close
close

Get your education in Ingham County’s historic one-room schoolhouses

By BILL CASTANIER

Imagine a teacher giving a solo lecture on American history to a class of students ages 6 to 13. In one-room schoolhouses, teachers were responsible for everything from lighting the fire to writing lesson plans on the board every day. Older children acted as mentors and solitary study was necessary. Discipline often took the form of a criterion.

During its history, 155 one-room schoolhouses dotted Ingham County. The County Historical Commission has published a comprehensive guide on the subject, “Rural One-Room Schoolhouses of Ingham County,” which can be ordered on Amazon.

Editor Audrey Z. Martini, who spent years compiling the book’s information, will speak at an event hosted by the Greater Lansing Historical Society at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 1, in the Lake Erie Room of the Library of the Michigan. The books will be for sale in the Michigan History Museum gift shop on the first floor.

Most schools were in rural areas and children walked to school since school buses had not yet been introduced. Most were also heated with wood, and in exchange for bags of wood, parents would receive a discount on tuition, Martini said.

Some schools were founded in Michigan State’s earliest days, and many continued to operate into the 1960s. They were gradually replaced by consolidated school districts like Mason, Okemos, Williamston and Lansing.

Today, most have been demolished or converted into museums or public houses. Except for the tattered composite photographs of the classrooms, most of the story has been lost to time. The last operating one-room school in Ingham County, the White Dog School in Williamston, closed in 1966. A headline in the local newspaper read: “White Dog Snaps, Bite Gone.”

Martini said about 50 old one-room schoolhouses are still standing in Ingham County, and 30 of them are private residences.

Martini herself attended a one-room schoolhouse, Bunker Hill Township’s Bachelor School, starting in 1952 as a “freshman,” which was equivalent to kindergarten. Stockbridge later annexed the area and the school was closed in 1958.

“My mother was also a teacher and she was upset that I went to a rural school with latrines in a deplorable state. She was determined and determined to close the school,” Martini said.

Today, like many other one-room schools, the Bachelor School is privately owned and used as a storage building.

Martini visited all 155 former schools while writing the book, which includes 200 photographs from private sources and the Capital District Libraries’ local history collection. Each school received two pages, including an exterior photograph of the school and an interior photo where available. When photographs were not available, maps were used to show locations.

“School locations were primarily determined by the location of settlements. In 1827, territorial law required that settlements with 50 or more families had to have a public school, and residents could request one,” Martini said.

Lansing had three one-room schoolhouses, which were more like shacks and lasted only a short time before becoming part of the school district.

“It was a real challenge sorting through Lansing’s one-room schools,” Martini said. The oldest, Union School, was located in what was called the Lower Village, now called Old Town, and was built in 1847. In 1851 it was replaced by the Cedar Street School.

The book also includes 20 pages of teacher names, organized by school.

“My teacher was Roscoe Spencer, and it was said that he was sent to the school to straighten out the boys,” Martini said.

For her, the most fruitful part of writing this book was talking to the people who attended the schools and listening to their stories. One of the most difficult parts was deciphering the old recordings, which were often inconsistent or downright wrong.

Today, one-room schools are often romanticized. An old song says:

School days, school days

Dear old days of the Golden Rule

Reading, ritin and rithmetic

Taught to the sound of the hickory stick.