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!