Eastern Arizona College has a distinguished history as Arizona's oldest community college. Chartered in 1888 and founded long before statehood, the college was established and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 45 years before being turned over to Graham County on July 1, 1933. Although EAC is a public college with no religious affiliation, early school history is intertwined with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Church leadership in Salt Lake City directed pioneer and local Church leader Christopher Layton to establish a board of education in the Gila Valley similar to the Church’s Board of Education. Layton took his leaders directive seriously and, through careful work and planning, established the school on June 8, 1888.
The school first opened its doors on Monday morning, December 8, 1890 in Central, Arizona in the humble Central Ward LDS Church building. However, the school did not remain in the church building very long. Early the next spring, it was moved to a one-room adobe building in Thatcher, Arizona that was located near the site 3rd Avenue and Highway 70.
In order to accommodate higher enrollment and to provide a better learning environment for students, the school moved to a new two-story building in 1891. It was located on the southwest corner of Thatcher’s Main Street (Highway 70) and the present-day College Avenue. The building had originally been constructed as a tithing office for the Church by Christopher Layton but was used as the school building for the next 17 years. However, the school experienced financial difficulties and had to close its doors from 1896 to 1898 and the building was used as a church house and social gathering facility. In the spring of 1898, the board decided to construct a $1,500 addition to the academy building and reopen the school in September 1898.
By 1903, it was clear that a larger building was required to accommodate rising enrollment. The College Board appropriated $2,200 for the purchase of property in Thatcher on which to erect a new academy building with 21 rooms. The Church Board of Education appropriated an additional $12,000, approximately 40% of the cost, toward the price of the building with the rest to come from donations. The cornerstone of the new facility was laid on September 18, 1908 and the dedication ceremonies were on December 15, 1911. The first classes were held during the fall semester September, 1910.
Following the construction of what came to be known as Old Main, many new facilities were built. In 1922, the first tennis courts were cemented and donated by the Associated Students. During the spring months of 1925, construction began on the new gymnasium and was completed in 1927. Over the basement of the gymnasium, there was a spacious stage where dramas entertained students and community residents.
A top priority of the school in 1927 was the improvement of the facilities and grounds. President Harvey L. Taylor began to renovate and beautify the campus by painting campus buildings and planting flowers throughout the grounds. Three acres were donated by the Alumni Association for a football stadium on the site of the current-day Mark Allen Residence Hall. During the 1930-31 school year, the college agreed to help build a swimming pool with the Valley Junior High that would be used by both schools and be located on the Valley Junior High campus.
Plans for a new athletic field, later known as Alumni Field, were made in 1935. Because the stadium was to be built by U.S. Works Projects Administration labor, the project had to be approved by legislators in Washington, D.C. The wall around the field was made of decorative sandstone and held permanent stone bleachers that would hold up to 800 spectators (part of the wall remains today). Dedication of the field occurred on October 5, 1936 during a game between EAC and Phoenix College.
Construction continued on campus and the new Pace Homemaking Building was dedicated on December 16, 1938 (named after Mrs. Catherine Pace who set up the student loan fund that financed the construction). It was built under the government’s National Youth Administration program.
Again under the National Youth Administration, the college started construction of a long awaited dormitory in 1940. The new dorm was extremely helpful due to the outbreak of World War II. The Civil Aeronautics Navy War-training Service used the dormitory to house men attending the college preparing for the war. The dorm was later named after a faculty member who taught at EAC for 33 years, Wesley Taylor. In 1952, the new Girl’s Dormitory was completed and was named after Nellie Lee who served as the secretary for several presidents as well as the Registrar and Dean of Women.
After World War II concluded, growth at Eastern Arizona College skyrocketed. Many new facilities were needed to accommodate the enrollment boom. Two new buildings were dedicated on October 23, 1955—the new science and agricultural buildings. The Music Cottage was completely renovated that same fall and was opened to the public on November 1, 1955.
A new library was sorely needed as Paul E. Guitteau took over the presidency in 1951. The Alumni Association led a fund drive and received a welcome response from alumnus Miss Ettie Lee—she made a donation of $15,000 to get the project started. Dedication of the Alumni Library occurred on March 13, 1958. Two years later in 1960, the library received an additional wing for needed expansion and has since been remolded.
The school’s 16-acre campus was quickly becoming too small for the number of students attending the college. A 34-acre farm was purchased just south of campus across the Southern Pacific Railroad. The south campus area became the stage for much of the future growth of the college.
Extensive information for this web-page was taken from the book, Eastern Arizona College, 1888-1988, The First 100 Years, prepared by Fenton Taylor, class of 1931 and published by the Alumni Association of Eastern Arizona College 1988.
A new ambitious building plan was developed for the south campus wherein new buildings would form a quadrangle with the new gymnasium occupying the south arm, three large lecture rooms at the east end, and 13 classrooms along the north side. Just southwest of the new gymnasium (later named after the president who oversaw the project, Paul E. Guitteau), a new football field and stadium were built along with new baseball and softball fields. South campus was dedicated on September 21, 1963.
Just as the south campus construction project was completed, a new men’s dormitory and cafeteria were being planned. The new buildings would rise on the corner of Thatcher’s Main Street (Highway 70) and Stadium Avenue on the spot where Christopher Layton’s house once stood. The large, beautiful red brick building was completed in time for the beginning of the 1964-65 school year with the dedication ceremonies occurring on September 23, 1964. The dorm was named after the man who had been superintendent of buildings and grounds for 28 years, Mark Allen Hall.
Development of the south campus was not completed with the construction of the gymnasium and other buildings. The Vocational Technical Building (now known as ITE – Industrial Technical Education) was constructed on south campus to house modern equipment to train students in modern technology fields. Dedication services were held on October 15, 1967.
With its long history of excellent drama and music programs, the college began to make plans to construct a fine arts center on south campus. Jumpstarted by a $50,000 donation from alumnus Walter Johnson, plans were made for a new auditorium and performing arts center; its circular front, with columns holding redwood decorations would be the jewel of the campus. The center has a full-size stage and a capacity of 1,000 people. Dedication of the Fine Arts Center was held on August 28, 1972.
Also in 1972, the college was able to fulfill a long-term goal—the construction of an Olympic size swimming pool on south campus with the cooperation of Thatcher City Council.
By now a modern student center was desperately needed. The old gymnasium built in 1926 was unable to accommodate all the students and activities. EAC began to renovate and modernize the old gymnasium in 1978 and the construction was completed in 1979.
EAC’s Art Department needed more classroom space due to increased enrollment. The Graphic Arts Division moved into the Stan Larson home, which the college had previously purchased. It is located at the corner of College Avenue and Railroad Street.
Eastern Arizona College experienced tremendous growth over the years but tragedy struck on the evening of August 1, 1979. Four students spotted Old Main on fire and contacted the fire department. Although the old administrative building survived that fire, a second fire broke out within the week and Old Main was destroyed. The ruins of the old building were razed and a new administrative building constructed in its place. On February 26, 1980, ground was broken for the construction of the new building. Almost a year later, a beautiful one-story Administration Building was dedicated on February 6, 1981.
Also in 1981, the college approached Mrs. Rebecca Layton regarding purchasing the area west of her house to use as a walkway. After some thought, Mrs. Layton deeded her whole house to the college. The house was originally built by EAC basketball coach Daniel Dudley Jones in 1912 and was later purchased by Heber Layton. The house later became known as the Layton House - Ruby I. Stinson Alumni Center.
During the next several years, EAC experienced unprecedented growth under the leadership of President Gherald L. Hoopes, Jr. Because of the growth, it was necessary to expand many campus facilities as well as to build new ones. The Governing Board initiated the College’s Master Facilities Plan, and in 1992, the Activities Center was built to replace the old gymnasium. The construction of the building added 50,000 square feet to the campus at a cost of $5.5 million. In February 2002 the building was renamed the Gherald L. Hoopes Jr. Activities Center in honor of then retired President Hoopes. The Math-Science Building received a large addition in 1996 that added 15,000 square feet to that facility at a cost of $3.8 million. Resident hall space was in short supply and in 1996, the Residence Towers were completed at a cost of $5.2 million and added 41,000 square feet of living space for students.
The large middle campus construction project was completed on December 2002. The middle campus addition consists of a one-stop student services building, an academic programs building, and a large bell tower that has become the focal point of the campus. This is the largest single construction project in the College’s 113-year history. The cost of the completed expansion was $16.25 million and it added 93,000 square feet to the Thatcher Campus.
From its humble beginnings in a small church building in Central, Arizona, Eastern Arizona College has grown in response to the educational needs of its communities. Since the initiation of the College’s Master Facilities Plan, the Thatcher Campus facilities space has grown by 86% adding 217,000 square feet and its land holdings have increased by 59 acres, representing a 113% expansion. In addition, 64,000 square feet have been extensively renovated. As our communities move into the next century, Eastern Arizona College continues to position itself to provide excellent educational opportunities for residents of Southeastern Arizona.