Write-up by Isaac Gines
Placed by: St. George Historic Preservation Commission
Coordinates: 37.1068 N, -113.5836 W
Location: 86 South Main Street, St. George, UT 84770
Historical Marker Text:
“Dixie Academy was constructed to provide advanced courses of study. The St. George Stake Academy officially began in 1888 and moved into this building in 1911. A four-year program was recognized as two years of senior high and two years of college. The college program grew into the institution known as Dixie Jr. College and eventually Dixie College.”
Built in 1911, the Dixie Academy building housed both Dixie College, the predecessor to Dixie State University, and Dixie High School. The St. George Stake Academy, which opened in 1888, preceded Dixie Academy. The St. George Stake Academy functioned similarly to the Salt Lake Stake Academy, which ended its second academic year on June 8, 1888. They were both educational facilities built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an effort to provide secular and religious education to its members.
Construction of the current building began in 1910 and concluded in 1911, using sandstone and basalt blocks. George Brooks, a notable St. George mason, led the project. Basalt, being notoriously difficult to fashion, is not featured in the 2005 addition. To form adequate bricks, the basalt was hammered into rough rectangles, an extensively laborious process, which is why they were omitted from the 2005 addition. For the original building the southern Utah landscape provided materials and inspiration for prominent features during its construction. Totaling $55,000 to construct, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints earmarked $35,000 toward the project, but only if the remaining $20,000 could be raised by the local population. The funding from the LDS Church is significant, because in 1910 there were active campaigns to renovate the high school in Salt Lake City, but the funding depended upon the proposed issuance of bonds. In contrast, at St. George the funding from the church enabled the population of Washington County to avoid the incurrence of debt to provide a quality facility. Along with the nearby St. George Tabernacle and St. George Temple, the Academy made St. George a gathering place and central hub for the Washington County Community.
The Dixie Academy building initially housed high school juniors and seniors, as well as college freshmen and sophomores and employed 25 faculty members. Dixie Academy was among the academies built by the LDS Church as it expanded its educational offerings in the late 19thcentury and into the early 20thcentury. Beginning in 1925, however, the LDS Church began the process of closing many of these academies due the proliferation of secular public high schools. In 1933, Dixie Academy was closed, which triggered a crisis in the community. The LDS Church, financially stretched as a result of the Great Depression, made difficult decisions to best allocate the funds it had. This included the closure of several similar schools throughout Utah, although several were transferred to the state. After negotiations with the state legislature, the LDS Church authorized the transfer of Dixie Academy to the state, however the residents of Washington County were left to fund the school on their own. Donations of money and labor funded this endeavor, keeping the academy alive through 1935.
In that year, the State Board of Education began funding Dixie Academy, which had grown to a student body of about 400. The State Board attempted to split the high school and college, with the intention of giving responsibility for the high school to Washington County and continuing their own administration of the college. This was met with significant local resistance, for Washington County did not have the funds to construct a new high school and they also felt that the various social and academic activities the Academy had become known for necessitated a larger student body.
Between 1935 and 1963, calls by the state to close the Academy increased. The locals in Washington County, recognizing the value in education and the ability of the Academy to deliver quality learning for the community, fought cleverly to preserve their institution through donations to the institution and lobbying in the State Legislature. Eventually, the Dixie Education Association raised enough money to purchase four blocks for the construction of a new campus for the Academy. They presented this land to the state, initiating the construction of the new college. The gymnasium’s completion in 1957, along with other buildings prior to 1963, triggered the departure of the college students from Dixie Academy, leaving the high school students in their original building.
Eventually, in 1966, Dixie High School relocated to a new campus. The Washington County School District stayed in the nearby Woodward Building, using it for its administrative offices, but the Dixie Academy building became vacant. Later, the city of St. George acquired Dixie Academy, which now leases the building to the St. George Children’s Museum, leaving many of the offices and classrooms intact. The gymnasium on the top floor is now used as an event space.
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