By: Loretta (Stevens) Bailey
Now: Take a drive or stroll around the block of the former St. Scholastica Girls Academy (1890-2001) campus and look at the buildings. This block was once home to the Collegiate and Military Institute (1880-1886) built by the Grand Army of the Republic. Both schools have now come and gone but their enthralling histories remain.
Did you know the old military housing the nuns originally lived in was deemed unsafe, forcing the nuns to vacate the building? The constant reverberations from blasting for the construction of a ditch caused cracks in the building, forcing the nuns to live in tents and a small shed for three years until funding was found and a new building constructed in 1897. Then a fire in 1917 destroyed the Academy. Once there were tennis courts, a swimming pool, beautiful lawns, shrubbery, trees, walkways, and vestals. The nuns were persistent in keeping their female boarders and Fremont County’s teenage boys estranged for generations.
Cañon City Daily Record
April 10, 2019
“Redevelopment of St. Scholastica Academy Campus Still in the Works”
By Carie Canterbury
“After a lull of inactivity, things soon may become a little more active at the former St. Scholastica Academy campus – soon to be the Pike Canyon Apartments.
Located at 615 Pike Ave., the property’s owner continues his commitment to redevelop the land into apartments for people ages 55 and older, luxury apartments and affordable duplexes.
‘We’re about a year and a half behind where I thought we would be, but the plan is still a go,’ said Steve Savage, the project coordinator. ‘We’ve had to modify our plan a couple of times, a lot of engineering changes because of the condition of the property.’
He said asbestos abatement should begin in the next several weeks.
Since Michael Butler purchased the property in 2017 and gained the city’s approval to move forward with the development, crews have done quite a bit of clearing, grading and clean up.
‘It’s going to be a good project,’ Savage said. ‘The hardest part is just getting started.’
He said any project of this magnitude is bound to run into some snags.”
The Collegiate and Military Institute
Fremont County Record
“Our new military college building will be ready for the fall term which will begin on September 4th. There will be a good enrollment and many new features introduced that was impossible to attempt in the former contracted quarter. Capt. Henry Curtis, of West Point, will fill the position of adjutant, professor of mathematics and instructor in drill tactics.”
Fremont County Record
“Perhaps few of our citizens are aware of the completeness, convenience and finish of the new military college building. It is a just source of pride and congratulation that the energy and benevolence of some of Canon’s best citizens have worked such results a substantial monument to their faith in the good that educational privileges ensure to the town in which they live and have built their homes […] In the basement you enter a hall from which opens on the one side a large room filled up as an armory with a turning or gymnastic bar in the center, it is large enough to drill and exercise in.
From this hall you also enter a bath room with hot and cold water faucets, a servants room and an ample dining room, a kitchen with range, reservoir, sink and pantry occupy the balance of the basements, the ceilings high and all the rooms pleasant. The first floor is furnished for the President and his family on one side, the main hall and two school rooms on the other, comprising a study for the young ladies and a primary or preparatory room. Broad stairs, broken by a landing half way up, lead to the second floor, here a hall-way leads on one side to a general school room, occupying the entire width of the building, the center room is in the tower and is the President’s office and study, the other side is divided into three apartments to be used as music, art and library rooms. Still, following the winding stairway we reach the upper rooms which consist of ten dormitories and an Adjutants room, stationary basins in the hall are supplied with hydrant water […] The water pipes are being laid on Seventh Street to connect with the pipes of the college. The grounds graded, leveled and sanded, and it is most sincerely to be hoped that those having these improvements in charge will see that the house is secured against any unexpected or possible rush of water from any and every direction. Men of the commonest experience with adobe soil in Colorado ought not lose sight of this one moment, nor allow a good building to be twenty-four hours without sure and sufficient banking about it. From what we hear and can learn we feel sure that the venture of incorporating, supporting and building the Military College in Canon City is a success.”
Fremont County Record
“The Colorado Collegiate and Military Institute is now fairly under way. About forty students are enrolled, and others are expected to arrive during the coming week. Captain Bonfils, who has charge of the cadets, has proved himself a competent instructor and excellent disciplinarian, having inaugurated a far superior system of discipline to any before adopted. The various classes are organized and the students have gotten to work in earnest. The English branches, bookkeeping, classical studies are the leading ones pursued and students are already showing marked improvement in the class-room, drill-room, and general deportment. The instruction imparted is of a superior character, and the local patronage deserves to be increased. Our people owe it to themselves, their town, and their sons and daughters to foster this institution while it is in its infancy: to lend it hardy support now, when it is needs patronage. Outside students are doing well, representatives being present and expected from Leadville, Rosita, Silver Cliff, Fairplay, Boulder, Pueblo, Denver and the eastern states, including the four scholarships presented by the governor. The local patronage is too light and we trust our people will speedily come to the aid of so worthy an institution.”
Fremont County Record
MUSICAL AND FLORAL FESTIVAL
“Given at Blake’s hall, by our church ladies in and of the college. This was the crowning feature of the day, and furnished a fitting close for so memorable an occasion. As one ascended the stairway of the hall the first attraction that is met the eye was the word “WELCOME” in large capitals arranged in a semi-circle, and beautifully wrought in evergreens.
Was tastefully and elegantly decorated the glittering chandeliers draped in evergreen, the cornices and casements trimmed in like manner, while from the walls and ceilings rich wreaths of evergreens, interwoven with flowers and tropical fruits, depended in graceful festoons above the scene of gaiety and beauty that floated below. In the center of the hall from the ceiling hung a beautiful, evergreen-trimmed monogram of the college, forming a pleasing picture.
THE FLORAL FIXINGS
Rare house plants and choice cut flowers were arranged in the most attractive order about the hall, while on the west side of the room was erected a handsome floral booth, at which Misses Tillie Macon and Fannie Bowlby dispensed sparkling lemonade made for the delectation of the multitude.
THE KIND DONORS
Among those who largely contributed to the success of the entertainment, by contributions of evergreens, house plants and cut flowers, we must mention the names of Mayor Cooper, Mrs. Jeske, Mr. Gravestock, Mr. Hyde, Mrs. Sheetz, Mrs. Sanders, Miss Haines, Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Helm, who were very generous in their gifts, which were of a rare order. A number of other ladies whose names have escaped us, also made handsome gifts of bouquets.”
THE BUSY BEES
The leading spirits who arranged the decorations and to whom the highest meed is due, were Mrs. Bowley, president of the ladies committee, Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Craven, Mrs. Sheetz, Mrs. Fort, Mrs. Saunders, Miss Frazier, Miss Baldwin, the Misses Macon, Miss Barber, Mr. and Mrs. Helm, Mr. Harry McClanahan, Miss Fannie McClanahan and Miss Freeman, all of whom labored indefatigably displayed excellent taste.
Was furnished by the Parlor Orchestra; a quartet comprised of Mesdames Earle and Mack and Messrs. Sartor and Little; and solos by Miss Ida Freeman and Mrs. R.S. Lewis with accompaniments by Mrs. Prentiss and Miss Minnie Mack.
Provided by the ladies, consisted of ice cream, cake, lemonade and coffee and were partaken by all present. The refreshment tables were numerous and profusely ornamented with flowers, the whole scene presenting a labyrinth of dazzling and fairy land beauty.
The day was a beautiful one, and evening cool and delicious, and everything propitious for the festivities.
A large number of visitors from the surrounding towns and the county were present: our own natives turned out en masse: businesses of all kinds were suspended during the afternoon festivities and was attended by some 300 or 400 persons.”
Fremont County Record
“Hon. F.A. Raynolds, president of the board of college trustees, who expressed the greatest gratification at the completion of the institution, and, adding that he was no public speaker, gracefully introduced.
Mayor Cooper, who spoke in the most glowing terms of the proud achievements of Southern Colorado, and pointed with pride to this monument to the intelligence, enterprise and the zeal of her people. He painted in bright colors the golden future of our city and country and paid a high tribute to the founders of the worthy and so promising an institution.
Hon. D.G. Peabody Esq., was next introduced, who made in eloquent address, reverting to the enterprise, energy and perseverance which had characterized the labors of the founders and builders from the inauguration to the consummation of this noble work, paying in the connection, the highest tribute to the indomitable spirit of Colonel Sawyer. He addressed the cadets and young around him in a manner calculated to inspire their youthful hearts with like spirit.
Collegiate and Military Institute 1884—1885
Roll of Students
Then: Marshall and Amanda Felch enrolled their oldest child, Sarah, into the Grand Army Collegiate and Military Institute. Sarah 16, was one of 53 students enrolled for the school session of 40 weeks, beginning in September through June.
Out of the 53 students, 37 were from Fremont County and 16 were from out of state. To get a child enrolled at such a prestigious institution of higher education, most certainly was expensive and it not an easy process to get accepted.
Sarah’s parents were both Civil War Veterans, who served in the Union Hospital Corps. The bloodiest, carnage war that was ever fought on American soil. Both Amanda, a nurse and Marshall, a hospital steward, had the resilience and grit to endure, survive and move on from the atrocities of war. After the war, they homesteaded in Garden Park, Colorado and started raising a family.
Garden Park, the Ranch and Dinosaur Bones
Sarah and her three younger brothers Ned, Webster, and Willie lived with their parents on a ranch in Garden Park. This location was also known as “Paradise Park” for its splendor, grandeur, and beauty. Discovery of dinosaur bones by Marshall and others in 1877, began the notorious “Bones War.”
Sarah had an invested part in the cleaning, identifying, and shipping the bones back east, alongside her father. An example of her keen interest is an insightful drawing of a part of a dinosaur bone that is exceptional for such a young girl.
The family ranch was about 12 miles from the Colorado Collegiate and Military Institute, that meant transportation to the school was either by horseback or wagon. Winter months in Colorado were very cold with snow, so sled, snowshoes or skis were used. Sarah was a day time student rather than a boarder.
Now: Located at 615 Pike, at the foot of the Skyline Drive, stands two vacant large red brick buildings facing south. The front entrance looks desolate and depressing. One lonely-looking leafless tree with long spindly branches has a shrouded history. Two stumps of what once had been companion trees sit in the unkept yard with patches of weeds. Run-down and dilapidated from neglected and abandonment makes me feel sad.
Drive around the block and you’ll find a wire fence with padlocked gates and “No Trespassing” signs wired to the fence. Enclosed in this area are some very old buildings, piles of quarried and cut sand-stones and rubble. The stones were used for foundations of long-gone structures, that date back to middle 1800’s.
Cañon City Clipper
May 16, 1890
THE BENEDICTINE SISTERS
They Finally Secure the Macon Residence
“The sale of the Thos. Macon residence to the sisters to the order of St. Benedict was completed last Wednesday.
The price paid is $15,000, and the sister[s] receive, besides a large money donation from the citizens, enough additional land from Dr. Gray and others to give them a lot 223 x 628 feet.
Possession is to be given July 1st, when the necessary alterations will be at once begun, and also the erection of a chapel located on the west side of the present building. The sisters expect to have the academy in full readiness for the opening of the fall term in September. Father Egler has taken great interest in the bringing the institution to Canon, and deserves much credit for his success.”
Canon City Daily Record
April 12, 1890
“This Easter review of the religious influence of Cañon City would not be complete without a mention of the Mount St. Scholastica’s Academy. This is a religious educational institution of more than local note, and its buildings are some of the most prominent in the city.
[…] In January 1897, Mt. St. Scholastica’s re-opened in the present building, a structure 72 by 62 feet, possessing all the modern improvements and conveniences.
To the north, some feet from [t]he school, is a memorial chapel, the gift of Eugene O’Reilly, of Chicago.
This is the most beautiful little chapel in the state.
The front porch, recently added to [the] main building, is a magnificent donation of P.J. McCormack, of Guffey.
A neat little cottage for the Reverend Chaplain has just been completed in the southern part of the academy grounds.
The grounds consist of lawns, promenades, croquet and tennis courts.”
Now: This makes one question what in the world could had happened between 1890 and 1900, that did so much damage?
Keep reading on as I am going to back-up in time and you’ll know what happened.
In hopes of providing irrigation water for the gardens and fruit orchards on the east side of the hogbacks, the Kansas-Colorado Irrigation Ditch used explosives to blast rock away at the base of the Skyline Drive. During construction of the State Canal No. 1, the blasting reverberated through nearby buildings for almost three years. One of the buildings included the old military housing in which the nuns resided. Cracks appeared on the structure and an architect’s report concluded the building was unsafe and the nuns were forced to leave in 1893. It took the Sisters of Charity, over two years to persuade State Legislature to pass a bill and award them $8,000 in compensation for their devastated building. Two years without shelter the nuns had to resort to living in tents on the grounds.
Construction of a new building didn’t begin until 1896. Convicts were brought over to build the structure and the sisters finally moved into the new building in 1897. That building is now known as the Fine Arts building and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
This wasn’t the only damage the academy suffered within its lifetime.
The Canon City Record
FIRE DAMAGES EAST BUILDING OF ACADEMY THIS MORNING
- ST. SCHOLASTICA SUSTAINS LOSS OF SEVERAL THOUSAND DOLLARS – BUILDING AND CONTENTS FULLY COVERED BY INSURANCE.
“[…] The fire originated in the roof at the base of one of the dormer windows on the south side of the structure and was not discovered until after it had made considerable headway, which necessitated an immediate call on the fire department for help to prevent a general conflagration of the academy plant.
[…] An alarm was sent in to the Fire Department and prompt response was made to the summons. Attachment of the hose to a conveniently located fire plug was hurriedly made and a few minutes a stream of water was being played on the flames to good advantage.
[…] At the time the alarm was given, no one connected with the academy was aware the fire was so close. The first intimation they had was when the firemen pounded on the main door of the east building and demanded admittance to the attic floor. Sister M. Agatha, the doorkeeper, admitted the men and then sounded the school alarm.
The students were in classes but immediately arose and in an orderly manner marched out of the building.
[…] Many who were at the fire remarked at the perfect calmness of the sisters and the girls. They took it as if such a fire was an every day occurrence. The sisters in the kitchen kept on with their work, with prayers on their lips, declaring the sisters and girls would have to eat, fire or no fire.”
Pueblo Chieftain, Pueblo, Colorado
“Canon City’s St. Scholastica Chapel Soon to Fall Victim of Wrecker’s Ball”
By Caryl Buckstein
“Built in 1890, the chapel has served the faculty and students of St. Scholastica for nearly 90 years. The structure is beyond repair, however, and will soon be torn down and a new chapel will be put into use.
[…] Inside the chapel hang memorials of a different sort, made special by the efforts of one of the first nuns of the academy, Sister Celestine Fischer.
[…] The fate of the stained-glass windows and numerous paintings is not known. Much of the artwork will not fit into the proposed chapel, Sister Edna Cooper said.
[…] Sister Edna Cooper is the school historian but some of the chapel’s early history remains shrouded.”
History may have been shrouded but was sometimes found unexpectedly.
Cañon City Daily Record
“Academy Uncovers Time Capsule”
By Timothy J. Fowler
“Sister Kathleen McNamara of St. Scholastica Academy looks over the items found in the metal canister taken from the cornerstone of an academy building built in 1900 and torn down last November.
[…] Three pages of rules were part of a collection of papers and other items found in the metal container placed in the cornerstone of a school building built in 1900 and demolished last November.
Sister Kathleen McNamara got more than a few laughs this week as she read the rules out loud and compared them to the school’s modern-day rules. The biggest laugh came when Sister Kathleen, with knees crossed, read the rule stating, ‘Politeness forbids … crossing the knees.’ Another rule required the girls ‘to stand at the foot of the stairs and wait for another to descend.’”
Other rules within the list included bidding superiors good morning unless they were to meet in a hallway whereby curtseying is sufficient, no use of slang, and no chewing gum.
Other items included in the capsule were lists of the teachers, nuns, and students at the school, a description of a retreat held in June of 1900, and various holy medals. The new Learning Center built in 1979 contains a time capsule of its own.
The St. Scholastica Academy closed its doors in 2001. That appears to be the start of the decline of the buildings. There have been other attempts to use the buildings though out the years. None of these attempts ever got off the ground, except one in 2004.
To view the registration form for St. Scholastica, follow this link to the “National Park Service: National Register of Historic Places” or visit the museum to view in the archives.
Since it closed as a school, the buildings at the academy have been used for other purposes.
“Treatment Clinic Clear Hurdle in Cañon City”
By Tracy Harmon
“[…] Purchaser Norman Vaux, who moved from Pueblo to a home across Pike Avenue, proposes to use the campus as a high-cost education and holistic health-based retreat for people with addictive behavior. Vaux said the Looking Glass center would serve up to 50 people – mostly people with alcohol addictions but also some who may have drug and food addictions.
In response to concerns by neighbors, Vaux said that the facility will exclude sex offenders.”
Some reported staffing problems and not being a good-fit in the neighborhood, Looking Glass Center lasted only a short while.
Now: That brings us back to the 2019 news article in the Cañon City Daily Record at the beginning of this blog. I knew about the Girls Academy and had some friends and acquittances who attended the school in late 1950’s and early 1960’s. After researching for this blog. I have gained more respect and admiration for the buildings and the people of the past who were part of this history.
Myself, along with many others, have high hopes once again that this magnificent historical site will be restored and rebuilt so future generations can learn the history and contributions to our community.
[Other sources within the archives include oral histories and yearbooks from St. Scholastica.]
McGinn, Elinor Myers. At Hard Labor: Inmate Labor at the Colorado State Penitentiary, 1871-1940. New York: P. Lang, 1993.
 Elinor Myers McGinn, At Hard Labor: Inmate Labor at the Colorado State Penitentiary, 1871-1940 (New York: P. Lang, 1993), 66-67.