The Hartman Gymnasium was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in about 1938–39 and quickly became an important center for athletic events and community gatherings. The school to which the gymnasium was originally attached was demolished in the early 1980s, leaving the two-story limestone and brick building standing alone just south of town. In 1996 the gym was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties, and it continues to serve as a community center.
New Deal, New Gym
The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression hit Prowers County and the rest of Colorado’s eastern plains especially hard in the 1930s. New Deal construction projects provided jobs for unemployed workers while also building civic, recreational, and cultural infrastructure in rural towns. Gymnasiums were particularly popular New Deal projects on the eastern plains, where many rural towns had no gym at all or a gym too small to hold a regulation basketball court. Large new gyms allowed school districts to improve physical education instruction and host regional basketball games. In addition, the gyms often included a stage at one end so they could double as a performance and event space for the community.
In the early 1930s the town of Hartman replaced its original two-room wooden schoolhouse with a new U-shaped brick school building just south of town. Later that decade—probably in 1938—Hartman applied for a WPA project to build a gymnasium and auditorium next to the brick school. The facility was probably completed in 1939 at a cost of roughly $26,000 in local and federal funds.
The gymnasium and auditorium were built into the existing U-shaped school building. The new stage was set inside the brick walls of the U, and the rest of the gymnasium extended out to the west. The exterior of the two-story building was made of ashlar limestone from a nearby quarry. The main entrance was on the west side. Inside was a full-size court, with bleachers and balconies lining the north and south walls. The stage occupied the east end of the building.
Because the gymnasium was the only large public building in Hartman, it hosted many community gatherings and events. It has hosted holiday celebrations, church conventions, funeral services, and elections. In 1946 receptions for servicemen returning from World War II were held in the gymnasium, and in June 1965 the building served as a shelter for about 700 people from Lamar, Granada, and Holly who were fleeing a massive flood of the Arkansas River.
In 1947 the Hartman school complex received another addition when a barracks building from the Camp Amache relocation center was moved to a site just east of the school. The Annex, as the building was called, was renovated to house a kitchen and restrooms.
In 1959 Hartman High School graduated its last class of students. After that, the area’s students traveled to Holly for high school. The school building attached to the Hartman Gymnasium continued to serve as an elementary school until 1969, when those grades were also consolidated in Holly. In 1970 the Holly School District gave the school building, gymnasium, and surrounding land to the town of Hartman. In the 1980s the vacant school building was torn down, but the gymnasium and Annex were retained because of their continuing role in the community.
Today the line between brick and limestone on the exterior of the gymnasium shows clearly where the U-shaped school used to surround the east end of the gym.
Aside from the demolition of the adjacent school, the Hartman Gymnasium has remained largely unaltered since its construction. It is the only building constructed by the WPA in Hartman. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hartman secured several State Historical Fund grants to replace the gymnasium’s roof and restore its interior and exterior. The gym continues to be used for local athletic events, an annual potluck in May, and other community gatherings.