Winfield Scott and Scottsdale's First School

Scottsdale eventually came to be known as “the West’s Most Western Town,” but for its founder, Chaplain Winfield Scott, “the West” need not be wild. In the untamed wilderness to the southeast of Camelback Mountain, he saw the potential for a vibrant and sustainable community. As a gifted cultivator of the agrarian landscape and its natural resources, Chaplain Scott was equally as determined to nurture and cultivate the hearts and minds of the peoples who would become a vital part of his homestead, including the young people who were raised on the land. Scottsdale needed a school.

Cultured trailblazers on the frontier, like Chaplain Scott, his wife Helen—who happened to be a school teacher—and some of their distinguished neighbors, believed that education was a marker of civilization and schools were the best conduit to ensure the settlement would develop and attract educated, engaged residents. If their beloved homestead, originally called Orangedale for the citrus trees that thrived there, was to grow from an outpost into a flourishing community, it needed an educational center to bring a sense of civilization and civic duty to its residents. Over time, their journey to establish suitable schooling for youngsters paralleled Scottsdale’s development as a viable market town: as Scottsdale grew and prospered, it needed larger and larger schools.

American settlers commonly raised temporary schools until they could construct permanent schools. In 1896, Scottsdale’s first makeshift school formed at Mrs. George Blount’s Ranch, where she taught eight children not far from the Scott homestead. As the settlement grew, this school was insufficient. Later that year, Scott formed a school committee that organized an official Scottsdale school district, named in honor of Chaplain Scott. Shortly after, area residents came together in one of their first acts of civic unity and built a school—a small, one-room wooden building to accommodate the rising number of pupils in the district. In 1909, locals expressed faith and pride in their community once again and voted unanimously for a larger, more enduring brick school: the little red school house.

For residents in early Scottsdale and in other settlements-turned-towns across America, the little red school house was a local symbol of its permanent status and its promising future. For Arizona, the push for school s also had significant consequences for state and national politics. As one gauge for the area’s potential as a civic body, the presence of numerous public schools in the Arizona Territory played a role in its attainment of statehood in 1912. Chaplain Winfield Scott never lived to see that day, but without doubt, he would have been proud to see his cultivating mission played a small part in bearing such fruit.



A Watchful Eye
Jim Newcomer describes the story behind the Winfield Scott Memorial by George-Ann Tognoni. Written by Megan Keough; narrated by Jim Newcomer. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.
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