Students and volunteers paint panels on the former teacherage at the Lochiel School depicting settler history in the San Rafael Valley. Photo by Chuck Klingenstein

It is a time of celebration in Lochiel. In the tiny settlement at the end of the long road through the San Rafael Valley, the Lochiel schoolhouse has been reborn as a historic site, paying tribute to the Valley’s past. 

From the late 1800s until students left to ride the school bus into Patagonia in the fall of 1972, the school welcomed elementary students from local ranching and mining families. Then it sat empty until 2010, when the Patagonia Museum arranged with the Patagonia School District, the school’s owner, to restore the building and adjacent teacherage. 

Patagonia Museum President German Quiroga’s mother, Elena Quiroga is an alumni of the Lochiel School, attending the school from 1939 -1948, and was an early proponent of the schoolhouse’s restoration. In 2004, when the Quiroga family was visiting Lochiel to paint the family chapel, she lamented the fact that the schoolhouse was in such disrepair, planting the seed of the idea in her son of restoring the building. 

According to German Quiroga, Ono and Maureen De La Ossa lobbied the Patagonia School District Board in 2009 to do something to save the Lochiel School. Quiroga and Ralph Schmidt became involved in the effort. They took over an existing nonprofit established for the founding of a Patagonia Museum. “Katie Goodwin encouraged us to reestablish the nonprofit for the purpose of restoring the schoolhouse,” Quiroga said. “Then everything just started snowballing. The Patagonia Museum would probably have withered on the vine if we hadn’t started the Lochiel project.”

The small settlement of Lochiel was established, and first named La Noria (“The Spring“), by early migrants from California, one of the first being Carolina and Antonio De La Ossa in 1880. The family placed a high value on education, even sending their sons away to preparatory school in New Mexico once they had received their primary education in La Noria. It was Clotilde De La Ossa who deeded the land for the school to the School District in 1911 for a Spanish gold coin valued at $10, according to Quiroga.

The teacherage (teacher residence), built in 1962, has been restored to serve as an open-air visitors’ center. Historic plaques hang on the inside walls. Outside, the mural wraps the building, commemorating the area’s story from 1539 and even before, when the O’odham and the Apache came from the surrounding hills to hunt in the Valley. Like a microcosm of the rich history of Arizona and Sonora, the text and paintings also depict early Spanish explorers, California migrants, ranchers, movies sets, and the now-defunct border crossing.

Over 200 volunteers have put in countless hours during monthly workdays to restore the school. Several of the major projects include replacing all doors and the 96 windowpanes in the schoolhouse, repairing stucco,  and installing a hardwood floor.

Now a group of Patagonia Union High School art students is helping to put the final touches on over a decade of restoration work. Several organizations worked in partnership to involve the students in learning the history of the area, developing the mural concepts, and traveling out to Lochiel for a day of painting. 

It was the first visit to Lochiel for many of the PUHS students. It made a big impression on them, especially with some of the students with family members on the Mexican side of the border.  

Patagonia Creative Arts Association Director and PUHS art instructor Cassina Farley developed the project with Quiroga. The students drew sketches which art teacher Tammie Quiroga incorporated into the mural. 

Lochiel descendant Paul Hathaway visited the students and told the history of the area. Hathaway’s great-grandfather was Lochiel Judge Richard Harrison and his grandfather, Lincoln Hathaway, was its first teacher. 

Hathaway said that the community owes a great debt of thanks to Quiroga for his extensive efforts on this “labor of love.” Quiroga, in turn, thanked Ralph Schmidt for his expertise and hard work over the years.

Lochiel School alumni are many among local Patagonians. On site during the students’ workday in March was school bus driver Rafael Padilla who recalled that his wife, Estella, attended the school. Student Isaias Gonzalez said his uncle went there, as he applied paint to the panel commemorating Spanish priest Fray Marcos de Niza’s pass through the Valley in 1539. 

The community is invited to join in the Lochiel Schoolhouse Celebration on Saturday, April 2, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many alumni and local history fans are expected to attend. All are welcome to come learn more about the school and enjoy a day in the country. The celebration will feature food and drink. Entertainment will be provided by Bagpiper William Don Carlos, Mariachi Penumbra and Gertie & The T. O. Boyz.

The Lochiel Schoolhouse is located at 1866 Duquesne Rd.