Joe Carlson's Historical History

During the final months of 1905, Douglas voters approved a $40,000 bond to build another school in their rapidly growing town. It was the third bond passed in as many years.

The new school, built with Mission style architecture used plans of the well-known architectural firm Trost & Trost and took shape at 1132 12th Street. It was first known as the Grammar School, later as the Intermediate School and finally as Joe E. Carlson School.

The building's main feature in 1905 was an enclosed patio with a skylight. The patio included a garden and fish pond, and was accessible from all parts of the building.

The school was single story except for the north wing. It held an assembly room and underneath, in a basement, were classrooms for domestic science and manual training.

In 1908, voters passed a $20,000 bond, which added an east wing and a full basement to the entire building. It held what were then called grammar grades (5-8).

Douglas High School classes were taught there from January 1907 to 1909. In 1908, the first Douglas High School class of seven students graduated out of the building. From 1909 to 1949, the building was called the Grammar School.

The school received the title Intermediate School in 1957. This meant all Douglas fourth graders, upon leaving their primary schools, attended the fifth and sixth grades at Joe Carlson.

In 1957, almost 10 years after Carlson's retirement, the Douglas Board of Education voted to name the intermediate school for Joe E. Carlson.

Joseph Emmanuel Carlson Jr., was born in 1880 Spokane, Washington, into a family of Swedish immigrants. He attended Idaho schools, graduated from Lewiston (Idaho) Normal School, and taught and coached in Idaho for about 10 years.

Carlson moved to Douglas in 1916 and became Grammar School principal. He enlisted the next year in the U.S. Army and served two years during World War I.

He returned in 1919 to Douglas Grammar School as its principal. He held that position for three years before becoming principal of Douglas High School in 1923. Four years later, Carlson was chosen Douglas superintendent of schools.

He later said his most difficult time during his tenure was the Great Depression. Over 700 students dropped out, which forced dismissal of 20 teachers. He also had to reduce the salaries of the remaining teachers by 20 percent.

Carlson's style was clearest during World War II when he wrote and mailed a weekly newsletter to hundreds of former students serving in the military. At the same time, he completed a master's degree awarded by the University of Arizona in 1942.

After the war, he raised district standards, thus insuring Douglas schools system remained part of the North Central Association. That was one achievement of which he was most proud, he said. Another was that 55 DHS graduates returned to their home town to teach.

Upon his 1948 retirement, Carlson moved to California to be near family members. He died there in 1962.

In 2003, the Arizona Schools Facilities Board awarded the Douglas school district $19million. The largest portion of that amount built a new Joe Carlson School at 1700 N. Louis Avenue. The old Carlson School building now holds district offices and various administrative functions.

-Ms. Cindy Hayostek, District Historical Researcher


"History of Douglas Public...", Douglas International, (Dec. 2, 1922)

"Taking Care of Douglas' Health", Borderland Chronicles No. 46, History of Arizona Vol. 4, p. 412 and 415.

"Thousands of Graduates...", Douglas Dispatch, (June 13, 1948)

Norman Littrell, "Douglas Schools from 1965-1995".

"19 Million for...", Dispatch, (Jan. 28, 2003).

"Death Claims Long-time City Educators", Dispatch, (Nov. 16, 1962).