This weekend, my husband and I went up to the mountains to check out the autumn colors. We headed over Kenosha Pass, which was clogged with leaf peepers, and briefly stopped to admire the golden aspen. But we were hungry, so we continued on to Fairplay for lunch. We took a post-meal stroll through town and quickly discovered the historic Fairplay School, a beautiful stone schoolhouse tucked behind several modern brick additions.
The main entrance to the school is around the corner facing the newest addition.
The Fairplay School was constructed between 1880 and 1881, and is one of the oldest remaining school buildings [pdf] in Colorado. It is on the Colorado Register of Historic Places, and is made of an irregularly grained red and pinkish-buff colored sandstone. A sandstone quarry around Red Hill Pass, near Route 285 just northeast of Fairplay, supplied much of the local stone for the town.
If you look closely at the photo at left (you can enlarge it by clicking the photo), the foundation stones and water table are large, rough-cut pieces of red sandstone. Before steel construction was popular, builders used stronger, denser stones at the bottom of a building to support the weight of the masonry walls and to reduce water infiltration. The red sandstone may have been stronger and less permeable than the pinkish-buff sandstone used to building the rest of the wall.
It was also common for masonry walls to get lighter as they got taller to reduce the amount of weight being supported by the foundation. It is hard to tell from the small photo, but the stones used to build the wall get smaller in size as from water table to cornice. Red sandstone was also used at the corners to create quoins, and at the window sills and lintels.
Naturally, the Fairplay School has a cupola with a bell, and swallow nests at the cornice. No historic school would be complete without them!
In 1934, a gymnasium and classroom wing was added to the rear of the school. It was designed in part by architect Frank W. Frewen, Jr. [pdf], a prominent architect of schools, and was partially funded with WPA money. The addition is not very compatible with the original school, but it was built with these wonderful Roman bricks. The long, flat bricks have a smooth edge at the top and bottom, but the center is rough as though it was broken. It looks to me like these bricks were extruded from a long run of clay, and before it dried the clay was scored every few inches at the top and the bottom of the band. I would guess that once the clay was dried and fired, the bricks were broken apart exposing the rough center on the brick face.
Fairplay has many architectural wonders from its early days. Just next door to the school is the sweet South Park Community Church, built in 1874. It’s not masonry, but I couldn’t resist including it on the blog.
The original Park County Court House is also nearby. This building was also erected in 1874 [pdf] using red and pinkish-buff sandstone, probably quarried near Red Hill Pass.
A plaque commemorating the building’s centennial can be found near the steps. It claims the building is “Colorado’s Oldest Working Courthouse”. I am not sure if that is true, but here’s a gruesome tidbit: in 1880 some vigilantes hanged a criminal named Johnny Hoover from the building’s second-story window.
Perhaps it was from these windows? For Johnny’s sake, I hope not. Either way, the masonry on this building is lovely, even if it is known as the ‘hanging court’. By the 1980s, the building was converted to the town’s public library, though it appears to be vacant. Maybe Johnny’s ghost was too much for the library patrons….