Authors Note: The following story is by no means a complete, detailed story about the schools that existed in the area around Almont.
When James and Elizabeth Deneen and their five children first came to Almont in the late fall of 1828, they were by themselves. Their children were in effect “home schooled.” They had no options.
The first school building was erected in 1834. It was a log cabin constructed on the southeast corner of Branch and West St. Clair Streets (site of the Old Town Hall – now a parking lot behind “Rustic Bluebird”). The teacher was most likely one of the wives of Almont’s earliest pioneers. She was probably compensated by “in kind” payments, primarily foodstuffs. In 1836 when Daniel Black platted the village of Newberg – now Almont – there were only five houses in the village – Oliver Bristol’s, Jonathan Sleeper’s, William Teed’s, Daniel’s own, and probably Nathanial Richardson’s. This building also served as a meeting house for the community. This log cabin was replaced by a wood framed structure about 1844. This school was located on the southeast corner of School and Church Streets.
By 1838, a number of log cabin schools had been built throughout the township – most were soon replaced with wood framed structures. A schoolhouse at the corner of West Road (General Squiers Road today) and Shoemaker Roads was used to found the First Congregational Church Society. They held meetings there and at the Townsend School. The Townsend School was on the south side of Bordman Road about a quarter mile east of Fisher Road – across from the Townsend homestead.
The Scotch Settlement School was at the northeast corner of Marr and Scotch Settlement Roads. The Howland School was at the southeast corner of Howland and Dryden Road. The Rider School was on Farley Road south of Ross Road. The O’Neil School was on Blacks Corners Road north of Hunters Creek Road. The Webster School was on the north side of Webster Road in front of the cemetery. The Spangler School was on the southeast corner of General Squiers Road and Sandhill Road. The Retherford School was on the west side of Glover Road south of Dryden Road. The McGeorge School was on the northeast corner of Almont and Holmes Roads. The Mackie School was on Mackie Road north of Almont Road. I do not know the name of the school on 37-Mile Road just west of Kidder Road that my mother attended when she first moved to Almont. The Allenton School was on the south side of Almont Road in downtown Allenton. Many of these buildings still exist as private homes but have been extensively renovated. Some of the schools have been moved and others demolished. This is by no means a complete list because – over time – the locations changed.
Each of these schools was its own school district with its own school board and attendance area.
Until 1849, most one-room schoolhouse teachers were young women who had completed high school or a farmer’s wife. That year the legislature created the first Normal School west of the Appalachian Mountains in Ypsilanti (Eastern Michigan). A Normal School was a training school for teachers. At the Normal Schools, future teachers learned reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar, spelling, and composition. Music and art were added to the curriculum in the 1870s. The State eventually expanded the number of Normal Schools to four by adding Mt. Pleasant (Central in 1892), Kalamazoo (Western) and Marquette (Northern).
However, pay for the teachers was so low that many schools hired anyone they felt was qualified. The potential teachers could not afford the cost of going to one of the state’s Normal Schools. Local, less costly, Normal Schools were created such as the Lapeer Normal Training School in Lapeer. Graduation from Lapeer Normal Training School allowed a teacher to teach for three years in the one-room schools in Lapeer County before they were required to receive additional education.
One-room schoolhouses typically covered the grades from kindergarten to eighth grade. To get a high school education required attending an “academy” – a private high school. Dr. William Bruce Hamilton Jr. attended the Dickinson School in Romeo. Almont had three academies on East St. Clair Street.
The Parker Academy was started about 1842 by Rev. Eliphelet Parker who was pastor at the First Congregational Church in 1841-1842. The Academy building still exists on the south side of East St. Clair Street, just down the street from the church. A second Academy was built to the east of the Baptist Church (now Potter’s House Church) but when it was built is not known with any certainty. Rev. Charles Kellogg, pastor of the First Congregational Church also taught at this Academy. This building no longer exists. In 1854, Rev. Charles Kellogg, after being tried for “heresy,” built the third Academy, which is now the parsonage of the First Congregational Church. The cost for this Academy was $600 to $800 a semester.
Sometime, probably during the Civil War, the Almont Community School bought Rev. Kellogg’s building and used it as the village’s high school.
After the Civil War, nationally and locally, an organized system of free public education was implemented. The village built the Union School in 1867, which covered kindergarten to twelfth grade. The building was located on the site of “The Bells.” Students living within the village and township could attend the high school. Each of the one-room schools was assigned to a local high school.
On December 9, 1881, at about half past seven o’clock, light was observed in the basement windows and the alarm was raised. People rushed to the school ground with pails and began a bucket-line from the well in front of the schoolhouse. Additionally, two or three chemical fire-extinguishers were also brought. However, the smoke was so dense that people could not get too far into the building and the actual location of the fire could not be determined.
The village had a small hand-pump fire engine but no one was responsible to bring it to the fire. The fire department had not yet been established. Many people thought the fire engine wasn’t capable of handling the fire. After about an hour, several boys brought the fire engine to the scene. Some people proposed pushing the engine into the fire so the village could get a larger, better engine.
The fire engine was connected to the well, and to the astonishment of many of those present, the pump threw an astonishing amount of water. It was evident that had the machine been brought when the fire was discovered, the fire could have easily been put out. Unfortunately, it was now too late and the building was a total loss.
The building had just been re-shingled and 60,000 old shingles (probably cedar) were piled next to the chimney in the cellar. It was thought that these shingles might have been set ablaze by a spark from the furnace.
The replacement school building was completed on the same site and first occupied Monday, April 14, 1884.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.