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School Stories

Graland’s Early Years: A Lead Up to the 2027 Centennial

Jim Arneill ’66, School Archives Committee
Graland has a long and distinguished history. Before settling in as a “country day school” at its present site in the fall of 1928, the school began at three locations near downtown Denver. The earliest years are worth knowing about and appreciating as they tell the story of how a group of determined parents worked with the founding teachers to make Graland a reality.

In early Denver, the Wolcott School for Girls was a highly regarded educational institution. Located at 14th and Marion Street, Anna Louise Wolcott founded the school “to serve the children of Denver society.” Although considered a girls’ school, it accepted boys in the early grades. Some of the former students included Mamie Doud (future wife of President Eisenhower), Helen Brown (Molly Brown’s daughter), and Clara Cody (Buffalo Bill Cody’s granddaughter).

In 1924, the Wolcott School closed, leaving a void for many families and creating opportunities for its educators to find new positions. Three of the teachers who left the school in 1922 due to some disagreements with the school’s founder decided to establish their own school. In 1922, Mary Kent Wallace, Mary Louise Rathvon, and Mary Austin Bogue founded the Kent School for Girls, which recently celebrated its 100th Anniversary. The school’s name was chosen using the middle name of Mary Kent Wallace.

One of the other former Wolcott teachers was Grace Laird, who had served as their head of kindergarten. She and Virginia Braswell, a younger, energetic teacher who loved animals, decided to open an experimental two-room preschool and kindergarten in the fall of 1924. Their rented space was part of the Green Lantern Apartments at 3424 East Colfax Avenue between Cook and Madison near the Bluebird Theater (the building was torn down, and now a modern Chinese restaurant operates there). 

A class of eleven students, mostly girls, enjoyed a kindergarten year together at this first site. Through the ground-level storefront window, cars could be seen driving down Colfax, and the activities, centered around a short-legged table, were aided by this light.

The following year, these students moved on as first graders, along with a dozen new kindergartners, to a new location, a house at 773 Franklin Street (the two-story house has been renovated and looks very different from the early photos). 

After another successful year in 1925 at the Franklin Street School, more space was needed, and so a third move was made in the fall of 1926 to a larger, three-story old Denver home at 1012 Pennsylvania Street (this large home has also been torn down and replaced by a large apartment complex). 

During the spring of 1927, the organizers found that, in addition to their financial concerns, administering and teaching were too challenging for them to continue. They called a meeting with the parents to inform them.
The parents were determined to keep the school open and asked the teachers to continue “while they organized a board of directors, found an administrator, and assumed the financial responsibility of maintaining the school.”

It was at this point in time that Graland School was officially created through a “Certificate of Incorporation” on July 23, 1927. One of the early parents, Henry W. Toll, a state senator and lawyer who was active in opposing the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado during this era, drafted the document and filed it with the Secretary of State.
In the following months, many important tasks were accomplished. A Board of Directors was formed, Georgia Nelson was selected as Headmistress, the land for the new school was secured from Mrs. Verner Reed, the building’s architect J.J. Benedict was hired, and the finances were also taken care of through extensive fundraising. 

The name “Graland” also seems to have evolved at this time, using the first three letters of Grace’s name and “land” from Virginia’s aunt, Miss or Mrs. Land, who had helped the school financially.

Georgia Nelson agreed to teach at the Pennsylvania Street house for a year while the new school on Birch Street was built. An exciting groundbreaking ceremony took place on May 17, 1928.

In the fall of 1928, Graland School opened at 30 Birch Street with ninety-four students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The school became so popular that two new wings with four additional classrooms were added to the original building the following summer.

Besides the rationale for celebrating Graland’s 100th Year Anniversary in 1927 with its official incorporation and all the important steps taken right after the fateful meeting, the school has acknowledged 1927 as the founding date in other ways.  

In 1977, longtime teacher and early archivist Mrs. Ruth Gorham wrote the first book about its history: “Graland Country Day School - The First 50 Years, 1927-77.”

Then, in 2002, for its 75th Anniversary, local author and historian Rosemary Fetter wrote “Climb Every Mountain - The Story of Graland Country Day School.”

As 2027 approaches, there will be many opportunities to honor Graland’s 100 years of excellence. Memories abound in the school archives, as well as in the two main school history books that are available to view on the school website, and in the stories passed down between generations. We are fortunate to be able to reflect on the past and look forward to a bright future. 

To read more about Graland’s history and to access digital versions of the books referenced in this artcle visit graland.org/historybooks.


1924 vs. 1927 vs. 1928: What’s the Difference? 
While 1924 was the year Grace Laird and Virginia Braswell founded the experimental school, 1927 was the year Graland school was officially created through a “Certificate of Incorporation.” 1928 was another milestone year when the school officially opened its doors at 30 Birch Street, later changed to 55 Clermont Street.


Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.