and others too numerous to name, provided housing as a perk to keep only the best employees. Children living on the farms attended the old Toltec school.
During the fall and winter the attendance of the lower four grades would jump from 10 to 15 students per class to over 50 per class as many multi-ethnic migrant workers moved into the district to help with the harvest. The upper classes also increased but not as much, as at this age students usually had to stay home and tend to siblings or work in the fields, even though Arizona had a law that children must attend school until they turned 16 years old or graduated from 8th grade.
The two original wooden schoolhouses built on the donated land in 1928 were used for all eight grades until the mission style building was completed in 1930. From school years 1947-48 the sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes were taught in the north end room. The third, fourth and fifth grades were in the south end room next to the stage. Grades one and two were in the original wooden building directly south of the mission style building. Because this wooden building also had a cafeteria, it was moved in 1956 to serve as a cafeteria at the new Toltec School site.
The last eighth grade class to graduate from the Mission style building was in May 1956. The school stage served for many years as the community gathering place for graduations, holiday concerts and school plays.
To the southeast of this wooden building was the other wooden building and was used as “the Colored School.” It was used as such until 1951 when desegregation was instituted in Arizona, and all children were taught together. The colored schoolroom was used for first and second grades in 1953 with 75 students attending during October, November and December.
From 1956 to 2003 the building served as a bus maintenance shop and for storage of lawn equipment and miscellaneous school items. This building still exists and is thought to be one of the only remaining colored schools in the state standing on its original site. It is this building that was recognized in 2012 as an Arizona Legacy Project.
From 1958 to May 1966 the building was used by the Eloy Stake of the LDS Church. The buildings were renovated in 1966 and used until 1976. The building was leased to the Pinal County Sheriff’s office for a sub-station in 1977-84. The jail cell was installed, making it the only school living up to “the town tougher than Tombstone” reputation that Eloy was given in the 50s. The main building then served as the Toltec School storage facility for the next 20 years until the Sunland Visitor Center acquisition in 2003.
In June 2003 the Sunland Visitor Center took possession of the Old Toltec Primary School campus after signing a long-term lease with the Toltec school board. Because the buildings needed extensive renovation, the Santa Cruz Valley Historic Museum was formed to oversee their restoration and operation.
The restoration completed so far is the result of individual and charitable donations, monies raised at the Museum’s annual dinner dance fundraising events, local grants, donated materials from local businesses, individuals who donated their time and support, labor donated by the Southwest Archeological Team from Mesa and from the support of the City of Eloy.
Much more still needs to be done. The goal of the Museum Board is to restore the buildings so they may be used as a multi-use museum and visitor center facility where artifacts of the past can bring history to life for the enjoyment and cultural environment of those who visit. A specific goal is to preserve the unique heritage and to tell their story from the perspective of residents’ shared stories and memorabilia handed down from past generations: the Hohokam of First Americans, the Spaniards, settlers, the Mormon Battalion, Civil War soldiers, railroad builders and the hardy migrant workers who followed the cotton, citrus and produce harvest.
The Museum Board continues to look to the community for its support.
On Saturday, November 7, the Santa Cruz Valley Historic Museum is presenting its 12th annual Dinner Dance and the theme for this year’s fundraising event is “Dance to the Blues.” The Bad News Blues Band from Tucson will provide the dance music for the evening at The Property in Casa Grande. With good food, good music and good fun, guests will take part in door prizes, raffle items and both silent and live auctions. Tickets are $50 each or $90 for two and can be purchased from Dick Myers at 520-840-1041 or Kristin Gramando at 520-705-0910.
For more information on the Museum Project, to make a donation or to volunteer your assistance, please call Dick Myers, president of the Museum Board, at 520-421-0696. The museum address is P.O. Box 280, Arizona City, AZ 85123. The website is http://scvhmuseum.org.