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Community is a buzzword used in virtually every mission statement or self-description of almost every school in the country. The reasons are esteemed, but the reality is rarely attained for most children and families. Sadly, small schools, and community schools in particular, have become all but nonexistent. Modern schools simply serve too large a geographic area. Children attend schools full of strangers.

At the Gold Hill School there are no strangers. The school serves a small community tied together by mountain topography, and has done so continuously since 1873. The school owes its record of 136 consecutive years of operation to its proximity to the city of Boulder below, and the vast wilderness of the Continental Divide above. Bringing young children to Boulder for schooling, either by horse and wagon, or bus, is out of the question. So what has endured is one of the best kept secrets in modern American public education –a real community school.

At the Gold Hill School each parent knows every family, and each child knows not only every other child’s name, but details of their daily lives. Further, it’s a school in which the teachers have known the majority of children since preschool, and will know them intimately through their entire elementary school years. As teacher, Sue Kidder, puts it, “Each new school year is not a starting over, it’s the continuation of a growing relationship. Such intimacy puts me into the best possible position to meet a given child’s educational and social needs.”

With a capacity of 35 children from Kindergarten through 5th grade, the ideals of individualized, experiential instruction are truly realized. Children are challenged at their own level, with no ceiling imposed. In this unique environment younger children draw inspiration from the efforts and accomplishments of their older classmates, while older children gain confidence and experience working with the younger. 

In-class experiences are easily extended into the surrounding town, forests and meadows. At the same time the arts and science academies of Boulder are within reach, allowing a rich stream of visiting scientists, artists, writers, and musicians to regularly enter our children’s lives. Farther ranging field trips are easily managed. A group our size is easy to transport and is generously welcomed almost anywhere we choose to go.

Idyllic? We think so. The Gold Hill School provides children the academic and social competence to fully participate in the global community of the 21st century.


By Derek Secor Davis

The Gold Hill School and its surrounding community have a rich history. As the name indicates, the town of Gold Hill has it origins in the early gold mining days of Colorado. In January of 1859, gold was discovered in Gold Run Creek very near the center of present day Gold Hill. This discovery was one of handful of gold strikes that occurred in Colorado that year and was part of Colorado’s first gold rush. By the summer of 1859 the population of Gold Hill is estimated to have been between three and five thousand.

The first settlement of Gold Hill consisted mostly of tents and hastily built cabins. This was located on Horsfal Hill or Gold Hill as it was known back then, just east of present day Gold Hill. As is often the case with gold rush mining communities by the late 1860’s, the original settlement was near deserted, after being ravaged by the forest fire of 1860 and economic difficulties of the civil war coupled with the mines playing out. However with the discovery of Tellurium in 1872, a form of gold ore that had been overlooked by the previous prospectors, new life was infused into the town of Gold Hill. With this discovery the present town of Gold Hill began it’s existence located off the windswept flats of Horsfal Hill, down in a more sheltered area by Gold Run Creek where the first strike of gold had occurred thirteen years earlier.

With this influx of new inhabitants, Gold Hill experienced a building boom during the summer of 1873. Twenty dwellings, six boardinghouses, a hotel, two stores, a meat market, blacksmith shop, two stables, two saloons and the schoolhouse were built. The first school was a log structure that served both as schoolhouse during the week and as a church on Sundays. That first year there were thirty one students taught by Miss Hannah C. Spalding, a native of Massachusetts. The October 17,1873 issue of the Boulder County News named Gold Hill’s new school “one of the best schools in the County”.

In 1890 the original one-room school was dismantled and replaced by a larger one room frame structure, which continues to be used as the room for grades 3-5 today. In 1895 this one room school served sixty enrolled students, who at the time were taught by two teachers. Somewhere around 1898 a smaller room was added on the back of the school to serve the growing student population and this is the present day library. For about ten years, around the turn of the last century, the Gold Hill School employed two teachers, each being responsible for about forty students. In 1985 another room was added to the east side of the school, almost doubling the size of the building creating what is, to this day, a two-room schoolhouse. This room serves now the K-2 grades.

Against all odds, the Gold Hill School has remained in continual operation ever since it first opened in the fall of 1873 as a one room log schoolhouse. It narrowly survived being destroyed by a wind driven wildfire in November of 1894 when the entire town was saved by a dramatic change of wind and the onset of a snowstorm. Another type of storm threatened to close the school in 1964 when the Boulder Valley School District very nearly decided to close the school. Only through national media attention and the entire population of Gold Hill protesting the decision was the school able to remain open.