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Sandy Journal

If those walls could speak: Granite Elementary’s past yarned together with stories

Nov 05, 2020 12:32PM ● By Julie Slama

On the right, James M. Whitmore served as a teacher and principal for 17 years to students at Granite Elementary. (Photo courtesy of the Whitmore family)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

On the third Friday of each month, a group of women get together to catch up. Their agenda is to play games, but oftentimes those get intermixed with remembrances and laughter — a lot of laughter — as they recount stories surrounding the days of the second Granite Elementary School.

The group, the Original Granite Girls Club — “because Lyle (Hand Parker) has to name everything,” Judy Anderson Maynes says — recalls the school centered around many of their activities and life in the Granite community back in the 1950s.

At the time, the Granite Elementary School had three main rooms. When the school opened in 1905, there was a classroom for the younger grades, a classroom for the older grades, and a gym, which eventually was used for the fifth and sixth grades, allowing three classrooms of two grades each with 10 to 15 students. There were blackboards in the rooms and maps on the walls. 

In the 1920s, an indoor bathroom wing was added to the brick schoolhouse, which later was covered with plaster. The cupola that had originally adorned the schoolhouse roof and a white picket fence in front of the school yard were long gone by the 1950s when the Original Granite Girls Club attended the school.

The second Granite Elementary, built on some of the land on 3100 East where the current school now resides, replaced the first Granite Community School, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1891–92 on the northeast corner of 3100 East and 9800 South, on ground originally owned by Solomon Despain. For years, that school building was used as a meeting place for civic affairs and for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Lyle Hand Parker, who attended the second Granite Elementary from first through sixth grade, remembers traveling down Little Cottonwood Canyon where her family lived to the school and even farther to Loren’s Market, near the site of where Jordan Commons is, for a stick of gum. 

She remembers her dad, who worked for Whitmore Oxygen Company, was asked to attend a city improvement meeting to support sewers for the community.

“Everyone would have to pay an assessment and Dad just about got tarred and feathered,” she remembered. “It was a small community; everyone thought we lived at the end of the world. Thirteenth (1300 East) didn’t go further than 9400 South. When we went to Jordan High School and to the store, we’d just coast down the hill. There were no stops.”

Maynes said it was a community where “everyone knew everyone. As kids, if we did something wrong, there was someone who saw you and reported to your parents, if they could get through on the party (telephone) line, and they also disciplined you.”

Life centered around the school and church for many Granite students, from the Fourth of July parades to the Christmas nativity pageants where they’d learn their roles at school and perform them at church. The school children would watch movies projected from a reel projector on the side of the church. The boys church basketball team practiced in the school gym, where the ceilings were only 3 or 4 feet above the net so “you could tell who learned to play there” as their shots had no arc, Maynes said.

Parker recalls a set schedule at school, where her mother filled in as the school nurse. 

“We didn’t have testing or homework like they do now,” Parker said. “We didn’t have mascots or school colors, just the school name. We spent a certain time each day studying subjects — reading, writing, arithmetic, story time. The teachers always read wonderful stories. I remember we had big chalkboards, and everything was on the chalkboard even though we had textbooks. But I was one of those attention-deficit kids and was always looking out the window or drawing paper dolls. Sometimes, we’d sit in the broom closet and gossip.”

Maynes, who attended Granite through fourth grade, recalled an art assignment her teacher asked them to draw — the nearby Wasatch Mountains using no black or brown colors.

“It was the best picture I ever drew,” she said. “We had basic math back then. When we finished, we helped other kids.”

Maynes’ sister-in-law, Diana (Cameron) Maynes remembers having to share books.

“There were never enough books and we were taught how to open the book so not to break its spine,” she said, adding that a bookmobile visited weekly from Midvale to supply the school children with books to read.

Many of the Original Granite Girls Club members’ stories centered outside the classroom rather than what they were learning. 

Parker recalled her now brother-in-law, Ken Parker, skipped school by climbing out the coal shoot in the furnace room to play in the irrigation ditch. The irrigation water would be released into the crops every seven and one-half days and she remembers him floating in the ditch.

He wasn’t the only one to play in the ditch. Students would go out and scoop up the brown foam from the ditch and spread it all over their faces, she remembered.

Diana Maynes, who attended the Granite school in first and second grades, remembers taking an old wooden ironing board from her home to “surf” the ditch.

“It didn’t work, and I fell into the dirty brown water,” she said, and recalled not getting in trouble when she returned home near where her grandparents lived next door and her cousins resided down the street.

“That’s because you were royalty,” teased her now sister-in-law, referring to Diana Maynes’ lineage that came down from Brigham Young.

The school was surrounded by sagebrush, a ball field and a tennis court, with a playground and cemetery nearby.

“We’d go outside and make huts in the sagebrush to play in,” Parker said. 

Judy Maynes said after her younger sister got a tick in the sagebrush, she opted to climb a big oak tree or up to the school window ledges despite the boys claiming it was theirs to climb.

Her older sister, Colleen Anderson Breinholt, recalls students sneaking out to sit near the baseball field’s fence line where they smoked — until they got caught and letters were sent home.

The playground, which was built at the Whitmore Oxygen plant, had six swing sets, a metal teeter-totter, a metal slide, a metal merry-go-round and a whirligig, where students would grasp metal handles around a pole and swing. 

“The slide had a huge drop and there was always mud at the bottom of it,” Parker recalled.

When the tennis courts were added, they were “the only smooth surface around” so the courts would double as a roller skate rink.

One of Parker’s duties as a sixth grader was to stand in front of the building and ring the brass school handbell to call students into class.

“I was in second grade then and I’d hang on to her arm, just to annoy her,” Judy Maynes remembered.

Another duty for older female students was to help serve lunch. Near the office was a sink and a stove where they would ladle up soup for students who purchased it.

“It was always tomato soup; I can still smell it,” Parker said, but Judy Maynes remembers split pea — without the ham.

That soup was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which promised to provide hot lunches for school children throughout the country, Leslee Engh’s father, LaVoy Whitmore, wrote in his journal.

Since Granite didn’t have a kitchen to prepare this service, a student’s mother was awarded the contract and would fix soup and hot chocolate in her home, and at a set time her son and a friend would often bring this large pot and dishes to school in his red wagon, Whitmore said.

Later, Whitmore wrote, for years older girls, including his younger sister, Merle, would be excused from class to heat soup on a stove in the hallway and after everyone had finished, they’d wash dishes and return to class.

“Back then, everyone was concerned about making sure people had enough to eat,” Merle (Whitmore) Sudbury said. “It was 10 cents for tomato soup and crackers, and we used big ladles to spoon it up.”

Whitmore, who attended the second Granite Elementary from 1937 to 1943, wrote in his journal that the entire class would sit in rows in desks, which had a shelf to store books and their pencil.

“We were given a new pencil once each month, and most of the time, these lasted the entire period of time,” he said. And when he was in the older classroom, a district teacher would bring in a film projector. “They would pull the black blinds down, turn out the lights, and in an almost darkened room, we would be transformed to a wonderful new place via the motion picture medium.”

He also attended Granite when their father, James M. Whitmore, served as a teacher and principal for 17 years — as well as the bishop of the church’s ward.

Engh said that when her dad didn’t do well in school in the younger grades, his teacher allowed him to get by because her grandfather was the principal. However, once her dad had her grandfather as a teacher in the upper grades, “he wouldn’t let him slide or get by with anything.” Engh’s dad grew up to be a middle school and high school teacher.

She doesn’t remember her grandfather as she was only a few months old when he died, but she knows “he worked hard and loved his family, his church and valued education.” In addition to being the school master, he also had a family farm of 10 acres.

Engh discovered in her dad’s papers that in 1952, her grandfather sold 3 acres north of the cemetery adjoining the former Granite school to Jordan School District for $500 per acre. Her grandmother sold another 1.5 acres in the 1970s. The former Whitmore land is now where the current Granite Elementary students attend school and play baseball.

“Granite always had a really great ball team,” Engh said, recalling church fast-pitch softball games. “Uncle Stephen (Sudsbury) was really a good pitcher.”

The family joke is that although Merle and Stephen attended elementary school together all those years, he wouldn’t speak to her.

“She didn’t hike, she didn’t fish, she didn’t play ball, so what good was she?” he said. “Now I don’t hike, don’t fish or play ball.”

When they attended school, Merle Sudbury recalled a lot of school programs and they didn’t have after-school activities, but instead helped at their homes and farms.

“We put on a lot of programs, with lots of singing. They were patriotic ones for George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays and Christmas ones,” she said. “Back then, farmers grew their own vegetables and had their own beef. During The [Great] Depression, Dad always had a job. Life back then was much simpler. After school, we’d have a fresh slice of bread or cookies and then I’d go outside to work, picking berries and taking care of Mom’s garden while my dad and brothers took care of the animals. When I was 8, Dad got rid of our horse and bought a tractor. I was the designated driver and I pulled a hay wagon where my brothers would pile it into, and then I drove it to the barn and unloaded it.”

Merle’s husband meanwhile worked on one of the mink ranches in the area, feeding and watering 5,000 minks at a beginning wage of 10 cents per hour. Other students harvested apples for 25 cents per bushel or picked dewberries for 50 cents per case.

School children in the 1940s also collected scrap metal and brought it to a large pile outside of the school for the war effort. 

While it served as the center of the community, the second Granite School closed decades later with the understanding that there was not enough enrollment to justify teachers. 

“1959–60 was the last year of the school. Over the summer, we were told we’d go to Edgemont Elementary,” Judy Maynes said. She and her sister-in-law took a 45-minute bus ride to attend school there the rest of their grade school years. “We were promised when the community had 80 kids, they’d build a new school.”

The school district didn’t open the current Granite Elementary until 1976. 

The second school stood for a couple years before it was torn down Sept. 30, 1963.

Engh, who doesn’t remember the school, remembers playing on its playground for years afterward. She also remembers playing on her grandparents’ farmland, where only a few fruit trees remain, as well as her grandparents’ house, her uncle’s family house and the house she grew up in — all seen from her current home in the subdivision, Whitmore Terrace, named after her grandparents.

Her aunt and uncle live just down the street in a house he built on what used to be the orchard.

“I remember the farm,” Engh said. “We had alfalfa, tomatoes, potatoes, berries, cherries, fruit trees and animals — horses, chicken, pigs, turkeys. I remember being sad when the barn was being torn down for a subdivision in 1976.” “I remember the people, many who still live here,” she added. “When Diane and Judy were teenagers and I was a little girl and remember thinking, ‘they’re so pretty,’ and hoped I’d grow up like them, never imaging that we’d get together and talk about everything that happened back in those days.”