Abandoned schoolhouse Nevada

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada
Date added: March 15, 2023 Categories: Nevada School
North and west elevations facing southeast (1989)

Erected between 1915-16, the Harmon School served as the Elementary School for the Harmon District of Churchill County from its construction until county school consolidation in 1956. As common for the period, the school was a noted community and social center and cited as one of Nevada's "finest rural schools" in the Biennial Report of the Superintendent Public Instruction for 1915-16.

The school was built in response to the rapid population growth in Churchill County which accompanied the Newlands Reclamation Project (1903) and the construction of Lahontan Dam on the Carson River. As a result of this first, federal reclamation project, cultivation of the desert was possible. Homesteader and ranch families soon moved to the area straining the existing school facilities.

In May, 1914, the residents of Harmon District voted to construct a larger school. A ten-acre parcel was subsequently donated to the school district by the U.S. Reclamation Service. In July 1914, the building site was leveled by volunteer labor. In that same year a $5,000.00 bond was raised for school construction. In March, 1915, the Secretary of the Interior officially withdrew the ten acre school parcel from the government reclamation project and school construction was completed the following fall. Lon Kaiser was awarded the contract for the concrete work while Mark Wildes was the project carpenter.

Nevada's late nineteenth and early twentieth century education system was noted for its lack of standardization in facilities and instruction. Vast distances, sparse population and the boom-bust cycle associated with a mining based economy were factors influencing the state's history of education. Educational facilities were similarly affected. Fluctuating fortunes in the mining industry left some schools abandon, and others overcrowded before they opened. Wealthy communities often boasted elaborate, architect designed school buildings, such as Virginia City's Fourth Ward School while schools in poorer areas were sometimes little more than shacks. Although the Nevada Constitution of 1864 provided for a uniform system of public schools, rural schools, until the 1920s, tended to be modest buildings constructed for expediency. In 1876, the Superintendent of Public Instruction noted this problem in his annual report:

"The returns show that of the seventy-one districts in the State; twenty-four furnished less than six months of public school during the past year. These, I think, are, without exception, sparsely settled districts...this inequality arised from the pro rata plan of distribution of public school moneys...Then it is remembered that the supply of tuition to twenty children will require just as great an outlay as for forty children..."

Declining mining activity between 1880 and 1900 resulted in a statewide economic depression which was reflected in the state's education system. Superintendent of Public Instruction, Orvis Ring noted in his report for 1882:

"Some of the districts require new school houses, but in the present condition of things people are not able to go to any great expense for these things...but when Nevada becomes again prosperous new houses will be built for the children, in which to cultivate their intellects."

After 1900, new mining discoveries in southern Nevada, the expansion of the railroad, and the Newlands water project contributed to the state's economic recovery. Between 1920 and 1926, the state claimed a total of 384 schools and 331 school districts. Two hundred fifty three of these schools were one-room facilities, sixteen of which were described as "unfit for use".

During the first decades of the twentieth century, Nevada joined the national movement for school standardization. This movement can be traced to 1832, when William Alcott wrote an influential essay on schoolhouse design. This essay addressed such issues as classroom design, light and ventilation as well as school fixtures. In a similar attempt to standardize schools, Nevada passed legislation in 1917 requiring the State Department to issue guidelines for rural facilities which addressed both school design and curriculum.

The Harmon Schoolhouse design can be seen as part of this statewide movement. As noted in the Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, "The building is in general modeled after the plan approved by the Russell Sage Foundation and in point of arrangement, convenience, and construction is unquestionably the finest rural school in the District". The incorporation of a teacherage in the school complex follows a western tradition of providing board to teachers while eliminating the need to "board around" the district with students' families.

State education guidelines for rural schools also encouraged their use as community and social centers. Residents of the Harmon District enthusiastically adopted this secondary school use from its construction. Funds for many school improvements were raised by the Harmon Social Club, a social organization of women living in the district. Through its life, the Club provided funds for school library books, geography maps, and playground and sporting equipment. The Club was also responsible for equipping the school's basement kitchen for noon meals and community dinners.

Nevada's educational system followed a pattern of encouraging voluntary improvement until World War II. Following World War II, a surge in population strained the state's inadequate school system. In Las Vegas, schools held double sessions and the District was unable to balance its budget. In response to the problem, the Nevada State Legislature passed a special appropriation to fund a survey of the state's educational system. Based on this study conducted by Peabody College in Nashville, the state Legislature made sweeping changes in 1956. The most important of these changes were the adoption of a state sales tax, the levying of a mandatory county tax for education and the consolidation of school districts under a wide county system. These changes restructured Nevada's educational system and resulted in the elimination of school districts, the abandonment of antiquated facilities and increased the equality of educational opportunities within the state.

County school consolidation also forced the abandonment of rural school and community centers such as the Harmon School.

Building Description

The Harmon School is a ten acre, rural school centrally located in the Harmon District of Churchill County, Nevada. The site is located approximately six miles from the town of Fallon and is bounded to the south by Kirn Road and to the east by North Harmon Road. The area is dominated by single-family farms ranging in size from 80 to 180 acres. The site incorporates a substantial, one-story, masonry schoolhouse, a modest, single story, frame teacherage and a single story, frame pumphouse.

The Harmon Schoolhouse is a one-story, coursed concrete block building constructed in 1915 to serve the Harmon District of rural Nevada. The symmetrical, five-bay building is supported by a raised, concrete foundation and terminates in an intersecting gable roof with projecting eaves and exposed rafters. Two, interior, brick chimneys with straight stacks and corbelled caps punctuate the principal roof plane. The structure is oriented to the south and adopts a "T" plan formed by a center hall, flanking classrooms and a rear auditorium. A partial basement is found beneath the auditorium and houses a kitchen. The rear auditorium was extended by a two-bay frame and stucco addition in 1935.

The central, three-bay entrance to the building is found on the north elevation and is recessed beneath a projecting roof gable carrying the inscription "HARMON 1915". The entry incorporates double, single light, wooden doors flanked by paired, four-light-over-four-light, wooden sash windows enframed by simple board surrounds. The building's remaining windows are two-light-over-two-light, wooden sash enframed by similar board surrounds.

The majority of the building's original interior finishes survive and include simple, wooden woodwork, plaster walls and school fixtures such as blackboards, storage cupboards and stoves. Research indicates that a iron school bell was originally mounted atop the building. The feature has not survived. the schoolhouse is currently undergoing rehabilitation by the community based, Harmon District Association for use as a community center and polling place.

An symmetrically, three-bay, three-room, teacherage is located northeast of the schoolhouse. The frame building is supported by a concrete foundation and terminates in a gable roof punctuated by a central stove chimney. The building is oriented to the south and includes two, single-light, wooden doors on the principal elevation. This building was used to house members of the teaching staff during the school year. The interior of the building does not survive intact and has been subject to vandalism.

A single story, frame pumphouse is located between the schoolhouse and the teacherage. This building is supported by a concrete slab and terminates in a shed roof. Entry to the building is gained through the north elevation. The building originally houses the pump for the school water system.

Original landscape features include a semi-circular driveway leading to the front of the schoolhouse and several mature cottonwood trees located along the property's southern boundary. Evidence of the site's landscape design has been replaced by high desert vegetation including greasewood and salt grass. Research indicates that the school site originally included an northern boundary, tree arbor, and a hitching rail and water trough for students' horses.

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada View looking south from main entrance (1989)
View looking south from main entrance (1989)

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada Front elevation looking north (1989)
Front elevation looking north (1989)

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada East and north elevations facing southwest (1989)
East and north elevations facing southwest (1989)

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada North and west elevations facing southeast (1989)
North and west elevations facing southeast (1989)

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada South elevation brick detail (1989)
South elevation brick detail (1989)

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada South and west elevation of teacherage (1989)
South and west elevation of teacherage (1989)

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada South and east elevation of teacherage (1989)
South and east elevation of teacherage (1989)

Harmon School, Fallon Nevada North and west elevation of pump house (1989)
North and west elevation of pump house (1989)