Editor’s Note: Nevada 150 is a yearlong series highlighting the people, places and things that make up the history of the state.
She was young at the time, but who could forget the flash of an atom bomb beaming through the windows of their school.
It became a local spectacle, entertainment for the children of Goodsprings isolated from the rest of the world by desert and treeless slopes, remembers Bobbie Poole, now 72.
Students would stand outside Goodsprings School, Celluloid 3D glasses protecting their eyes, to watch the mushroom cloud eclipse Mount Potosi in the not too far off distance.
Army officials said it was safe for the town 33 miles southwest of Las Vegas, but they also tested the children’s blood and gave them dog tags to wear.
“We wore them religiously,” Poole said. “We were so innocent.”
Her thyroid was removed in her 20s because of tumors. Others, like her grandfather, who got cancer and died, blamed it on the bomb tests.
The atom bombs of the 1950s long ago subsided. The mining town that sprung up in the early 1900s has gradually fallen into disrepair, regarded now as a ghost town surrounded by the pockmarks of abandoned mine shafts and crumbling concrete foundations.
As the town’s lead and zinc production died off after World War II, people left. Businesses left. Remaining are 200 residents, the saloon, a small general store. And the school.
Long the center of the community, the elementary school — teaching all grades of students in one class — remains a constant, the town’s source of pride and what they remember most, according to Julie Newberry.
Goodsprings’ teacher from 1982 to 1999 and member of the Goodsprings Historical Society, Newberry has spent the past two decades piecing together the history of Nevada’s longest-running school still in operation. She has tracked down past students, some of whom have since passed, to tell the school’s oral history.
Former students told of Sarah Williams, the school’s longest-serving teacher from 1930-1947, who suffered from arthritis. Students would help her by starting fires in the stove, cleaning chalkboard erasers and carrying her books to school. Even with crippled fingers, she would play the piano for them.
From Carson City to Southern Nevada, Newberry scrounged for documents and photos, discovering the state had the wrong date for the school’s opening. At 100 years old this year, the schoolhouse is largely unchanged from 1913, when it was one room. The timber school now covered in stucco is unscathed, bell tower and all.
Even more, it’s still full of students. All 11 of them.
But its future is always on the table, with the Clark County School Board weighing the importance of keeping history alive against the cost of running the school for $29,100 per student compared to the district average of $8,100 per student. The School Board almost closed the school in 2009 to save money, but pulled back because of the town’s outcry.
“To the extent that we can preserve some of these rural schools, why wouldn’t we do that?” asked board President Carolyn Edwards, a longtime champion of keeping the school open who acknowledges closure is always around the corner. “I’m sure it will come up again.”
At Goodsprings School, the days begin like they have since Sept. 15, 1913, with a student pulling on a cord in the corner library to ring the rooftop bell. Students gather outside to recite the Pledge of Allegiance beneath the American flag hoisted high on an aluminum flagpole, which replaced the broken wooden pole in the 1960s.
Teacher Erika Samuel, running the class and the school, skipped the Pledge one day two weeks ago as wind gusts whipped through the valley at 70 mph.
She welcomed students as they walked in but continued organizing papers. She is always multitasking, has to be, said the teacher in her first year at the school. She used to teach in Sandy Valley, 14 miles west, but jumped at the opportunity of teaching kindergarteners through fifth graders, all in one room.
“I knew I wanted that, good, bad or different,” she said. “You get to see them grow up. You have a personal investment in them.”
Many of her students are from Primm. To keep the school open, Goodsprings officials agreed to have children of the Nevada/California border town 20 miles south come to the school. Before, they were bused to Schorr Elementary School in Las Vegas, 10 miles farther away.
But Goodsprings still has its children. This day, only 10 students showed up. Everyone knew who was missing and where he lives, not far away. Nothing is far in Goodsprings.
“How about we take a field trip over there,” a red-headed boy suggested with a smile, repeating what has likely been said many times over dating back to when a potbelly stove warmed the schoolhouse, water came from a pump out front, and children went out back to a pair of outhouses.
That has all changed. Many students have come and gone, most not coming back, Newberry said.
Poole, like many former residents, now lives in Las Vegas. But she returns every month or two. The house she grew up in has been torn down, and the lot is in disarray.
“It makes me want to cry,” she said.
It’s not a pretty place.
“But for kids who don’t care about those kinds of things, know any different, it was the perfect place,” she said. “We tramped the hills and had our fun. And we had our school.”
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.