Placemaking Through Story – With Old Vail Middle School Students

Vail Preservation Society

Our stories, local history, lore and special places help us connect to each other, find our way in a changing world, understand the places we live and the people whose lives and intentions shaped it. With the support of Arizona Humanities, The Vail Voice, and building on the 2018 documentary Voices of Vail, the Vail Preservation Society works with OVMS students who research and write stories and create illustrations. These middle school students are Placemakers: storytellers and artists who share stories of our past that can inform our future.

Discovering How it Developed

By Cassidy Nelson and Malachi Lyford, OVMS 8th Graders 2019/2020

The Vail Unified School District is currently known as one of the best districts in Arizona. It hasn’t always been like this though.   In 1976 the Vail School almost closed due to a lack of students. There weren’t very many people living in the area. The railroad section had closed, and many of the ranchers were moving out or not hiring as many local cowboys. Ranching was more difficult due to not having enough water.  There was less work to keep and bring people to the area. What were the events that started the Vail School and that over time have caused it to become the way we know it today?

The Vail brothers, Walter and Edward Vail, arrived to this area in the 1870s. They came to Arizona looking to start ranches. Walter purchased the Empire Ranch near Sonoita, and Edward started the Vail Ranch on the eastern foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains. They had a silver mine, the Total Wreck, in the Empire Mountains. The profits from mining helped extend the Empire Ranch from near Sonoita all the way to the Rincon Mountains.

In 1880 the railroad was being built across Arizona. Walter Vail made an agreement with the Southern Pacific Railroad (SPRR) so that the tracks could go across some of his land. The place where the SPRR needed a siding track so that trains could pass was named after him. In 1893 Vail’s Siding is listed on a map for the first time. It was originally called ‘Vails Siding’, then ‘Vail’s Station’, ‘Vails’, and then, ‘Vail’.

In 1903 people living around Vail asked the Pima County Board of Supervisors for a school for their children, and the Vail School District was formed.  The first Vail School was built across the street from where Old Vail Middle School (OVMS) is today. In 1927 a new school was built where Old Vail Middle School is located. Sometime in 1931 the Trotter sisters, Esta and Lottie, came to Vail and started to teach at the Vail School. They were the main teaching staff for about 35 years. They retired in 1963.

The Vail School had ‘running water’ before most people in Vail. There was a water line connected to the SPRR water car parked on a siding track. Later the line was connected to the SPRR cistern. Sometime in 1955 the Vail School was connected to the electrical grid.

In 1980, IBM announced it was opening a huge plant in southeast Tucson; this kicked off huge growth in southeast Tucson and Vail. This event changed Vail permanently, and without it, we might not even know Vail as it is now. By 1990 student enrollment in the Vail School District had reached about 1,000 students. Later the IBM area was transformed into the top-ranked University of Arizona Tech Park. This also caused growth in and around Vail.

Today the Vail Unified School District is home to 21 schools, 12,500 students and 1,900 employees. One more school under construction right now, Mica Mountain High School, will open for the 2020-2021 school year. Without all the events that have happened VUSD wouldn’t be how it is today.

Author’s Note: We chose this topic because we found it very interesting to learn how our school came to be how it is now. We wanted to know all of the history and events that happened to get the VUSD started and how it built up to how it is now.

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