Selections from the Renee Cushman Art Collection
Published March/April 2014

And the Rest Is History

A renovation of Springerville School preserves this eastern Arizona town’s heritage through the arts

BYSam Lowe
The Springerville Heritage Center exists because the residents of the Apache County community are too proud of their past to let it slip away into the history books.
 
Housed in the wonderfully restored Springerville School, the center contains six separate entities that trace and explain the history of the area through art, artifacts, antiques, and answers. But it almost didn’t happen.
 
The building was erected in 1884 and, with periodic additions, served until it was closed in 1983. From that point on it sat vacant and deteriorating — the wooden floors were rotting and roof was filled with holes — and demolition seemed inevitable. Then, because it was no longer functional, the decision was made to raze it.
 
But many residents of both Springerville and adjoining Eagar had fond memories of attending school there, so they set out to save it. After acquiring federal, state, and historic preservation grants, combined with grass-roots fundraising efforts, they earned enough money for the lengthy restoration project to begin in 2002.
 
A Class-Act Remodel
Reopened since February 2012, the center is still a work in progress, but enough has been completed to make it a worthy attraction. The hallway, once filled with the footsteps and voices of students and teachers, is now an art gallery lined with oils and pastel paintings, photography, sculptures, and Native American works, all created by area artists.
 
One former classroom now holds the Renee Cushman Art Collection, which includes an original 1646 Rembrandt etching. The collection also features 17th and 18th century works by Dutch masters, crystal decanters once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, and several pieces of antique furniture and wall hangings.
 
The Casa Malpais Museum, located in another classroom, contains a large assortment of artifacts from the nearby Casa Malpais Archeological Site. The display cases are filled with pottery, Clovis arrowheads, other relics, and information about tours to the site.
 
The Becker Family Room and Historical Collection, the Springerville-Eagar Chamber of Commerce, and the Joseph and Emma Udall Theatre also occupy rooms that once served as learning centers. The Beckers were instrumental in the development of the community and their story is told in newspaper articles, old photos, and historical documents. The Chamber welcomes visitors and provides additional information, while the theater — also available for conferences and other cinema presentations — seats up to 40 guests for regular screenings of an area-specific video, composed of photos, music, and narration.
SAM LOWE is a Phoenix-based travel writer and author of 10 books about Arizona and New Mexico.
For More Information
Call your local AAA Travel professional at 1-888-870-9392 or visit AAA.com.
If You Go
Springerville Heritage Center
418 E. Main St.
Springerville, Ariz.
928-333-2123
 
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
 
Admission: Free
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