Yamasaki's Chelsea High School

Author: 
Grace Shackman

What was a star architect thinking?

When I worked at the Chelsea Standard in the 1980s, I often covered events at Chelsea High School. It was not a single building, but a campus of one-story structures that students scurried between in all types of weather. I was told it was designed by a California architect who didn't understand Michigan winters.

Imagine my surprise to learn, years later, that it was actually the work of Minoru Yamasaki, the famous Modern architect who went on to design the World Trade Center. Born in Seattle, Yamasaki moved to Detroit in 1945, so by the time he designed the school in 1956, he had been through eleven Michigan winters.

But Yamasaki evidently wasn't thinking about winter. In a 1957 interview with Architectural Forum, he explained: "We hit upon the idea that if the buildings could each express their individual character that we might be able to depict the quality of a small town. The auditroium, gym, homemaking area would symbolically and literally be the town center."

Yamasaki was hardly the first architect to ignore practical problems. A janitor once broke a leg tending an elevated planter at Alden Dow's Ann ARbor library. Frank Lloyd Wright's eccentricities - leaking roofs, tiny kitchens - are well know. But Chelsea needed a new school - the high school population, then fewer than 400 students, was predicted to double in ten years.

Local architect Art Lindauer encouraged an innovative design. "I went to the school board and said, 'Every school looks like each other,'" recalls Lindauer, the father of Chelsea mayor Jason Lindauer. "'Why don't you try an architect with a different approach?'" Asked for suggestions, he mentioned Yamasaki, who at the time was activiely pursuing school work. After interviewing a dozen architects, a citizen's committee recommended hiring Yamaski, Leinweber, and Associates.

Peter Flintoff, whose father, Howard Flintoff, was secretary of the school board, recalls hearing that they felt lucky to get Yamasaki. Alyce Riemenschneider remembers that her parents and their friends were also excited to have someone so famous design their school.

People raised questions about the campus layout, but according to the Standard, school board members argued that the design would "provide the best building program at the most economical cost." Outside walkways would to-ceiling windows [it] was much nicer than the traditional string of hallway lockers," recalls Carol Cameron Lauhon, who also graduated in 1961. Covered walkways with brightly colored bubbles at building entrances served to unify the campus and afford some shelter as students passed between classes.

The main building, which Yamasaki called the "Town Center," contained the cafeteria, library, gym, and auditorium. Circling the auditorium were six classrooms used for English and social sciences. A Central atrium was open to the sky and filled with planst and bushes. "For the prom, the junior class would decorate the atrium with flowers and green plastic truf and furnish it with a wooden bridge over a small pond. Couples posed on the bridge for their prom photos. Very romantic!" recalls Lauhon.

June Winans, who taught earth science and geology, shared the science building with biology, chemistry, and physics teachers. Shop classes, the Standard explained, also had their own building so that "noises made by operating equipment or hammering and sawing will not disturb other classes."

The home economics and art building had a pitched roof to look more like a house. Riemenschneider recalls that the desks converted into cutting tables and that sewing machines were hidden in veneer cabinets. The kitchen had the newest stoves and refrigerators and an island, a novelty at the time. After preparing a meal, the students moved into a dining room and a living room.

At an open house, the Standard reported, "most people were impressed not only with the beautiful appearance of the new campus type high school but also with its very evident functional features."

The students who made the transition still have fond memories of Yamaski's school. "The exterior walkways between buildings felt less confining than the old school's intererior hallways and multiple stairwells, some of them narrow and windowless," says Lauhon.

"I was happy to walk outside," says Brown, adding: "The teachers aid it woke the students up."

"The breath of fresh air did them good," says Bill Chandler, the school's work-study coordinator. Sam Vogel, social studies teacher and later assistant principal, recalls that "the covered walkways developed leaks, but, unless it was pouring, it wasn't a problem."

Parents were less thrilled. Some thought it was ridiculous that their children had to go outside. One recalls her daughter tell her, "mom, we don't need decent clothes to go to school. We just need a good coat."

As enrollment grew, an auto mechanics garage was added, and a new bulding facing Washington for social studies. The cafeteria was enlarged by moving the library into another building.

But when the locker room got overcrowded and rowdy-the staff dubbed it "God's Little Acre" - there was no way to expand it. Eventually the lockers were movied into the "town center," but "then the halls were too crowded," Vogel recalls. The atrium also became a problem, with maintenance issues and heat loss through the single-pane glass the surrounded it.

Yamasaki's futuristic vision never caught on: the present Chelsea High, built in 1998, is again a single building. His campus, however, is still in use - its buildings now house the Chelsea Senior Center, school board offices, Chelsea Community Education and Recreation, and Chelsea Early Education. The roofs and bubble entrances are gone, the original large windows have been replaced by smaller ones, and the atrium has been filled in to create a windowless meeting room.

But students who went there still have fond memories of their school. "It seems to me that the Yamasaki design was a new way of imagining spaces for student life," says Lauhon. "The school was a pleasant place to be. My sense is that this is what Yamasaki had in mind."

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Stone School: From One-Room Schoolhouse to Co-op Nursery

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The bell atop the Stone School Cooperative Nursery, 2600 Packard, still rings as it did when it was a one-room school. The heavy bell is rung by the nursery school students, with the aid of a teacher, to mark the end of the morning and afternoon sessions. "They get excited when it's their turn to ring it," says teacher Barbara Hutchinson. "It's the best part of their day."

From the outside, the building looks much as it did when it was built a century ago. The front door still opens into a hall with cloakrooms on either side, one originally for the girls and the other for boys. "The boys' room had shelves and hooks for dinner pails and coats and was also used for wood storage," an early grad recalled at the school's 100th anniversary celebration in 1953. "The girls' was the same except for the wood. A roundwood-burning stove sat in the middle of the room." Today boys and girls share one cloakroom; the other is the office.

The present building is actually the second stone schoolhouse on this corner. The first was built in 1853 to serve children from nearby farms. Benajah Ticknor,who built the house that today is the city's Cobblestone Farm, leased a triangle of land at the edge of his farm to Pittsfield Township with the stipulation that it be used for a school.

By 1911 the old school had become overcrowded, so the community gathered to build a new one. Residents took the old one down as soon as school closed in June and by working all summer had the new building ready by fall. They reused the stones from the old school, supplemented with stones cleared from nearby farms.

From 1918 to 1927 the school was used by Eastern Michigan Normal (today's EMU) as a training school for student teachers—with half of the supervising teacher's salary paid by the college. During this time hot lunches were served and a ninety-foot well was dug, eliminating the need for the bigger boys to tote pails of water from a neighboring farm. When Eastern abandoned it, the school was organized into grades, from kindergarten through junior high. (Before then, students arriving in the fall had just started in their primers wherever they had left off the previous spring.)

As the surrounding farms were developed after World War II, the school again became too crowded. In 1949, a new cement block building was built across the street, and the old school was boarded up. But growth was so rapid that
just three years later, it was again needed. With money furnished by the Pittsfield school board, the PTA added a kitchen in the basement and built a cinder block addition on the back to house a bathroom–until then, students had used outhouses. the refurbished school hosted noon hour activities, movies, Boy and Girl Scout meetings, music, physical education, and speech correction classes.

In 1955, Pittsfield School District No. 7 was absorbed into the Ann Arbor Public Schools. The old school was again unneeded, so a group of parents requested permission to reopen it as a nursery school.

The school board agreed, renting the building to the Stone School Co-op Nursery. That arrangement continued until 1994, when the school board announced they planned to put the building up for sale. The nursery parents loved the school and wanted to stay, but by then the building was more than eighty years old and very run-down. "It was a very scary time," recalls Hutchinson.

The parents asked the school board to give them a year to find the money to buy the building. Barbara Loomis, a recently retired librarian, took the leadership on fund-raising. Her son had attended the school in the 1950s, and her grandchildren were then enrolled. The parents met the deadline and in October 1995 bought the building for $120,000. In 2005 they paid off their mortgage, becoming one of the few co-op nurseries in North America to own its building.

When the nursery bought the stone school, tile was falling off the roof, the window frames were rotting, the masonry at the entrance was crumbling, the trim needed painting, and the basement needed remodeling. But Loomis was sure that it was worth saving. "It's beautifully constructed and solid as can be," she says. "The windows on the north are long and skinny, while on the south they are big and cover the whole wall. Even then they knew about southern exposure for light and heat.

Loomis got the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places and then landed a grant to fix the roof and chimney. She recalls that it was quite a challenge to match the tiles—"only one company still made them."

Most co-op nurseries share their space, usually with a church. Owning their building gives the parents who run Stone School more freedom. For example, they designed the playground specifically for preschoolers. However, it also means they have to do all the upkeep—cleaning, shoveling snow, raking leaves.

One year the parent volunteers had extra help with their year-end cleaning. Loomis received a call from the police, who had found the school's sign in the trunk of a car they had stopped. Some fraternity boys had stolen it as a prank. When asked if they wanted to press charges, the school leaders decided not to, as long as the boys helped with the cleaning. "When they were done, they had more respect for the parents," recalls Loomis.

The school's two paid teachers, Hutchinson and Annie Zipser, have both been there twenty-two years. They are assisted by two or three volunteers, depending on the size of class. In the early days the helpers were always mothers of children in the school, but now it is not unusual to have fathers or other relatives. "We have three grandparents who are the primary assists and several others who come as treats," reports Anna Mae Trievel, co-president of the co-op.

The students are also more diverse, with many ethnicities and races represented. "We usually have a few children who yre new to this country, who don't know English," says Zipser. "We tell the parents to make sure they know the word for bathroom."

The co-op philosophy has not changed over the years. "We believe in learning through play," explains Hutchinson. Recent projects include units on dinosaurs, outer space (including building a rocket ship), weather, butterflies, and planting seeds. Field trips include the fire station on Ellsworth, Wild Swan Theater, and the Leslie Science Center.

Since the children haven't yet experienced regular school, the teachers don't say a lot about the building's past as a one-room schoolhouse. "The kids are pretty young to make much of it, but they are aware," says Loomis. Trievel tells of her daughter Caitlyn's first visit to Greenfield Village: "She saw the one-room schoolhouse and said, 'This is like my school!'"

The Stone School Co-op Nursery is hosting an ice cream social/rom 2-4p.m. on Saturday, May 14, to celebrate the building's centenary.


By 1911 the old school had become overcrowded, so the community gathered to build a new one. Residents took the old one down as soon as school closed in June and by working all summer they had a new building ready by fall.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: (Above) Students stage a snowball fight for a photographer when the 1911 building was still a Pittsfield public school. (Top) Neighbors gather for the school's centennial celebration in 1953.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

A Piece of Henry Ford's Dream

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Phoenix Packaging has revamped his one-room Saline schoolhouse.

Henry Ford knew how to run a car company, and he thought he knew how to run the country. In his view, the rural values of his childhood, including education in a one-room schoolhouse, represented America at its best.

In 1935 Ford turned Saline's Schuyler Mill, on Michigan Avenue, into a soybean processing plant. Soon after, he moved a dilapidated old school from Macon Road to a site directly across the street. He intended it for the children of the men who were producing plastics and paints at the restored mill (today Wellers' banquet facility).

Ford spared no expense to restore the school, complete with cloakroom, potbellied stove, and two-person desks. He even installed two outhouses (modernized with real plumbing and heating). On September 7, 1943, Ford attended the opening of the school.

Many of the thirty-five students, who ranged from kindergarten through eighth grade, had tenuous connections to Ford, or none at all. Allen Rentschler's father was farmer, although his uncle, Carl Bredernitz, worked at the soybean factory. Bob Cook's father was a Chevrolet dealer. Thelma Wahl Stremler's dad worked at Bridgewater Lumber.

Like the physical structure, school ac- tivities were a mix of modern and old-fashioned. "We had the latest books, the latest teaching methods," recalls Cook. The older children often served as teacher aides. "I helped the younger ones read, but I felt I was just having fun," remembers Stremler.

Each day started with a chapel service that included recitations by students and hymns led by Stremler on the piano. At recess children of all ages joined in games such as kickball and softball. Ford furnished the school with looms of various sizes.

For students and parents, one attraction of the school was free medical and dental care. Both Rentschler and Stremler got their first eyeglasses thanks to Ford.

The Saline school was one of several Ford built near his small plants. Don Currie, the first teacher, moved on after a year to become principal of Ford High School in Macon. Clare Collins, later a shop teacher at Saline High School, took over from Currie.

The one-room school didn't last long. In 1946, Ford, in failing health, decreed that all his schools would close at the end of the semester. The students returned to public schools; they had little trouble adjusting. Ford died a year later at age eighty-three.

The Saline public schools were not interested in the building, so it was sold to Elizabeth and Bruce Parsons. The Parsonses moved the entrance to the side, added a two-story wing with four bedrooms, and divided the schoolroom into a kitchen, dining room, and living room.

By 2002, when Patricia and Chris Molloy bought the building, a series of owners had let it deteriorate. The Molloys wanted to turn it into an office for their company, Phoenix Packaging. After some negotiations with the city, the Molloys agreed on a historic-preservation easement in exchange for business zoning. In the future, the exteriors of the buildings may not be altered without the city's permission.

The Molloys carefully preserved and restored what was left of the original school, including the hardwood doors, floors, and wainscoting. The first floor is their office; they rent the upstairs to attorney Russell Brown and a separate shed to architect Dan Kohler.

The Molloys have a collection of Ford School pictures on the wall. They acquired an old potbellied stove but then learned that the Saline Area Historical Society has the school's actual stove. The Molloys have agreed to a swap. Now they are keeping their eyes out for one of the old two-seater desks.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Re-creating the Rentschler Farm

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Setting the clock back a century

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers are transforming the Rentschler farm on the edge of Saline into a teaching tool. They're restoring the house to show how a farm family lived at the beginning of the century, bringing in livestock to demonstrate the working of the farm, and re-creating a kitchen garden to teach children how to grow plants—all with the unusual advantage of having the last owner of the farm nearby to answer questions.

The farm is on Michigan Avenue, just east of the Ford plant. It was built in 1906 by Matthew Rentschler on 216 acres that his brother, Emanuel, had bought two years earlier. The land would eventually be farmed by three generations of Rentschlers.

The last was Warren Rentschler, who lived on the farm almost all his life. "We had sheep and chickens, sold eggs at the door, had pigs; we grew corn, hay, wheat, oats," Rentschler says. "We sold hay to the horse trade."

As the city of Saline crept up to the farm, Rentschler gradually split parcels off and sold them, starting with a field for the Ford plant in the 1960s. A few years ago, then-mayor Rick Kuss heard that Rentschler was about to sell the last of his farm to Farmer Jack for a shopping center. Kuss talked to him about selling the house and outbuildings to the city instead.

Rentschler was delighted with the idea. In spring 1998 the city of Saline bought Rentschler's property at a discount, and the Saline Area Historical Society went to work at the farm right away.

The restoration of the house's interior is being organized by Janet Swope, antiques dealer, teacher of antiques classes, organizer of the Saline Antiques Fair, and former owner of the Pineapple House. Swope's plan is to restore the home to the way it looked between 1900 and 1930. "We may have some older things," she says. "People inherit things. But we'll have nothing newer than 1930."

Her goal is to "restore it to what a farmhouse would be like—not real affluent, middle class, but nice." This winter she hopes to finish the downstairs rooms: the master bedroom, dining room, and parlor. If time allows, she and her fellow volunteers will also work on the hired man's room upstairs. The master bedroom will be decorated with a historic Saline wallpaper design, found in the Bondie house on Maple, that's being reproduced by the Thibaut wallpaper company. Next spring, Saline resident and former county clerk Bob Harrison plans to re-create the front porch, using a 1910 photo for guidance.

Cathy Andrews, master gardener and historic furniture restorer, created a kitchen garden with help from area schoolkids. She laid out the beds in long, narrow rows, as the Rentschlers would have in the 1930s, and planted vegetable and flower species common for that period, such as a tasty, pinkish beefsteak tomato and a very red variety developed at Rutgers University that was considered good for canning. She kept the rhubarb and horseradish she found at the farm.

Rick Kuss and Jeff Hess, among others, are tending the animals already housed in the outbuildings. Roosters, ducks, and pigeons were donated from Animal Rescue, while Domino's Farms provided two miniature goats. A local farmer gave two piglets, which have since grown big enough to knock Kuss down. "I liked them better when they were babies," he jokes.

Wayne Clements, president of the historical society, bought two lambs for the farm at the 4-H fair. Others followed his example and began donating their prize lambs to the farm to save them from slaughter.

Today, Warren Rentschler lives on the north side of Saline. What does he think of what's happening at his old farm?

"I like it fine," he says. "They'll preserve it. Who wouldn't want that? My granddad and dad worked so hard to keep it up, and I spent a bit of time too."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: Elizabeth and Emanuel Rentschler with their children. Alma, Alvin, & Herman, in front of their farmhouse around 1910.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Memories of the One-Room Schoolhouse

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Reading, writing, and getting along.

The idea of the rustic one-room schoolhouse looms large in the American imagination, calling up images of kids with cowlicks seated in rows at sturdy wooden desks, all eyes front on the teacher whose homespun brand of tough love taught them everything from penmanship to good posture. But for almost everyone who lived on a farm in Washtenaw County before World War II, the one-room schoolhouse is not a romantic legend but a centerpiece of their personal history. Many residents still remember fondly the experience of attending one of the roughly 150 one-room schools in the area.

Graduates of one-room schools tend to forget or gloss over their limitations, which to modern sensibilities were considerable: walking long distances, enrollments so small that a student might be the only one in a grade, lack of supplies, and no electricity, running water, or telephones. Instead, they remember what is arguably more important—the personal benefits of learning how to work together and the lifetime friendships such schooling fosters. Says Taylor Jacobsen (Lodi Plains, 1946-1950), "Anything I lost out on I gained in other ways—the camaraderie of the kids, a way of listening, doing chores, being part of that thing." Marge Hepburn, who attended Canfield (1938-1939), liked school so much that she insisted on going even in terrible weather. "I had wonderful times at school," she recalls. "One bad winter day, the teacher didn't come, but the kids all showed up." It was so cold that day that Hepburn remembers having to stop at a neighbor's house to warm up before making it all the way home. Another former student, Billie Sodt Mann (Pleasant Lake, 1922-1931), puts it succinctly: "All I can say is I loved it."

The one-room schools operated under an 1869 state law that mandated free education for all, paid for by taxes. (Previously, parents had paid tuition based on the number of days their children attended school.) A 1915 county map shows 140 one-room schools; the number evidently grew slightly after that date, to about 153 schools between 1926 and 1939. School districts were small enough that students would not have to walk more than a few miles to school, and were adjusted periodically to equalize the number of students.

Most one-room schools enrolled fewer than twenty students, sometimes all from just a few large families. Rarely were there more than two or three in a grade, and some grade levels might not be represented. Marge Hepburn, for example, was the only student in her seventh- and eighth- grade classes at Canfield, while Jean Eisenbeiser Schmidt was one of three (the two others were boys) in her fifth- and sixth-grade classes there. (Before Canfield, Schmidt also attended North Lake,1934-1936.) Similarly, Billie Sodt Mann was the only one in her grade at Pleasant Lake, while Lenora Haas Parr and Ruth Weidmayer Kuebler were the only two in their grades there from 1924 to 1933.

Schools were built near the center of the district, on land that was given or lent by farmers. Residents elected a school board that ran the school, seeing to its construction and maintenance and providing materials. (The first schools were usually wood-frame buildings, but they often were replaced with brick schoolhouses when the community became more established.) The school would typically be named after the site's donor in a symbolic gesture of thanks; if the farming community went by a particular name, such as Pleasant Lake or Lodi Plains, that became part of the school name as well.

Women of many talents

School boards were also responsible for hiring the teachers and setting their salaries. Indeed, the success of one-room schools depended largely on the teachers, mostly women, who were called on to do everything from tap dance to stage manage to umpire, creating a safe and supportive home-away-from-home for countless children whose parents were hard at work in the fertile fields of the county.

Generally, the rural schools could not afford to pay salaries as high as those at the town schools (the school board's appropriation was based on the number of students), and the qualifications to teach were not as high. Jane Schairer, who taught at Freer School in Lima Township from 1944 to 1947, was hired after completing two years at Michigan State Normal College (now EMU) with a limited certificate qualifying her to teach in rural schools. In the early days of one-room schools, salaries were so low that teachers often had to board at their students' homes, like Laura Ingalls Wilder in These Happy Golden Years. By the twentieth century they were paid enough that they could live on their own. Young teachers often got their start in one-room schools, before moving to a more remunerative assignment or leaving to get married.

But others made a career out of teaching at a particular school, perhaps because they themselves were from the area or just because they loved the work. Although rural teachers needed less training than their urban counterparts, they had to be well versed in every subject, play the piano, keep a diverse group in order, and be able to juggle many assignments at once. Even with all the material a rural teacher had to cover, the classes were small enough that she or he (although way out-numbered, male teachers did exist) could tailor the curriculum to make sure mat no one got left behind and that quicker students could move ahead.

Jean Schmidt, for example, started kindergarten with two boys who were not as interested in reading as she was, so her teacher let her do the first-grade work, and the next year she moved into second grade. George Brassow (Lodi Plains, 1934-1943) was the only one in his eighth-grade class, so he moved at his own speed and finished all the work by February. (He stayed home the rest of the term, working on his family's farm.)

If a teacher had special interests or talents, she could share them with her students. Brassow and Mary Anne Groeb Hanselman (1933-1943) recall with appreciation one Lodi Plains teacher, Gertrude Kromer, whose skills included writing school plays and tap dancing. Although gym wasn't part of the curriculum, she used to lead the class in exercises. "She had a great disposition. She never came unglued," recalls Hanselman. Barbara Wing (Peatt 1932-1935, Arnold 1937-1941) had a Mrs. Engle, who was very good at teaching reading. She later became a reading specialist in the Dexter schools.

Taylor Jacobsen had a teacher named Phoebe Summerhill. "She noticed I had a flair for art, so she would get out the chalk and have me draw. She wasn't an art teacher, but she did what she could," says Jacobsen, who recently retired after nearly forty years as a high school art teacher. Summerhill also convinced her landlord, Art Miller, to help teach shop and also to ump for softball games. In quiet moments she would regale the class with stories of the copper country in the Upper Peninsula. "I thought she was a terrible woman, strict—she made us do our lessons. But as I got older, I understood how wonderful she was," muses Jacobsen.

Although many teachers were wonderful, some weren't. "I heard of a few teachers who didn't do much," says Jacobsen, while Schairer admits, "If the teacher was not good at music or art, it was unfortunate."

Making the grade

Preview and review were the cornerstone of the rural schools' educational philosophy. Students were called up grade by grade to recite their lessons while the rest of the children sat at their desks working. "You sat in the same room with classes of different grades—you heard what was coming up," recalls Parr. "If you didn't get it that time, you got it another time," explains Hanselman.

The curriculum included basic subjects such as history, geography, reading, and math, as well as those - penmanship, for example - no longer emphazised. "If you didn't learn anything else, you learned penmanship and spelling," says Hanselman. Kuebler recalls that her teacher set aside a time, maybe once a week, to observe all the students' penmanship. "She'd walk around as we were writing and told us how to sit, how our postures should be."

Reading instruction included recitation. "Everyone teamed to read out loud. You couldn't use your finger—you had to do it with your eyes," recalls Hanselman. Spelling was made more fun by periodic spelling bees. Several of the winners report that they still own the dictionaries that the Detroit News awarded to them. Brassow recalls similar special events related to math.

Although science was not listed on the 1935 report card, a subject called "agriculture/nature study" was. Several students remember that agriculture, taught in seventh and eighth grade, included how to grow crops such as wheat, corn, and oats. Informal opportunities for nature study abounded. "As we walked to school, we heard the bobolink and meadowlarks from cow pastures," recalls Jacobsen. "Walking to and from school we'd notice nature much more than [we would have] in a bus," adds Hepbum, remembering how in the spring she and other students would scoop up frog eggs in a marsh behind the school.

Students and teachers alike went beyond the boundaries of their schoolroom in other ways, too, driven by necessity and invention. There was no such thing as a school janitor, for example, so the teacher, or sometimes a school board member who lived nearby, came early to feed the wood-burning stove. Older kids helped keep it going and banked it at night. Students hauled water from a neighbor's pump. At the end of the day, students cleaned the blackboard, pounded the erasers, and swept the school.

And just as everyone worked together, the students all played together, too. All ages and sexes were welcome to join recess games, since everyone was needed to make up teams. They played games that needed little or no equipment, such as fox-and-hounds, blindman's buff, hide-and-seek, and Annie-over, a game that involved throwing the ball over the schoolhouse, essentially using it as a net.

Girls played softball. George Brassow recalls, "It wasn't known as coeducation. We just said, 'We've got five girls on our team—they're pretty good.' " At Pleasant Lake, even the teacher joined in.

Students also came together for special events. Every school had a Christmas program involving all the children in recitations, songs, and pageants. For performances, most schools improvised to create a stage within the schoolroom. Pleasant Lake, however, had a real stage, complete with curtain and dressing area: Mann's father, Manny Sodt, was proprietor of the Pleasant Lake House tavern and let the students use his place. Other events varied from school to school. For instance, when Schmidt was a student at North Lake, the students had a pet show. "I rode my pony to school. Everyone brought pets," she recalls, noting that were a few dogfights as a result.

For the kids themselves, however, discipline was rarely a problem. "We were all good kids—we didn't have anything to get in trouble with," recalls Mann, although she admits a couple of boys liked playing tricks such as sticking their feet out in the aisle to make girls trip. Schmidt recalled a boy bringing in a blue racer snake that he had killed on the playground and putting it around a girl's neck, causing her to scream. Hanselman recalls that one Halloween students balanced the teeter-totter boards on the roof of the school.

In spite of such minor diversionary incidents, students attending the one-room schools did well overall academically. An elected county commissioner of schools oversaw the rural schools, trying to maintain high standards so that all students received a good education. Cora Haas, Washtenaw's commissioner of schools from 1926 to 1939, supervised all the teachers, making unannounced visits to each school twice a year. Her assistant, Mildred Robinson, also made frequent visits to assist teachers.

At the end of the school year, schools administered the same sealed tests across the county. Rural seventh- and eighth-graders went into Ann Arbor to take more comprehensive tests and then enrolled in high school if their parents could afford it. (During the Depression years, some children were needed to work on the farm and had to quit school after eighth grade to help support their families.)

The county's attention to maintaining standards paid off. Those who attended one-room schools report having no trouble academically when they moved on to city or village high schools. It was not unusual for valedictorians and salutatorians to be country school graduates. But it was often hard to make the social adjustment. "It was scary," admits Mann, who had limited contacted with the world outside her immediate community before starting high school in Manchester. "If we got into town it was a miracle. My folks had a store, so we never had to go shopping."

Rural schools were communities within themselves; for most of the year they were quite isolated. In the spring they might sometimes go a little farther afield by challenging nearby schools to baseball games. "It would be another nation—the school four miles down the road," recalls Jacobsen. Joyce Boyce (Arnold 1935) remembers that one year there were only nine students in her school, all girls, but they still challenged nearby Spiegelberg School to a baseball game. "We didn't do so well—we were all girls—but it was good to get acquainted," she says. Brassow remembers having track meets with Dold, the school just north of Lodi Plains.

The village schools were much bigger by comparison (though still small by today's standards). Boyce recalls there were twenty-one in her Dexter High graduating class. Jacobsen found the biggest challenge was in athletics. "The city kids played basketball in junior high. I was like a boat out of water."

Postwar consolidation

After World War II the country schools began consolidating with those in the closest villages. Their populations were decreasing as people left farming, but consolidation efforts were usually set off when a village high school became over-crowded and village residents wanted a larger tax base to build a new school. Consolidation was decided by elections in each country school district and was often hotly contested. Parents feared loss of local control, higher taxes, and long, tiring bus rides for their children. On the other hand, larger schools could offer many more amenities such as gyms, shops, science labs, and home economics rooms, plus more highly trained teachers.

After consolidation it often took years to untangle the legal status of the abandoned buildings and the land they stood on—to determine whether the site had been formally given to the school district or just used by tradition. In the former case, the building was sold, with the money going to the consolidated school district. In the latter, it reverted to the family of the farmer who had lent the property.

Today, most of the schoolhouses have been torn down or converted to homes. Surviving buildings have often changed so completely that it is hard to recognize their original use. Canfield (Lyndon Township at Waterloo and M-52), Pleasant Lake (Freedom Township on Pleasant Lake Road), and Lodi Plains (Lodi Township on Ann Arbor Saline Road at Brassow) have all been torn down. North Lake (Dexter Township at Hankerd and North Lake roads) was used for a while as a Boy Scout lodge, and Peatt (Webster Township on Gregory at the end of Vaughn) was used as a pigpen, but both have also been torn down. Arnold (Dexter Township, Island Lake Road) and Dold (Lodi Township, 3481 Ellsworth) have both been converted to homes. Other uses include church offices (Webster Church on Webster Church Road) and nursery schools (Beach on Chelsea-Dexter Road and Stone School on Packard in Ann Arbor).

Washtenaw County has two school museums and will someday have at least one more. The 1895 Town Hall School was moved to the EMU campus from the corner of Morgan and Thomas roads in Pittsfield Township. Podunk School, circa 1850, originally on Walsh Road, has been moved by the Webster Historical Society to Webster Church Road, near the society's other historic structures. The Saline Area Historical Society plans to move Blaess School on Gensley Road after it completes other projects. These three surviving structures together stand as a symbol of the kind of education whose lessons last a lifetime—an educational experience that alumnus Taylor Jacobsen describes simply as "a gem."

Educate us!
Our local history expert, Grace Shackman, tells us there are many more former one-room schoolhouses out there than the five she describes in this article. "Some of them have probably been converted to houses or moved.'' she explains. We're inviting our readers to help us find them. It you know about any old one-room schoolhouses in the area served by the Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, and Saline post offices, let us know at Schoolhouse Contest, Community Observer, 201 Catherine Street, Ann Arbor. Michigan 48104 (fax: (734) 769-3375; e-mail: mike@aaobserver.com). Whoever finds the most and can offer some proof of each building's former status as a schoolhouse will receive a $25 gift certificate to any business advertising in this issue. (In the case of a tie, there will be a random drawing.) We'll publish a complete list in our fall issue. So take some leisurely drives out in the country this summer - you've got till August 24 to tell us what you find.

Photo Captions:

Mclntee School in Lyndon Township, built 1888. Older students helped teachers tend wood-burning stoves like the one in this 1900 photo.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Memories of St. Mary's

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The old parish school thrives as Chelsea’s arts center

A stairway to the sidewalk on Chelsea’s Congdon Street is all that’s left of old St. Mary Catholic Church. The church rectory and convent are now private homes. The parochial school building, however, still resonates with art and music, as it did in the days when Dominican sisters ran the place: it’s now the home of the Chelsea Center for the Arts.

St. Mary School was a center of activity from 1907 to 1972. Passersby at recess time could see children climbing on playground equipment, playing baseball in an empty field behind the church and rectory, and enjoying marbles and other games in an area blocked off by sawhorses on the street.

Ann Arbor’s Koch Brothers constructed the two-story brick school. Its first students were mostly descendants of Irish immigrants who had fled the potato famine and of Germans from Alsace-Lorraine who had come to avoid serving in Napoleon III’s army. Father William Considine, who started the school, was a good friend of Frank Glazier, Chelsea’s leading citizen. At Considine’s behest, Glazier, a Methodist, spoke at the school’s opening in January 1907.

The school had four classrooms on the first floor and an auditorium on the second. Originally it housed only grades 1 through 8, but in 1909 a two-year commercial course was added, which turned into a four-year high school in 1916. Six women enrolled in the first commercial course, and two students made up the first high school graduation class. During World War I classes were moved into the convent because there was not enough coal to heat the school.

The school’s auditorium included a stage, an orchestra area, and dressing rooms. The school regularly produced concerts, recitals, and plays. A 1917–1918 St. Mary’s musicale program listed thirty-two student numbers; the instruments included violins, cornet, bells, drums, and piano. Several times a year students put on plays or pageants, and not always on religious themes. The hall was also used for church and community functions and as a gym.

John Keusch, a 1927 graduate, recalls shooting baskets at recess, after school, and at night. Some parishioners complained about the cost of lighting the gym at night, but the parish priest at that time, Father Henry Van Dyke, was an ardent supporter of athletics. A former student remembers him watching a baseball game out his window. “The bell rang and they started to come in, but he called out that they should finish the game,” she recalls.

Keeping the gym open at night paid off. In 1923 a team composed mostly of St. Mary’s students won a state basketball championship. In 1925 an official St. Mary’s team won the class D title. The next year the team, with an added member from Chelsea High School, won a three-state tournament sponsored by the Ann Arbor YMCA. St. Mary’s also had an excellent girls’ basketball team that often accompanied the boys to out-of-town games and played against girls from the competing school.

These victories, especially the 1925 championship, were remembered and celebrated for decades. When Rich Wood attended St. Mary’s in the 1950s, the winning teams’ pictures were still hanging prominently on the wall, and students knew which classmates’ fathers had participated.

The 1925 basketball triumph was especially memorable, since it came on the heels of a fire that destroyed the school on February 6. Keusch recalls, “I had been there that evening practicing basketball until nine or ten. I was woken up at one when the fire whistle blew.” He rushed over from his house. “The volunteer fire department all came out, but they couldn’t save the building,” he remembers. All that was left was the foundation and some walls.

After the fire, classes moved to the church, with groups gathering in separate corners. The younger students sat on the kneelers and used the seats of the pews as desks. The basketball team practiced and played games in the Glazier Stove Company Welfare Building’s unheated second-floor gym.

Within two days of the fire, farmers came with teams of horses, pushed down the walls, and cleaned up the debris. Detroit architect William DesRosiers designed a new building, which was constructed by Detroit builder George Talbot, who had a summer place at Cavanaugh Lake. Keusch, then fifteen, worked as a mason’s assistant that summer. By November the building was ready for use.

The new school was built on the same foundation but had only one floor. An auditorium was added to the side of the building. It was named after one of St. Mary’s first graduates, Herbert McKune, who was killed in World War I. (McKune also gave his name to Chelsea’s American Legion post.)

The basement served the social functions of the hall. It had a full kitchen where food was prepared for Altar Society dinners, fish fries in Lent, and other events. At Thanksgiving “feather parties,” parishioners played keno to win live turkeys and chickens.

In 1934, in the midst of the Depression, the high school closed. Four seniors graduated that June, and the next year the rest went to the public high school. A student recalls that the move was traumatic: “We couldn’t remember not to stand up when the teacher called on us. We were trained to stand up and say ‘No, Sister,’ ‘Yes, Sister.’ The kids made fun of us and did things like put gum on our seats.”

Pat Dietz, who went to elementary school at St. Mary’s in the late 1930s, recalls that she was petrified attending the public high school. “It was a whole new challenge,” she says. “St. Mary’s was so much smaller.” But she found the sisters had prepared her well, especially in math, penmanship, and grammar. A generation later, in the late 1960s, her son Todd Ortbring also found he was ahead academically, especially in subjects that were conducive to rote learning, but public school was “a major cultural shock. The girls wore miniskirts and the boys bell-bottoms, and they all talked about music, drugs, and sex.”

In the 1960s, as nuns became scarcer, lay teachers were increasingly employed at St. Mary’s School. In 1968 seventh and eighth grades were discontinued, and in 1972 the school closed. One sister stayed on to teach religious education, and the hall continued to be used for functions such as wakes.

In 1998 Jeff and Kathleen Daniels bought the school to use the hall as rehearsal space for the Purple Rose Theater. Since they didn’t need the rest of the building, they sold it to the Chelsea Center for the Arts for $1. The center, founded in 1994, offers adults’ and children’s art and music classes as well as revolving art shows. A nonprofit group, it raises most of its funds at an annual autumn jubilee.

“It was one of my life’s blessings that I was able to attend the school under the Dominican sisters,” says Keusch, adding, “They would be proud of the present use of the school building.”

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

A Century at State and Huron

Author: 
Grace Shackman and Wil Cummings

A Century at State and Huron
The Union School and Ann Arbor High were once the city's pride.

Ann Arbor's first public high school opened on October 5, 1856. Known as the Union High School, it stood on State Street be­tween Huron and Washington. Destroyed fifty years later in a spectacular New Year's Eve fire, it was replaced by what is now the U-M Frieze Building—a structure that many Ann Arborites of retirement age still think of fondly as Ann Arbor High.

Earlier this year, the regents voted to demolish the Frieze Building to make room for a new dormitory, con­signing to memory the public schools that oc­cupied the site for a cen­tury. But the hopes and headaches that surrounded their construc­tion remain surprisingly current today.

The path to the Union High School was tortuous, slow, and often contentious. At least fif­teen communities — from Flint to Tecumseh —opened public high schools before Ann Arbor did. The reasons for the delay were time­less: money and politics: Ann Arbor's first schoolhouse, built on land donated by village founder John Allen, opened in September 1825. By 1830 the township of Ann Arbor was divided into eleven school districts, with District 1 including the village. The first report of District 1's commis­sioners, in 1832, sum­marized the situation briskly: "No. of children between 5 and 15 years of age in the district, 161. Average No. in school, 35. No public moneys received."

Support for publicly funded education was slow to develop. Many residents, especially the wealthy who could af­ford private schools, op­posed any tax for oper­ating public schools. As a result, complained the Michi­gan State Journal in 1835, "a neglect of schools has be­come almost a proverbial reproach upon our village."

The situation was complicated by the multiplicity of school districts. By 1839 the eleven districts of Ann Arbor Township had been consolidated into four, and in 1842 those were consolidated into one. But in the 1881 History of Washtenaw County, Michigan, W. S. Perry, superin­tendent of schools from 1870 to 1897, records that in 1845, "a petition, which secured the names of nearly all the solid men of the town north of Huron St., the aristo­cratic part of the village, was presented to the school in­spectors, praying them to divide the districts 'before any expenses incurred in preparing to build a mammoth school-house, as we prefer the system which experience has proved to the visionary and costly experiments.' Counter petitions of those living in the south and west portions of the town were made, but nevertheless the divi­sion was made, and for eight years the town supported two schools and two sets of officers throughout."

The two school districts were finally unified in No­vember 1853. Within days, a committee was appointed to develop plans for the "Union School." By the end of De­cember, the school board had decided on a site—one and three-fifths acres, bounded by Huron, State, Washington, and Thayer streets. The property, owned by Elijah W. and Lucy Morgan/cost $2,000.

The board presented plans and construction cost esti­mates for the building at a public meeting on February 4, 1854. After a long and vehement debate, it was resolved "that the District Board be, once it is hereby authorized and directed to erect and furnish at the expense, and on the faith and credit, of this District, a brick building for a Union High School."

The board voted to raise $10,000 by tax to cover the anticipated cost. "We do not like to pay taxes better than others, but when we know that we are paying for school purposes the money goes freely and without regret," the Michigan Argus editorialized. "We must have good schools or big jails."

The Morgans' land was on the extreme eastern end of the village—so far from the center of town that it had been used only for pasture and the occasional circus per­formance. But once the school was sited, development soon followed. "Many new houses are being built and yet the demand is not supplied," the Argus reported in Sep­tember 1857. "People are moving here to take advantage of the University and our model Union School."

In its haste to get the school under way, the board had badly misjudged its cost. In addition to the $10,000 voted at the meeting in February 1854, the Argus reported in September that a "tax of $7,000 was voted to be raised the present year, and to be appropriated toward the erection of a new School building. A tax of 70 cents per scholar was voted for School purposes, and other small amounts for contingent expenses."

The following January the Argus reported on a bill, just passed by the Michigan Legislature, that seems to have been aimed at removing all possible obstacles to progress on the building. The legislation gave school boards the "power to designate sites for as many school-houses, including a Union High School? as they may think proper, by a vote of two thirds of the le­gal voters present, at any regular meeting." Boards were also grant­ed the power to pur­chase land, raise taxes upon property within the district, fix tuition for nonresident schol­ars, make and enforce bylaws and regulations, borrow money, and re­pay loans.

Ann Arbor's board now could proceed in the knowledge that its actions bore legal sanc­tion—a timely reassur­ance, as construction funds were once again found insufficient. In addition to the $10,000 voted in February 1854 and $7,000 in Septem­ber of the same year, a meeting in September 1855 authorized bor­rowing $10,000, bring­ing the total appropria­tion for the building to $27,000. The following January, another public meeting approved bor­rowing a final $8,000 to complete and furnish the building and fence and grade the grounds.

School records do not provide a total cost figure for the building.
However, from 1855 through 1863 the district issued 167 individual bonds, ranging in value from $50 to $1,100, and totaling $32,637.50. That matches closely with the expen­diture figures given in the Argus, which add up to $35,000—more than triple the original estimate.

For its money, though, the city got a show-place—a building a railroad publication called "the crowning glory of the town." Built of brick on a fieldstone foundation, the handsome Italianate school stood three sto­ries tall, set well back from the street, with a curving driveway in front. The third floor was one huge assembly hall, used for public gatherings of all sorts, including the U-M graduation exercises. The basement, wrote the state superintendent for public instruction, "contained living quarters for a janitor and his family, a writing room, a recitation room, and a primary school room."

The following January, the Argus published a long story praising the new facilities--as well as the orderliness, efficiency, and spirit of the student body and faculty. The paper reported that the curriculum included:

"Four classes in Latin, two in Greek, two in French, two i%,German, two in Bourdon's Al­gebra, three in Elementary Algebra, one in Geometry, one in Natural Philosophy, tour in Arithmetic, one in Book Keeping, and three in English Grammar. . . . Instruction was also given regularly to both departments in Writ­ing, Drawing and Vocal Music; and private les­sons are given in Instrumental Music."

Noting that the number in attendance was 356, the report concluded:

"Our school is well organized, well disci­plined, and well instructed; thus far it has more than answered our most sanguine expec­tations, and it now gives the most cheering promise or continued prosperity."

Though the U-M would not admit women until 1870, the Union School was coed from the start. The Argus noted in fall 1857 that residents paid nothing for the basic course of study, aside from a "modest fee" for those wishing to pursue foreign languages, art, or music.

"For the information or our friends residing in adjoining Towns, we give the terms—per quarter or 11 weeks—on which non-resident scholars are admitted: Higher Dept., English Studies, $4. Higher Dept., English and Lan­guages, $5. Intermediate English, $3. Inter­mediate English and Languages, $4."

The high school was still educating many nonresidents when superintendent Perry wrote his history of the school district, circa 1880:

"It is one or the largest preparatory and aca­demical schools in the country, and its reputa­tion has become well nigh national. Or its 400 to 500 pupils, about 60 per cent are non-residents. Its annual tuition receipts go far toward cancelling the cost or its support, while many families become temporary residents or the city in order to secure the advan­tages of its superior instruction. Since 1861, the date or its rirst graduation class, the school has graduated 870 pupils, a large portion or whom entered the University of Michigan. It is doubtful if any other enterprise of the city has contributed more, even to its material prosper­ity, than has the Ann Arbor high school."

The initial curriculum was divided into two sections—classics and English. They covered similar material, but the former was more rigorous for college preparation. In 1872 a commercial course was started, and two years later, Horatio Chute was hired to teach science. He designed some of the first comprehensive courses in high school physics, astronomy, and chemistry, which were copied all over the country.

As enrollment grew, so did the build­ing. A portico was added to the west side in 1857. In 1872 the school was extended on the east side by about forty feet, nearly doubling in size. That same year new heat­ing equipment, seats, and bells were pur­chased. In 1889 a final expansion nearly doubled its size again, extending the school all the way to Huron Street.

The Gothic-style addition was no soon­er completed than it was nearly destroyed: on September 10, 1889, smoke was seen pouring out of a window on the first floor. Fortunately, firemen and a group of about 100 boys were able to extinguish the fire in short order. Afterward there was discus­sion of taking steps to fireproof the build­ing—but nothing was done.

Fifteen years later, on New Year's Eve 1904, the entire school was consumed by flames. Because water pressure was low and the fire was well advanced when it was discovered, the firemen could not save the building. Even though the blaze occurred in the middle of the night, most of the town came out to watch.

Principal Judson Pattengill, science teacher Horatio Chute, math teacher Levi Wines, and school superintendent Herbert Slauson organized a rescue mission. Aided by about 100 students, they were able to save much of Chute's prized physics labo­ratory equipment and most of the 8,000 li­brary books. But much more was lost— textbooks, botany and chemistry equip­ment, school records, teaching aids, and sports equipment.

"Friends of mine who were high school students at the time tell me that they stood with tears running down their cheeks, cry­ing unashamed as they saw the flames break out in one after another of their classrooms," local historian Lela Duff wrote in 1956. Overnight, the city had lost its showplace, the anchor of the develop­ment of a large section of the local real es­tate market, and a trendsetting educational institution.

Christmas vacation was ex­tended just two days. With an outpouring of community support, classes resumed on January 12. The eighth grade moved en masse to Perry School, while high school classes met in borrowed churches and student religious centers, Moran's School of Shorthand, and the basement and storerooms of the new Hamilton Block at Thayer and North Uni­versity.

Efforts to replace the school started the morning after the fire with an emergency meeting of the school board. A bond issue to fund a new building passed in March, 370-42. The district hired Malcomson and Higginbotham of Detroit to design both the new school and an adjoining library facing Huron (the district had already re­ceived a Carnegie grant for the library be­fore the fire). Both are neoclassical de­signs with pillars, multisectioned win­dows, and arched main entrances. But the school is made of brick, while the library has a stone facade, and details differ subtly on the roofs and entrances.

The new school opened for classes on April 2, 1907, and was dedicated in a community ceremony ten days later. "That Ann Arbor now possesses the finest public school building in Michigan, if not in the United States, is admitted by all who have visited whether residents of the district or of other sections of the country," the Daily Times enthused.

If students entered at the side doors on Washington or Huron, which most did since they had their lockers there, they were on the bottom floor. About a third of that floor was the domain of Chute, who had been allowed to design it for science instruction. The gym was in the middle. At the back, on the Thayer Street side, were rooms equipped for vocational classes — wood and metal shops and drafting rooms.

Students who came in through the grand entrance on State Street could go down half a flight to the gym or half a flight up to reach the auditorium. The top floor had two big session rooms—combi­nation study halls and places for students to be when not in class—facing State Street. Divided by sexes at the Union School, in the new school they were sepa­rated by alphabet. Longtime (1946-1968) principal Nick Schreiber was hired in 1936 to be the session teacher for L-Z. His counterpart, Sara Keen—called "Miss Kerosene" by the school wags—took care of the first part of the alphabet.

As in the Union School, the curriculum centered on subjects needed to get into college. But the new school also offered greatly expanded vocational courses—the state's 1905 compulsory school attendance law required the school to serve more stu­dents who weren't college-bound.

Many alumni remember the school as­semblies. Veteran local radio personality Ted Heusel heard a broadcast of one of Hitler's speeches at an assembly in 1938. In another assembly he saw the chief archer from the movie Robin Hood stand in the balcony and hit targets on the stage. Another assembly featured U-M football star Tom Harmon. "He came down the aisles with everyone screaming," says Heusel.

Ted Palmer never forgot the assembly at which his history teacher played a trick on the students. "Miss Perry came from the right side and another Miss Perry came from the left and met in the center. It as­tounded everyone to see two Miss Perrys. It turned out she was an identical twin." Three years later, the sisters played a vari­ation of the same trick on Dick DeLong and his classmates.

In the gym underneath the auditorium, students took physical education and played indoor competitive games. Palmer ran track by circling the gym, twenty-two laps per mile. "It wasn't much straightway, but some schools had less," he recalls. To practice the forty-yard dash, students ran the length of the hall that connected the Washington and Huron street entrances. This practice was halted when one student didn't stop in time and went right though the glass, seriously injuring himself.

For cross-country, Palmer jogged to West Park and ran there, returning to school for showers. Students participating in football or baseball ran to Wines (now Elbel) Field but were lucky in having a little building there where they could change and shower. Kip Taylor, who scored the first touchdown in Michigan Stadium, was one of their coaches. Begin­ning in 1938, Ann Arbor High's teams were nicknamed the Pioneers. A 1962 school booklet explains that the name was appropriate because the high school was "a pioneer in the true sense of the word, being one of the first schools in the state to have an organized athletic program."

At lunchtime students could eat at school, but "we liked to mingle with the college kids on State Street," recalls Palmer. The area was full of lunch places, well remembered by high school alumni — Kresge's counter for hot dogs, next door at Granada's for hot beef sandwiches, Betsy Ross in Nickels Arcade for deviled ham sandwiches, Toppers on Division for 150 hamburgers.

The lures of the neighborhood included the State Theater. In his memoirs, princi­pal Nick Schreiber recalled a day, after a heavy snowstorm, when other schools closed but the high school remained open. In protest, a large number of students left for the matinee at the State. "When I learned of the exodus to the theater, I went over and asked the manager, a Rotarian friend, if I might have the theater lighted while I took the stage and announced that those students who did not return to class­es were in for disciplinary action," Schreiber remembered. "They left the theater in haste."

The high school served well through the city's explosive growth in the 1920s, the De­pression, and World War II. But after the war it was increasingly overcrowded. Built for 800 students, it was serving close to 1,400 by the time it closed in 1956. "The wood floors were creaky when we went there," recalls Bob Kuhn, a student in the 1940s. "The school seemed old. The cement stairs were worn."

The U-M, too, was growing rapidly and needed more space. So the city and uni­versity worked out a swap: the university got the high school, while the public schools got a large university-owned par­cel diagonally across from Michigan Sta­dium—the site of the present Pioneer High. Included in the trade was Wines Field, now renamed Elbel, after Louis Elbel, author of "The Victors"; today, it is used for U-M band practice.

The university renamed the old high school the Frieze Building, after an es­teemed nineteenth-century professor, and built an addition on the back. Even though people thought the building was run down during its last years as a high school, it last­ed fifty years more with very little mainte­nance. But this year is likely to be its last.

In January the U-M regents voted to de­molish the Frieze Building to make room for what they are provisionally calling "North Quad." Preservation activists and Ann Arbor High alumni argued for saving the building or at least the facade, but U-M planner Sue Gott rules that out, saying the university needs to use the entire site, in­cluding the State Street lawn. Still on the table is the possibility of preserving the Carnegie Library—if it can be combined successfully with the new building.

This article is based in part on Wil Cumming's history of the Ann Arbor Union High School. The complete text is aailable in the Ann Arbor Public Schools collection at the U-M Bentley Historical Library.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: When Ann Arbor High was dedicated in April 1907, the Daily Times declared it "the finest public building in Michigan, if not in the United States."

[Photo caption from original print edition]: After the fire on New Year's Eve, 1904. Overnight, the city lost its showplace, the anchor of the development of a large section of the local real estate market, and a trendsetting educational institution.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: The city and university worked out a swap, trad­ing the old school for a large parcel diagonally across from Michigan Stadium—the site of the present Pioneer High

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman and Wil Cummings

The Roy Hoyer Dance Studio

Author: 
Grace Shackman

A taste of Broadway in Ann Arbor

Performers tap dancing on drums or flying out over the audience on swings, women in fancy gowns and plumes floating onto the stage to the strains of "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody." A Busby Berkeley musical on Broadway? No, it was right here in Ann Arbor at the Lydia Mendelssohn theater: "Juniors on Parade," a Ziegfeld-style production created by Broadway veteran Roy Hoyer to showcase the talents of his dance students and to raise money for worthy causes.

Hoyer came to Ann Arbor in 1930, at age forty-one. With his wrap-around camel hair coat, starched and pleated white duck trousers, open-necked shirts, and even a light touch of makeup, he cut a cosmopolitan figure in the Depression-era town. For almost twenty years, his Hoyer Studio initiated Ann Arbor students into the thrills of performance dancing as well as the more sedate steps and social graces of ballroom dancing.

Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Hoyer appeared in many hometown productions before a role as Aladdin in a musical called "Chin Chin" led him to a contract with New York's Ziegfeld organization. His fifteen-year Broadway career included leading roles in "Tip-Top," "Stepping Stones," "Criss Cross," "The Royal Family," and "Pleasure Bound." Movie musical star Jeanette MacDonald was discovered while playing opposite Hoyer in "Angela." But Hoyer himself by the end of the 1920's was getting too old to play juvenile leads. When the Depression devastated Broadway--in 1930, fifty fewer plays were produced than in 1929--Hoyer, like many other actor-dancers, was forced to seek his fortune elsewhere.

Hoyer came to Ann Arbor because he already had contacts here. In the 1920s he had choreographed the Michigan Union Opera, a very popular annual all-male show with script and score by students. His Roy Hoyer Studio taught every kind of dancing, even ballet (although the more advanced toe dancers usually transferred to Sylvia Hamer). On the strength of his stage career, he also taught acrobatics, body building, weight reducing classes, musical comedy, and acting.

His sales pitch played up his Broadway background: “There are many so-called dance instructors, but only a few who have even distinguished themselves in the art they profess to teach," he wrote in his program notes for "Juniors on Parade." "Mr. Hoyer's stage work and association with some of the most famous and highest paid artists in America reflects the type of training given in the Roy Hoyer School."

Pictures of Hoyer on the Broadway stage lined his waiting room, and former students remember that he casually dropped names like Fred and Adele, referring to the Astaire siblings. (Fred Astaire did know Hoyer, but evidently not well. When Hoyer dressed up his 1938 "Juniors on Parade" program with quotes from letters he'd received from friends and former students, the best he could come up with from Astaire was, "Nice to have heard from you.")

Hoyer's first Ann Arbor studio was in an abandoned fraternity house at 919 Oakland. He lived upstairs. Pat Bird Allen remembers taking lessons in the sparsely furnished first-floor living room. In 1933 the Hoyer Studio moved to 3 Nickels Arcade, above the then post office. Students would climb the stairs, turn right, and pass through a small reception area into a studio that ran all the way to Maynard. Joan Reilly Burke remembers that there were no chairs in the studio, making it hard for people taking social dancing not to participate. Across the hall was a practice room used for private lessons and smaller classes.

Back then, young people needed to know at least basic ballroom steps if they wanted to have any kind of social life. John McHale, who took lessons from Hoyer as a student at University High, says that for years afterward he could execute a fox trot or a waltz when the occasion demanded. Dick DeLong remembers that Hoyer kept up with the latest dances, for instance teaching the Lambeth Walk, an English import popular in the early years of World War II. (DeLong recalls Hoyer taking the boys aside and suggesting that they keep their left-hand thumbs against their palms when dancing so as not to leave sweaty hand prints on their partners' backs.)

Hoyer's assistants were Bill Collins and Betty Hewett, both excellent dancers. Burke remembers that when the two demonstrated social dancing, their students were "just enchanted." Several ballroom students remember the thrill of dancing with football star Tom Harmon. As a performer in the Union Opera, Harmon came up to the studio for help in learning his dance steps and while there obliged a few of the female ballroom students. "I'll never forget it," says Janet Schoendube.

While ballroom dancing was mostly for teens or preteens, tap and ballet students ranged from children who could barely walk to young adults in their twenties. (Helen Curtis Wolf remembers taking her younger brother Lauren to lessons when he was three or four.) Classes met all year round, but the high point of the year was the annual spring production, "Juniors on Parade."

The show was sponsored by the King's Daughters, a service group that paid the up-front costs and then used the profits for charity—medical causes in the early years and British war relief later. The three evening performances and one matinee were packed, and not just with the parents of the performers. During the drab Depression, people looked forward to Hoyer's extravaganzas all year long. Hoyer "jazzed us up when we needed it," recalls Angela Dobson Welch.

"Juniors on Parade" was a place to see and be seen. In 1933 the Ann Arbor News called it a "social event judging by the list of patrons and patronesses and the list of young actors and actresses whose parents are socially prominent." But the show's appeal wasn't limited to high society. Even in the midst of the Depression many less well-to-do families managed to save the money for lessons or worked out other arrangements in lieu of payment. Allen's mother helped make costumes; senior dance student Mary Meyers Schlecht helped teach ballroom dancing; Rosemary Malejan Pane, the acrobat who soloed in numbers that included cartwheels and splits, was recruited by Hoyer, who offered her free lessons when he learned she couldn't afford to pay.

The first act of the show featured younger children, wearing locally made costumes, while the second act showcased the more advanced students, who wore professional costumes. Every year Hoyer and Collins traveled to Chicago to select the dancers' outfits. For one 1935 number, the girls wore gowns that duplicated those worn by such famous stars as Ruby Keeler, Dolores Del Rio, and Carole Lombard. Live piano music was provided either by Georgia Bliss (on loan from Sylvia Hamer) or Paul Tompkins.

Sixty-some years later, students still remember such Hoyer-created numbers as "Winter Wonderland," a ballet featuring Hoyer and Betty Seitner, who stepped out of a snowball; "Floradora," six guys pushing baby buggies; "Sweethearts of Nations," eight girls in costumes from different countries, including red-haired Doris Schumacher Dixon as an Irish lass and Angela Dobson Welch as a Dutch girl. In "Toy Shop," dancers dressed like dolls; in another number, five girls, including Judy Gushing Newton and Nancy Hannah Cunningham, were done up in matching outfits and hairdos as the Dionne quintuplets.

"Juniors on Parade" ended with a high-kicking Rockettes-style chorus line of senior students. Then the stars returned home to their normal lives. Although some of them became very good dancers, none went on to careers in dance. (Doris Dixon later worked at Radio City Music Hall and was offered a job as a Rockette, but turned it down when she saw how hard it was.)

The last big show was in 1941. When the war started, Hoyer cut back on his studio schedule and went to work at Argus Camera, where they were running two shifts building military equipment. He worked in the lens centering area and is remembered by former Argus employee Jan Gala as "a lot of fun, full of jokes." Another employee, Catherine Starts, remembers that "he was so graceful. He took rags and danced around with them."

After the war Hoyer kept his studio open, but people who knew him remember he did very little teaching in those years. His health was failing, and his former cadre of students and stars had moved on to college and careers.

In 1949 ill health led him to move back to Altoona. He worked as assistant manager at a hotel there, then as a floor manager and cashier at a department store. He was still alive in 1965, when an Altoona newspaper reported that he was back home after a nine-month hospital stay.

Although it has been forty-five years since Hoyer left Ann Arbor, he is not forgotten. Hoyer Studio alumni say they still use their ballroom dancing on occasion, and even the tappers sometimes perform. Angela Welch remembers a party about ten years ago at which the Heath sisters, Harriet and Barbara, back in town for a visit, reprised their Hoyer tap dance number. And years after the studio closed, accompanist Paul Tompkins worked as a pianist at Weber's. Whenever he recognized a Hoyer alumna coming in, he started playing "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody."

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Lane Hall

Author: 
Grace Shackman

From the YMCA to women's studies

If the walls of Lane Hall could talk, they might recall discussions on ethical, religious, and international topics, and distinguished visitors such as Bertrand Russell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the Dalai Lama. The elegantly understated Georgian Colonial Revival building on the south-west corner of State and Washington has been an intellectual center for student discussions since it was built. From 1917 to 1956 all varieties of religious topics were examined; from 1964 to 1997 it changed to an international focus. In October, after a major expansion and renovation, it was rededicated as the new home for women's studies at the U-M.

Lane Hall was built in 1916-1917 by the U-M YMCA. Within a few years it came under the control of the university's Student Christian Association, which included the campus branches of both the YMCA and the YWCA. In addition to organizing traditional religious activities, SCA published a student handbook, ran a rooming service, and helped students get jobs.

Funded in part by a $60,000 gift from John D. Rockefeller, Lane Hall was named after Victor H. Lane, a law professor and former judge who was active in SCA. When it opened in 1917, students could read books on religion in the library, listen to music in the music room, meet with student pastors in individual offices, or attend functions, either in the 450-seat auditorium upstairs or the social room in the basement.

Photograph of Lane Hall when it was still the Y.M.C.A.

Post card view of Lane Hall when it was still the Y.M.C.A.

SCA cooperated with area churches and also provided meeting places for groups that didn't have a home church, such as Chinese Christians and Baha'is. But Lane Hall is most remembered for its own nondenominational programs, which were open to all students on campus. Some, like Bible study, had an obvious religious connection, but the programs also included the Fresh Air Camp (which enlisted U-M students to serve as big brothers to neglected boys), extensive services for foreign students, and eating clubs.

Lane Hall became one of the most intellectually stimulating places on campus. "While the university was, much more than now, organized in tightly bounded disciplines and departments, our program was working with the connections between them, and particularly the ethical implications of those interconnections," recalls C. Grey Austin, who was assistant coordinator of religious affairs in the 1950s. "Religion was similarly organized in clearly defined institutions, and we were working, again, with that fascinating area in which they touch one another."

With the coming of the Great Depression, many students struggled financially. In 1932, looking for a way to save money, a local activist named Sher Quraishi (later an advocate for post-partition Pakistan) organized the Wolverine Eating Club in the basement of Lane Hall. The club's cook, Anna Panzner, recalled in a 1983 interview that they fed about 250 people three meals a day. She was assisted with the cooking by John Ragland, who later became the only black lawyer in town. About forty students helped with the prep and cleanup in exchange for free meals, while the rest paid $2.50 a week.

Lane Hall itself had trouble keeping going during the depression, often limping along without adequate staffing. Finally, in 1936, SCA gave Lane Hall to the university. The group didn't stipulate the use of the building but said they hoped it might "serve the purpose for which it was originally intended, that is, a center of religious study and activities for all students in the university." The university agreed and, while changing the name to Student Religious Association, kept and expanded the SCA programming.

The official head of Lane Hall would be a minister hired by the university, but the work was done by Edna Alber," recalls Jerry Rees, who worked there in the 1950s. "Alber ran Lane Hall like a drill sergeant," agrees Lew Towler, who was active in Lane Hall activities. "You'd try to stay on her good side."

The first university-hired director of Lane Hall was Kenneth Morgan. The high point of his tenure was a series of lectures on "The Existence and Nature of God" given by Bertrand Russell, Fulton Sheen, and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Morgan left during World War II and was replaced by Frank Littell. "He was a dynamic man who you either liked or didn't," recalls Jo Glass, who was active at Lane Hall after the war. "He made changes and left." After Littell, DeWitt C. Baldwin, who had been Lane Hall's assistant director, took over. Called "Uncle Cy" by many, he was an idealistic former missionary who also led the Lisle Fellowship, a summer program to encourage international understanding.

Although social action was important, religion as the study of the Bible was not ignored. For instance, Littell led a seminar for grad students on aspects of religion in the Old and New Testament. Participant Marilyn Mason, now a U-M music prof and the university organist, compares the seminar to a jam session, saying, "They were very open minded."

Other Lane Hall activities were just plain fun. Jerry Rees enjoyed folk dancing on Tuesday evenings in the basement social hall. Jo Glass has happy memories of the Friday afternoon teas held in the library. "You'd go to religious teas and meet people you met on Sunday, or go to international teas and meet people from other countries," she says, "but you'd go to Lane Hall and meet a mixture of everybody--all kinds of people wandered in."

Doris Reed Ramon was head of international activities at Lane Hall. She remembers that in addition to providing room for international students to meet, the building had a Muslim prayer room and space for Indian students to cook meals together. After World War II, with the campus full of returning servicemen struggling to make it on the GI Bill, a new eating co-op was organized, called the Barnaby Club. Member Russell Fuller, later pastor of Memorial Christian Church, recalls that the group hired a cook but did all the other work themselves, coming early to peel potatoes or set the table, or staying afterward to clean up.

The Lane Hall programming came to an end in 1956, when the religious office was moved to the Student Activities Building. The niche that Lane Hall held had gradually eroded as more churches established campus centers and the university founded an academic program in religious studies. Also, according to Grey Austin, there were more questions about the role of religion in a secular school. "The growing consensus was that the study of religions was okay but that experience with religion was better left to the religious organizations that ringed the campus."

In the 1960s, centers for area studies began moving into Lane Hall--Japanese studies, Chinese studies, Middle and North African studies, and South Asian and Southeast Asian studies, all of which were rising in importance during the Cold War. Many townsfolk, as well as students, remember attending stimulating brown-bag lunches on various international topics, as well as enjoying the Japanese pool garden in the lobby. During this time visitors ranged from president Gerald Ford and governor James Blanchard (who was delighted with the help the center gave him in developing trade with China) to foreign leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Bashir Gemayel, who became president of Lebanon, and famous writers such as Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz.

One of the people who passed through Lane Hall during this period was Hugo Lane, great-grandson of Victor Lane. In response to an e-mail query, Lane recalled that he had an office in Lane Hall when he worked as a graduate assistant for the East European Survey, a project of the Center for Russian and East European Studies. "Needless to say, I took great pleasure in that coincidence. . . . On those occasions when my parents visited Ann Arbor, a stop at the hall was obligatory."

The centers for area studies eventually joined the U-M International Center in the new School of Social Work building across the Diag. After they left, Lane Hall became a temporary headquarters for the School of Natural Resources and Environment while its building was renovated. Then Lane Hall was vacated for its own extensive addition and renovation.

Today, the new and improved Lane Hall is home to the U-M's Women's Studies Program and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. "It's wonderful space to the occupants, very affirming," says institute director Abby Stewart. "It feels good to be here."

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Detroit Observatory

Author: 
Grace Shackman

It launched the U-M on the path to greatness

“How can we truly be called a nation, if we cannot possess within ourselves the sources of a literary, scientific, and artistic life?” asked Henry Philip Tappan, the first president of the University of Michigan, at his inaugural address in 1852. Henry N. Walker, a prominent Detroit lawyer in the audience, was inspired by Tappan’s vision and asked what he could do to help. Tappan suggested he raise money to build an astronomical observatory.

Born into a prominent New York family, Tappan had astonished his friends by agreeing, at age forty-seven, to head what was then an obscure frontier college. The attraction for Tappan, who previously had been a minister, professor, and writer, was the chance Michigan offered to put his educational philosophy into practice—“to change the wilderness into fruitful fields,” as he put it in his inaugural address.

An adherent of the Prussian model of education, Tappan believed that universities should expand their curriculum beyond the classics to teach science and encourage research. An observatory would embody the new approach perfectly—and Walker was ideally positioned to make it a reality.

Walker was a former state attorney general who often handled railroad cases. Well connected to both intellectuals and business people in Detroit, he attracted contributors who desired to advance scientific knowledge, as well as those who were interested in astronomy’s practical uses, particularly in establishing accurate time.

Photograph of Detroit Observatory, surrounded by open fields

The earliest known picture of the Observatory, circa 1858. The man is probably first director Franz Brunnow with his father-in-law’s dog, Leo.

Because Walker raised most of its $22,000 cost from Detroiters, the building was named the “Detroit Observatory.” Tappan originally planned to have just one telescope, a refractor, suitable for research and instruction. But Walker offered to pay for a meridian-circle telescope as well. It would be better suited for measuring the transit of the stars and thus for establishing more accurate time—a matter of vital importance to railroads, which needed to run on schedule.

The regents sited the observatory on a four-acre lot, high on a hill outside the city limits. Although only half a mile east of Central Campus, it was then considered way out in the country. In the early days it could be reached only by a footpath, and astronomers complained of the long walk.

Tappan said later that he took credit for everything about the observatory except its location, which he would have preferred be on the main campus. “It has proved an inconvenient location, and has caused much fatigue to the astronomer,” he wrote. However, the remote site probably saved it: nearly every building of its age on Central Campus has long since been torn down.

In 1853, Tappan and Walker traveled to New York to order the refracting telescope from Henry Fitz, the country’s leading telescope maker. With an objective lens twelve and five-eighths inches across, it would be the largest refractor yet built in the United States, and the third largest telescope in the world, after instruments in Pulkovo, Russia, and at Harvard.

Meridian-circle telescopes were not manufactured in the United States, so Tappan went to Europe. On the advice of Johann Encke, director of the Prussian Royal Observatory in Berlin, he ordered a brass meridian-circle telescope from Pistor and Martins, a Berlin firm.

Tappan asked several American astronomers to head the new observatory, but they all turned him down. At that point he thought of Franz Brunnow, Encke’s assistant, who had been very enthusiastic about the project. Some objected to hiring a foreigner as astronomer, but Tappan prevailed. And certainly Brunnow was eminently qualified--he was the first Ph.D. on the U-M faculty. Under his direction, Ann Arbor soon became “the place to study astronomy,” according to Patricia Whitesell, the observatory director, curator, and author of A Creation of His Own: Tappan’s Detroit Observatory. Brunnow socialized with the Tappans and in 1857 married Tappan’s daughter Rebecca.

Tappan launched many other initiatives to turn the U-M into a first-rate university. He moved the students out of the two classroom buildings, letting them board in town, to make more space for academic uses--classrooms, natural history and art museums, and library. He encouraged the growth of the medical school, started the law school, and built the first chemistry laboratory in the country to be used exclusively for research and teaching. Under his leadership, the U-M granted its first bachelor of science degrees in 1855, its first graduate degrees in 1859, and its first civil engineering degrees in 1860.

But Tappan also made enemies--people who found his changes too precipitous or his manner too haughty. In 1863, Tappan was fired in a surprise vote by a lame-duck board of regents. Tappan moved his family to Europe, never to return; he died in Switzerland in 1881. Fortunately, his successors continued on the course he’d set, securing the U-M’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading universities.

Brunnow resigned after Tappan was fired; his star student, James Craig Watson, succeeded him. During Watson’s tenure, a director’s house was built west of the observatory.

Photograph of Detroit Observatory & director's house

The Observatory with the director’s house on the west side. While Brunnow was able to live in the president’s house, Watson, the next director, needed a home, so one was built that connected to his office in the Observatory.

In 1908 an addition was built to the east to hold a thirty-seven-inch reflector telescope. But as the campus grew out to the observatory, lights from the power plant (1914) and from the Ann Street hospital and Couzens Hall (both 1925) interfered with viewing. Over the decades that followed, the astronomy department transferred its serious research to a series of increasingly remote locations (currently Arizona and Chile). But the old observatory continued to be used for educational purposes until 1963, when the Dennison physics and astronomy building was completed.

In the tight-budget 1970s, there was talk of bulldozing the observatory. After World War II, the director’s house had been torn down to make room for an expansion of Couzens Hall, and the 1908 addition was razed in 1976, when the university decided it was too run down to maintain. But the original observatory was saved—though the rescue took a three-part campaign lasting close to thirty years.

Step one took place in the early 1970s, when a group of local preservationists led by John Hathaway, then chair of the Historic District Commission, and Dr. Hazel Losh, legendary U-M astronomy professor, convinced the university to give it a stay of execution.

Next, enter history professors Nick and Peg Steneck, who were called in by Al Hiltner, then chair of the astronomy department, and Orren Mohler, the former chair. Peg Steneck remembers that on her first tour of the building, “squatters were gaining access by climbing the chestnut tree out front and entering through the trapdoor in the roof. Evidence of occupancy, such as mattresses and Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes, littered the dome room, and a mural was painted around the wall of the dome.”

Nick Steneck tried to keep the building in use, setting up his office there, teaching classes, and using the upper level for the Collegiate Institute for Values in Science. Peg Steneck started research on the observatory’s history, which grew into a course she still teaches on the history of the university. Under the Stenecks’ prodding, the university took steps to stop the deterioration, fixing the roof, masonry foundation, and stucco.

Step three took place in 1994, when the university history and traditions committee asked vice president for research Homer Neal to restore the observatory. Neal assigned Whitesell, who was working in his office, to write a proposal, which she happily did, starting with Peg Steneck’s research.

Whitesell had a Ph.D. in higher education, was interested in both historic preservation and the history of science, and had long admired the observatory. Her new assignment, she says, “was a dream come true.” Neal agreed to the restoration and appointed Whitesell project manager.

Like the original construction, the million-dollar project, spearheaded enthusiastically by Anne and Jim Duderstadt, was paid for by gifts from private donors. The work began in June 1997 and was completed a year and a half later.
The university’s first total restoration project, the observatory has a lot of “first” and “only” distinctions. It is the oldest unaltered observatory in America that has its original instruments intact, in their original mounts, and operational. The meridian-circle telescope is the oldest in its original mount in the entire world. The building is the second oldest on campus (next to the president’s house) and the oldest unaltered one.

Restored, the observatory serves both as a museum of astronomical history and as a location for many academic events.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman
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