Page, Arizona

W. Lane Rogers//July 10, 2015

Page, Arizona

W. Lane Rogers//July 10, 2015

Page’s first school and its first faculty members.
Page’s first school and its first faculty members.

In contrast to the typical image of a little red schoolhouse, this one-room school in Page, Arizona, in 1957 was a war surplus troop carrier. (The troop carriers were called “cattle cars” and were pulled by trailer trucks during World War II.) The older woman standing in the doorway is Mary Howe. She and with her husband Henry Howe, Jr. (the taller of the two men standing) became Page’s first teachers. The younger woman in the photograph is unidentified, and the other men are teachers Steve O’Brien (center) and Roy Scott (right).

Mrs. Howe and Mr. O’Brien taught multiple elementary grades, while Mr. Scott was the seventh and eighth grade teacher. Mr. Howe taught freshman subjects and served as director of high school correspondence studies, coordinated through Phoenix Union High School. About 50 students of all ages constituted the initial enrollment.

Use of the troop carrier-school was short lived, and by 1958 enrollment increased enough to erect a temporary tin building named the Butler Building. Soon after, a second tin building was added with a hallway connecting the two structures. The makeshift buildings served the community’s educational needs until permanent schools were completed in 1960.

Page was established in 1957 atop Manson Mesa above the Colorado River to accommodate construction workers on the Glen Canyon Dam project. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation authorized the town, acquiring the land through an exchange with the Navajo Nation for government land in Utah.

In its infancy, Page was little more than a collection of trailer houses (the term “mobile home” had yet to enter the vernacular) and temporary tin buildings. Because the town was located on the Colorado River in one of the nation’s most remote and inaccessible areas, it offered few amenities.

Early resident Barbara Stallings Basco cried when introduced to her new home. “[It] was nothing more than…a desolate desert of red burnt sand, with the hot sun beating down, [with] no trees or shelter. There was nothing! No city, no homes…nothing but blowing sand…”

The first structures of any note were barracks and mess hall buildings constructed by Merritt-Chapman-Scott (MCS), the dam project’s prime contractor. For a time, the town’s social life revolved around the MCS mess hall. It doubled as a restaurant of sorts and on weekends, its bingo games were a popular attraction.

Nearby, a Bureau of Reclamation warehouse—yet another tin building—doubled as a Saturday night movie theater. Patrons carried their own popcorn, sat on wooden benches, and for a quarter watched whichever film had been in that week’s mail.

Electricity, furnished by an inadequate generator fired by a gasoline engine, was annoyingly unreliable. Outages occurred frequently, especially at dinnertime when electric stoves were in use, and on hot days when most residents were running swamp coolers.

Water was a different kind of problem. The pipes always ran, but with water came heavy silt. Left to stand for half an hour, a quarter inch of red sand would accumulate at the bottom of a drinking glass. Women complained about the red-hue given freshly laundered whites, and about the grit that settled at the bottom of bathwater.

The burden of isolation was made easier by innovative grocer George Koury. While overseeing construction of a store for Babbitt Brothers Trading Company, Koury went door to door taking weekly grocery orders. The orders were filled at the Babbitt outlet in Flagstaff, 160 miles south, and delivered at the end of the week.

By 1959, permanent structures were being built, and Page could boast of two grocery stores, a trading post, a jewelry shop, a shoe store, gas stations and other businesses—all situated in temporary tin buildings. Soon there would be a well-equipped hospital, a nicely manicured park with a swimming pool, motels, restaurants, a bowling alley, a drive-in theater, and a post office in which boxes replaced long lines awaiting general delivery mail. Wide streets would be paved, permanent houses built, and grass and trees planted.

When the dam was completed in 1964, Page was a model city of about 4,000 residents. Today, it is a resort community supported by Lake Powell with a population of about 8,000. —

— W. Lane Rogers. Photo courtesy author.