Goffs Schoolhouse Restored
Goffs, CA. On old Rt 66
Goffs & Its Schoolhouse - The East Mojave Desert has a rich history reaching back to a journey of exploration in 1776 when Fr. Francisco Garces became the first non-Indian to cross the Mojave Desert (he passed within one mile of the present community of Goffs). Behind him came an unending stream of travelers that made this area a significant east-west transit region, and it continues in that role today.
By the mid-1860s people were coming to stay. First the soldiers with tiny forts that protected the carriers of the United States Mail from Indian attack, then prospectors and miners, finally railroaders, ranchers, homesteaders, and highway people. More recently there are droves of tourists and recreationists, scientists who have discovered the region, and the ever-present environmentalists have come on the scene to rescue the area from the rest of us.
Until 1883 the principal east-west route through this part of the world was the Mojave Road. In addition to being the main route through the general area, it was used for access to localities in the region laying north and south of the line of the road.
In 1883, with construction of the Southern Pacific Railway between Barstow and Needles (now the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe), this pattern of travel changed. The railroad with supplies of water for steam engines every five miles or so provided the possibility of help to other travelers in case of emergency. The line of the railroad became the favored east-west route for wagon travel and especially early automobile roads evolved from this route.
Goffs was created in 1883 as a siding at the "Top of the Hill" 30 miles west of Needles. In 1893 a short line, originally called the Nevada Southern Railway, but later the California Eastern Railway, and still later the Searchlight branch of the Santa Fe, was constructed north from Goffs. Consequently Goffs became more than a siding and a place to turn engines that helped trains up from Needles. Soon more and more traffic into the central part of the East Mojave flowed through Goffs. Goffs took on the role as a main entry point into the East Mojave -- a role that continues today. Also, with discoveries of rich mines in Searchlight, Goffs and the shortline railroad that led north out of Goffs, became a way station on the supply and communications route to Searchlight. It was in 1907 the rails of the shortline were extended to Searchlight -- the only place where Santa Fe rails ever penetrated the State of Nevada.
By 1911 Santa Fe had concentrated at Goffs a sufficient number of employees with families to justify a school. In the fall, classes commenced at Goffs in a rented building. In 1914 the present structure was built on an acre donated by a homesteader. For East Mojave Desert schools it is unique in design (mission style) and construction (wood frame and stucco over steel mesh). It was larger than most schools in isolated desert areas. The 800 square-foot class room was sufficient for dances, church services, and community affairs of all kinds. There was another room that housed the library used for the school and for the community and a smaller cloak room. Then there were two large covered porches. In all, the building embraces 2,000 square feet.
During the teens the former wagon road parallelling the railroad tracks became the National Old Trails Road. It rapidly developed into one of the main automobile roads to California from the east. In 1926, with designation of the first national highway system, this road became U. S. Highway 66. By then, Goffs, in its strategic location at the top of the hill out of Needles, had become a major highway town as well as entryway to the East Mojave and an important point on the Santa Fe.
Also in those early automobile years, Goffs was on the line of what was known as the Arrowhead Highway, the road that connected Los Angeles with Salt Lake City by way of Las Vegas. Prior to blading of the route that is now I-15 between Barstow and Las Vegas, there was no direct line, so travelers followed Route 66 through Goffs 14 miles to the east to the point where a dirt highway went north to Searchlight and Las Vegas -- this was called the Arrowhead Highway and that point is known today as Arrowhead Junction as a reminder of those days.
The short line to Searchlight ceased operations in 1923 because most mining operations in nearby mountains had stopped.
With the passage of time, Santa Fe was less dependent on Goffs because more modern steam engines could travel farther without taking on water. By the end of the 1930s the transition from steam to diesel was approaching.
Goffs prospered until late 1931 when U. S. Highway 66 was realigned missing Goffs by six miles. A short cut was developed through the Piute Mountains to the south - the grade had been too steep for the railroad, so the railroad had opted for the longer route back in 1883. But automobiles could climb the steeper grade and save eight miles. On December 4, 1931 the new road was opened to traffic and Goffs began "ghosting."
The beautiful School continued in operation until 1937. By then the Goffs School District had been absorbed into the Needles Unified School District. A school site along the active route of U. S. Highway 66 was favored. A new school was built in Essex - the last classes were held in the Goffs School in the Spring of 1937. The Goffs School property passed into private hands and over the next ten years Goffs nearly faded from the map.
U. S. Army troops were stationed at Goffs during World War II - more than 10,000 at some times. There were no businesses left, not even a service station or cafe. The Schoolhouse itself was pressed into service as a cafe for some of the soldiers.
After World War II, Goffs was forlorn and abandoned. The fields around Goffs had been stripped of their vegetation. Strong desert winds drifting the exposed dirt and sand created land patterns that had not existed before. Wildlife had been decimated by the presence of this large number of people who were strangers to the desert. Most of the old buildings that existed at the beginning of World War II were consumed as firewood by the soldiers attempting to keep warm against the cold winds that blow out of the northeast in the winter.
A small store and cafe and later service station was started at Goffs after World War II and it has continued intermittently to the present time. At the end of World War II, Santa Fe still had a major presence in Goffs, but it has continually dwindled with changes in railroading technology. Today there are no permanent Santa Fe employees in Goffs. The former extensive complex of buildings and other improvements have been removed except a huge water tank, small pump house, and tool shed. Since about 1902 Santa Fe has provided water to this community and they continue to do so.
The Schoolhouse was occupied for living quarters through 1954. After that, it continued to be privately owned, taxes were paid, but no one lived there. The building was badly vandalized. Many people had developed an attachment to it and their hearts sank as the building suffered at the hands of others. By 1982 most of the east wall was gone and the roof and ceiling over the classroom was sagging several feet. It seemed certain it would soon be no more than a pile of rubble.
At that same time, Jim and Bertha Wold, who were working at the OX Ranch to the north, needed a place to live. They became inspired to save the building. They bought the land and improvements and over the next several years they stabilized the building, although they modified the interior considerably so it would serve them as a home.
By 1989, for personal reasons, Jim and Bertha felt the need to sell the Schoolhouse property and move elsewhere. They offered it to Dennis & Jo Ann Casebier hoping that we would continue to save it and make something out of it. In early 1990 the Casebiers acquired ownership and thus began a new phase of history for Goffs and its Schoolhouse.
The Casebiers moved to Goffs, bringing with them the collection of books and research materials pertaining to the American Desert West and focused on the Mojave Desert that Dennis Casebier had formed over a period of more than 30 years. Since then, the collection has more than doubled in size and importance by the addition of the collection formed by Harold and Lucile Weight. Other collections of related material have been added and more are slated for acquisition in the future. Now the collection includes more than 6,000 volumes of published works, tens of thousands of pages of news clip files, over 40,000 historical photographs, 700 oral histories, more than 4,000 maps, an extensive collection of materials culled from federal records in the National Archives, and much more.
A vast amount of volunteer work at Goffs has been done by the Friends of the Mojave Road from California, Arizona, and Nevada. The Friends, which has existed since 1981, was always an informal group - although it has become quite large involving several thousand people in different ways. In 1993 a non-profit tax exempt corporation (501c3) - the MOJAVE DESERT HERITAGE & CULTURAL ASSOCIATION - was formed with one goal being to assure that the work being done at Goffs on the Schoolhouse property will exist in perpetuity.
As an immediate goal, the Association began raising money to restore the old Schoolhouse -- to put it back the way it looked and felt in 1914. By the spring of 1998 the Association was ready to move ahead. Dennis & Jo Ann Casebier donated the Schoolhouse and the one-acre Schoolyard to the Association in a ceremony presided over by San Bernardino County Supervisor Kathy Davis. That same day (Jun 20, 1998) a contract was signed with Elegant Custom Homes contractors of Kingman, Arizona, to do a complete restoration of the Schoolhouse. That effort was completed in late 1998.
To assure authenticity, the restoration had the benefit of interviews with more than 40 former students and many others who had first-hand knowledge of the early days. Also, a collection of several hundred historic photographs of the building was formed. Other details came from physical evidence, such as details of construction that were revealed as restoration proceeded.
To date the restoration has cost $150,000, all of which was obtained as donations from the Friends of the Mojave Road and the MOJAVE DESERT HERITAGE & CULTURAL ASSOCIATION. There is not a nickle's worth of tax money in the project.
With restoration of the Schoolhouse completed, the Association has begun to open it on selected weekends to the public. Also access is being granted to the developing museum grounds on a limited basis. A booklet (called Guide to the Goffs Cultural Center) has been prepared to facilitate visits to the Goffs Schoolhouse site to long-time friends and newcomers alike.
In 2001 a graduate class in Public History from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas under Dr. Andrew Kirk took as a task preparation of the application to have the Goffs Schoolhouse placed on the National Register of Historic Places. They did an outstanding job with the result that the Schoolhouse received this coveted distinction on 11 October 2001.
The activities of the Friends of the Mojave Road and the MOJAVE DESERT HERITAGE & CULTURAL ASSOCIATION are coordinated with a newsletter called the Mojave Road Report. A subscription fee of $20.00 gives membership in both organizations and 12 issues of the Report -- about 10 Reports have been issued each year since 1981. Send check for $20.00 payable to the Friends of the Mojave Road (or FOMR) at Goffs Schoolhouse, 37198 Lanfair Road -- G15, Essex, California 92332.
Some books on the area that may be of interest.
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