Tuesday, February 10, 2009

St. Joseph's Academy 1885-1966

Mother John Berchmans Hartrich, along with sisters Mary Martha Dunne and Mary rose Doran made the harrowing stagecoach journey through hostile territory from Tuscon to Prescott in 1878. They had the dual duties of nursing the sick and starting a school for Catholic children.
They discontinued their nursing duties in 1885 to focus on teaching and in 1901 built this academy on a 10 acre plot of land called Murphy Hill that was donated by a prominent Prescott land investor, Frank Murphy.
The new school, St. Joseph's Academy was designed and the construction supervised by Sister Aurelia Mary Doyle. It cost $45,000, with the doors opening in 1904.
By 1910, students from outlying ranches and mining towns were boarding at the Academy at a cost of $20.oo monthly. All were welcome regardless of denomination.
These stairs were commonly used by townspeople as well as students attending the the academy. When I was in Jr. High, I lived on Grove St. and my best friend lived on Alarcon, so the stairs really cut down on the distance we had to walk when visiting back and forth.
There's a great photo taken in 1966, from approximately the same place as the photo above, looking along Willis street. You can Go here to read more about St. Joseph's or just scroll down to the photo. 1966 was the year of the last graduating class at the Academy.

The photo below is fairly old, but I don't know what year it was taken. The tree beside the building in the above photo is no longer there.

You can always click to enlarge the photos...


  1. My husband and his brother went to school here for about 3 years. He says that Hassayampa Lake has a green fence around it now. We are enjoying visiting your blog so much! Good Work.

  2. The stairs, at the foot of Willis Street, are still there, though hidden by the junipers on the bluff. Doesn't Sacred Heart Church now occupy the site of the academy?

  3. Thanks, Jarat:) Does your husband remember the sisters as being pretty strict? I heard that they were, and I think their students may have been ahead of the rest of us!

    GJ, the sisters signed the school over to Sacred Heart in 1966 as the building was falling apart. Sacred Heart moved from the Marina church to that location as soon as renovations were completed.
    Thanks for asking about that. I should have included that info in the post!

  4. Really is an interesting post. I enjoyed reading it.

  5. Linda, He said that the sisters were very strict and kept order in the class. Their desks were in the back of the room so that the kids didn't know if she was watching them or not. He says he learned a lot in the few years he attended, before going back to Miller Valley School.

  6. Do you know if there are student records or class lists from the years 1916 to 1919? My Dad and his sister attended St. Joseph's prior to 1920 and may have been boarders even though the family was living in Prescott.
    Barbara Wardenburg
    29 Aug 2009

  7. I believe the school was mentioned in "Half Broke Horses"

  8. I attended that school as a boarder from about 1956 to 1959. It was pretty shabby then and we had to move the dining room table in the southwest corner when it rained because the walkway above it leaked so badly. But it was a great part of my life and I'd love to see it again.

  9. I was there over the summer of the Truman/Dewey election. Went on a picnic with the Nuns and fell into patch of cacti, ended our picnic. We used to sneak out to mail letters under the fence in the back of the school. Yes, the Nuns were strict, but loving. I got bawled out for not writing home and didn't know I was getting chided. Didn't stay long just for the summer. We found a door underneath the building (my friend and I) and we investigated to find the Sisters' trunks of clothes before their convent life. We played dress up with them until the Nuns almost caught us. Put everything back and snuck back inside. Good times, good memories. I learned to type there and ended up typing 100 wpm when I returned to secular school. Thanks, St. Joseph's Academy.