— Part 2 of 5 —
After the Civil War, the State of Michigan began a reorganization of the State’s school system. As part of that reorganization, a Union School District was created for Almont. In 1867, a brick school building was built on Church Street at the end of Centennial Avenue. This was a kindergarten to grade twelve building.
In the countryside, one-room schools were operated to teach children from kindergarten to eighth grade. Children from the countryside, who attended the system of one-room schools, could come into town to attend high school.
Tuition for a twelve week term was $2 for primary grades, $2.50 for intermediate grades, and $4 for 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 bought along with the crowd at first, 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 reshingled and 60,000 old wooden 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. To cover the cost of the new building the Board of Education used $6,000 from the insurance on the 1867 building and a property tax assessment.
The replacement school building was completed on the same site and first occupied Monday, April 14, 1884.
Sometime after the school’s completion but before 1900, a baseball field was constructed behind the school building. Sometime in the 1890s, a football field was constructed in the outfield of the baseball field.
Sometime in the 1910s, the school’s students began playing basketball. Where the games were held is not currently known but it was not within the school building.
In the late winter and early spring of 1927 several controversies swirled within the school.
First, a young lady had returned to school from reform school in Adrian and several members of the community objected to her presence in school. Community members requested that the superintendent expel the young lady, but he refused because he did not have any reason to do so.
Second, a new teacher had been added to the staff and he had a very strict grading system which resulted in students having lower grades than they had previously achieved. Parents objected to the higher standards.
Third, the superintendent had been offered a new contract but the details had not been completed. The Board of Education withdrew the offer and hired the new teacher to be the superintendent.
Fourth, the student body objected to the change of superintendents and staged a walkout. They marched downtown and waved banners stating their displeasure.
A Board of Education meeting in early April was held to clear the air. Most of the staff resigned and was replaced. It was thought that the situations had been settled.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. On Monday, April 18, 1927, school reopened with a new superintendent, A. T. Hagerman from Detroit; a new principal, Miss Tessie Sperry from Mayville; and a new science teacher, Merwin Starling of Bad Axe. A new languages teacher had not yet been employed. The day passed without incident and it was hoped the troubles were over and the school and town could move on without any further problems. That evening, several people noted smelling smoke but could not find its origin. About 9 p.m., G. W. Anderson discovered the fire in the basement of the school, but there were also fires on the second floor.
The fire was so intense and extensive that other local fire departments were called to assist. Romeo came with 20 men and Capac and Richmond brought 15 men each.
The fire destroyed the basement, the second floor and roof. The first floor was less extensively damaged by the fire but suffered from water and smoke damage. Students were able to get into the rooms on the first floor and retrieve their damaged belongings. The school records were removed from the first floor offices almost immediately after the fire was discovered. Fire Chief Charles E. Lewis on Tuesday said that the circumstances seemed to indicate unmistakably that the fire was intentionally set, but that there was no positive proof at that time.
The Board of Education immediately began plans for a new building. At a cost of $120,000, a new school would replace the 1884 building. Designing the new building took into consideration the most modern educational needs of the community’s students. The new building was one of the most complete and modern schoolhouses in this part of the country. The design was used as the basis for other new school buildings throughout the Midwest.
Over the objections of many within the community, the building had an auditorium/gymnasium at a time when almost all schools did not have this feature. A domestic science room was included to improve the education of the community’s students in the areas of chemistry, biology, and physics. The building included a kindergarten with a fireplace and goldfish pond. The design also included drinking fountains on both floors. Though it seems silly today, some people objected to the design because it included indoor restrooms!
With the creation of the school band in 1928, the band needed a place to practice. A wood frame structure was moved to the north of the school building and a little closer to the street. This structure was used for the band to practice. In 1955, the building was moved to a location on the east side of Kidder Road (Woodland Waters).
The 1930s saw a marked change in attendance in high school for the young men of the community. With a lack of non-farm jobs, many of the community’s young men remained in school. The class of 1939 was by far the largest Almont graduating class to that date.
In 1945, the Lions Club constructed two tennis courts to the south of the school. A basketball basket was mounted to the south fence in the southwest corner.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or jrwade49@ gmail.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.