The history of First Presbyterian Church would not be complete without tracing some of the history of the Allison-James mission school. The early Presbyterians were the heirs of John Knox in Scotland who had advocated a system of education to include a school in every parish. So it is not surprising that Rev. David McFarland opened a school on December 10, 1866, within a month of arriving in Santa Fe as the first minister of First Presbyterian Church. The school had 10 students and was held in his home on the south side of the Santa Fe River.
At the same time, the wife of Col. A. J. Alexander who was stationed at Fort Marcy, wrote her mother in Auburn, NY, about the new church and the need for education. The women there raised $600 for the salary of a teacher and Charity Ann Gaston arrived in 1867 to begin a “free school.”
The work of the women in Auburn likely evolved into the women’s organization within the denomination that has raised money for mission ever since. McFarland’s school evolved into the establishment of some 40 day schools throughout northern New Mexico.
Once McFarland purchased the Baptist church ruins, school was held in the church. With the later purchase of the additional land to the north of the church, the school moved into its own quarters. When Matilda Allison arrived in 1881, the school was run down and in disrepair. She repaired the adobe building, replanted an orchard, and in 1884 took in 10 girls as boarding students. The school was for girls only and was called the Santa Fe Industrial and Boarding School for Mexican Girls.
By 1889 a three-story brick dormitory had been built for the girls who attended the school on the property north of the church.
In 1901 a brick classroom building for the mission school was erected near the older building. The school had 74 boarding students and 50 day students when it opened. When Matilda Allison left the school after 22 years of service, the Presbyterian Boarding and Industrial School for Mexican Girls became known as Allison School.
In 1905, 10 acres north of the Federal Building were purchased for the new Mary James Missionary Boarding School for Boys. The school building still stands, essentially unchanged and is now owned by the St. Germain Foundation and used as an I Am Temple.
In 1928 the old Allison school was offered for sale, a new building was constructed across the highway from the James School. The two schools became the Allison-James School, a co-educational junior high boarding school serving primarily Hispanic boys and girls who had attended Presbyterian mission day schools in the mountains of Northern New Mexico.
The property north of the church that had been used by the mission school was sold to the Santa Fe Board of Education in 1936 for $19,500, the mission school buildings were razed, and Leah Harvey Junior High School was built on the property. The school was later remodeled into the present county judicial complex.
The Allison-James School was closed in 1958 and the property purchased by the Board of Pensions. The school buildings were either sold or razed and Plaza del Monte was built as a retirement facility for retired pastors and missionaries.
With the closing of Plaza del Monte in 1988, leaders in the church were instrumental in preserving the property as a retirement center and conference facility. Presbyterian Medical Services purchased the free standing houses on the property and continues to rent them to retirees. The larger structure, “the Big House,” was purchased by Ghost Ranch and is now part of the Ghost Ranch conference facility.
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