Beirut, Lebanon, and Evergreen, Colorado. What do these places have in common? They might be worlds apart, but each city has been touched by one family's passion for education. Despite their geographical separation, both cities have benefited from schools founded and supported by the Dodge family. David Stuart Dodge helped establish the University of Beirut in Lebanon and his son Clarence Phelps Dodge remained a trustee of the school into the twentieth century. In Colorado, Jefferson County school children benefit from another Dodge-inspired school, the Mount Evans Outdoor Education Laboratory School near Evergreen.
What now functions as a hands-on outdoor school in the shadow of Mount Evans began as a Dodge-family summer home. Clarence Phelps Dodge and his wife Regina, who designed the main house herself, built their retreat in 1907. The family vacationed there during Dodge's years as the publisher of the Colorado Springs Gazette, after his single term in Colorado's House of Representatives, and after the family moved to Washington, D.C. in the 1930s. Haystack Ranch, as it was also known, served as a relaxing summer getaway until the late 1930s when Clarence Phelps Dodge died, and World War II placed normal life on hold. After the war, Clarence Phelps Dodge, Jr. attempted to use the Main Lodge as a year-round residence and rented out the other buildings. However, by the late 1950s the venture was no longer economically feasible. In 1960, Dodge sold the property to the Jefferson County School District.
Since 1961, the Dodge Ranch has functioned as an outdoor lab school for Jefferson County sixth graders. Students live at the ranch for a week and study the history of the ranch, ecology, wildlife, geology, and astronomy. Unfortunately, because of the property's deteriorated condition, parts of the Main Lodge and the barn went unused by students for many years. By the 1990s, the ranch required extensive restoration and repair.
Aided by a $300,000 State Historical Fund grant, the Jefferson County School District restored the ranch's Main Lodge and repaired the barn, guest house, and hay shed/chicken house. The most ambitious aspect of the project, however, was that the Main Lodge was not only restored, but it has become a showcase of different eras in American history. Rooms were restored to various time periods: one room for each era that the house was occupied. Examples include the late Victorian era, World Wars I and II, the Depression, and the Cold War. Not only does the Mt. Evans school provide children with a first-hand look at historical items and lifestyles, but for many students, the outdoor school is their first introduction to Colorado's rich wildlife and ecology.
The restoration of the Dodge Ranch has been a long, careful process with successful results. Contractors paid close attention to details, such as the replacement of rotting wood beams in the Main Lodge with hand-hewn logs that correspond to the era of the house. Workers also repaired the original stove in the kitchen, allowing students to experience what cooking was like before electricity. Many students who return as leaders during high school have experienced the changes brought by the restoration, and for sixth graders every week during the school year, the ranch is a window into Colorado's environment and history. Over a hundred sixth graders a week participate in the outdoor courses whose information is also incorporated into the regular school curriculum. The Outdoor Education Laboratory School at Mount Evans is a great addition to every sixth grader's education in Jefferson County.
By Rose Gaudio, Intern, Research and Publications Department