A tiny street near the Arizona Inn was once a girls prep school started by a wealthy couple.
Potter School founder Dickson B. Potter was born on Jan. 31, 1896. His mother was Margaret (Somerville) Potter and his father was E. Clifford Potter, a real estate developer who is credited with developing Park Avenue in New York City.
Dickson met his future wife, Sue Cunningham Bucknell, in East Hampton, New York, where both families spent summers. Her grandfather, William Bucknell, is the namesake of Bucknell University and her grandmother, Emma Eliza Ward Bucknell, survived the sinking of the Titanic.
Dickson attended Browning School, a college preparatory school for boys in New York City. He graduated from Princeton University in 1918 with a bachelor’s degree and served as an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve from 1917 to 1919.
From roughly 1920 to 1940 he was involved in the electric manufacturing business, which included a business trip to England, France, Spain, Italy and Algeria for Eastern Laboratories Inc., of New York City in 1923. He was also involved in real estate for some time in New York City.
In 1924, Dickson married Sue in Atlanta but the couple lived in New York. They had two children: Susanne and E. Clifford Potter II.
In the late 1930s the family began spending winters in Tucson for their son’s health and in time conceived the idea of starting a preparatory school for girls. In October 1939, they opened the Potter School on North Dodge Boulevard and East Fifth Street. Its first headmaster was Thomas F. Tammen, who had spent several years as assistant headmaster at the Buckley School in New York City.
After the school year ended in May 1940, the Potters purchased the old Leighton Kramer estate from Hardy-Stonecyhper Realty Co., across the street from the Arizona Inn. Included in the estate was a large home built by Kramer along with a pool built by former owner James W. Wheeler.
The Potters built their home on the northeast part of the property and created a long driveway that over time came to be known as Potter Place.
The original home was called the Main House, which was living quarters for the youngest girls. It also included the study hall, dining hall, infirmary, administration offices, classrooms and chapel.
A second building called the Patio House, just south of the Wheeler pool, was home to the older girls. A third building called the Chiquito, north of the Main House, was designated for the rest of the girls.
Also on the 10-acre campus, which served girls in grades seven through 12, was a tennis court, a basketball court and a dirt field that was used for baseball, softball and field hockey.
The school had both day students and residential students. Subjects taught included English, drama, history, math, French, music, art, science and Latin. Students could take a two-year course in the study of the Bible and Biblical history. Both Spanish and German could be taken with special arrangements. Individual tennis and swimming lessons were offered to students and occasional ski trips to Mount Lemmon were permitted for students of “good citizenship.”
The school newspaper was called “The Potterie” and the yearbook was known as the “Post Script.”
Ann Hughart Branham, who attended the Potter School from 1944-49, remembers dances two or three times a year. Also, the girls usually would attend one dance a year at the Southern Arizona School for Boys near Sabino Canyon.
She also remembers the girls being taken to the University of Arizona’s Sunday Evening Forum, where she listened to and later met Eleanor Roosevelt as well as early birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger Slee. The latter resided next to the Potter School on Sierra Vista Drive.
In 1945, Dickson Potter purchased land along North Craycroft Road, near the Rillito River, and built a ranch house and stables. Here, at Potter Ranch, the girls received riding lessons from a master who lived on the property. There also were annual horse shows that showcased novice and advanced horse jumping, with the winners’ names engraved on the Bob Locke Award. The Potter Ranch is now The Gregory School.
The Potter School stayed open until 1953 and then was sold to the Sisters of Charity, a Catholic order. The school’s former Main House was torn down earlier this year.