ELOY -- It was in 1926 when Frank W. Shedd & Company donated a 1.7-acre site to the Toltec School District, which was where children living on the farms surrounding the area went to school.
Two wooden schoolhouses were built on the land and were used for all the children until a mission-style building was completed in 1930.
Farmers like Shedd provided housing as a perk to keep the best employees and during the fall and winter months, school attendance for the lower grades would jump to over 50 kids per class as many migrant workers moved into the area.
Although the lower grades increased, the upper grades did not see the same impact as the older students typically stayed home to help out with their younger siblings or went off to work in the fields.
In 1930 the newly built schoolhouse was for third through eighth grades and the older wooden buildings were used for first and second graders. From 1929 to 1951 one building was the segregated portion of the school.
The “colored school,” as it was referred to, was used until 1951, when desegregation was instituted in Arizona.
Fast forward from the 1930s to 2020 and that mission-style building looks brand new and offers visitors a walk through history with the Sunland Visitor Center, Eloy Chamber of Commerce and Eloy’s Santa Cruz Valley Historic Museum all nestled under one roof.
“We tried to replicate everything to keep it historically correct,” Eloy historian and museum board President Dick Myers said.
One of the small schoolhouses showcases the small wooden desks and chalkboards that were used in the 1900s and in the bigger building visitors can find an alligator hiding underneath the stage as stories were told of teachers trying to scare their students by telling them that an alligator lived underneath to keep them from hiding there.
“The Santa Cruz Valley Historic Museum Board, under the leadership of Dick Myers, had the vision to make this project become reality,” former Eloy Mayor Joel Belloc said at the museum’s grand opening in January. “The board’s fundraising events over the years generated exceptional community support and the fund for the museum restoration. I would like to commend and congratulate all the board members, and especially Dick Myers, for their faithful dedication and perseverance to this project. A big thank you to all those in the community who donated their money, time and sweat in making this vision a reality.”
Myers and Cindy Yates, executive director of the Sunland Visitor Center, had a few travelers stop by during those fundraising years and many would tell stories of when they went to school at the historic Toltec Elementary School.
“We welcome you to come back and take a look at how things have changed,” Yates said. “You’ll probably still recognize, as one lady did, where the teacher’s desk was and where she sat.” PW