The Old Brown School House
(31 July 1903)

Recollections of the old brown school house, that long stood on the northeast corner of the section upon which the village of Coopersville by Edwin Thayer.

Monday morning in the early part of December of 1854 found me with "carpet bag" packed with an extra "hickory" shirt, a change of canton flannel underwear, a pair of heavy wool socks, all homemade, my Adams arithmetic, Smith's grammar, Sander's fourth reader and spelling book, with a half dozen sheets of foolscap paper for a copy-book, on my way thru the woods from my father's house in Hardscrabble, where my parents were then residing, to take up my residence at Albert Lawton's, where I had made arrangements to do "chores" for my board and attend the coming three months term of school.

The teacher, who taught there that winter, was Miss Lydia Platt, afterwards Mrs. George Upton; long an old resident of Polkton township. Miss Platt had only that year come from the "East" and had the reputation of having had considerable experience in teaching before she came to Michigan. She had taught a fall term of three months that year at Eastmanville, and it seems the school officers at that place were expecting to engage her for the winter term, but were rather slow in deciding and informing her of that fact. Hence the school officers at Peck's Corners hired her for the winter term of three months, to teach in the brown school house. The officers of Eastmanville district were not to be caught napping the second time, and made an early engagement with Miss platt to teach their school the following summer, where she remained until her marriage with George Upton.

Of the pupils of the little brown school house that winter, I can only recall the names of the following: Benton and Alice Hazleton, children of the pioneer, Simon Hazleton; George Peck and two or three of his younger brothers and sisters; Reuben J. Foster, later an old resident of Coopersville; James Cole, who at that time boarded at H. C. Durphy's and who died a few years since at his farm in Allendale; and Miss Martha Dickinson, a sister of Charles Dickinson, of Grand Haven. There were other whose names now escape my memory. My impression now is that there were not more than twenty or twenty-five pupils on the list that winter.

Benton Hazleton is now and has been for several years a resident of the state of Alabama. His siter, Alice, married Herbert S. Taft, who moved to Montana several years since, and where he died a few years ago. Mrs. Taft now resided with her daughter in Butte, that state, whose husband is the manager of the principal paper of that city.

My having attended the school only that one term and having moved with my parents on a farm in Blendon, the latter part of 1855, and not having seen the old brown school house again until the first year that I was supervisor of Polkton in the year 1879, I have no knowledge of its pupils or teachers since my attendance in the winter of 1854 and 1855. My impression is at the time I attended the school it was a comparatively new building, unpainted inside and out. It was not even plastered but was celled up with wide pine boards overhead and on the sides. At that time there were only two buildings in the town of Polkton that had or ever had up to that time, any paint on their outside or inside finish; these two buildings were the new school house at Eastmanville and the "tavern", as it was then called, of Daniel Realy, now known as the old county poor house. At that time nearly every residence in the town of Polkton was constructed of logs. There were few exceptions. In the neighborhood of the school house I can recall, only one frame house, and that was the one of Albert Lawton, which was unfinished and unpainted at the time. The whole section upon which the brown school house stood, and where is now the village of Coopersville, was at that time an unbroken wilderness. The 150 acres now known as the Hazleton farm, Mr. Hazleton had purchased only the year before. He had erected on it a comfortable log house and had a few acres of timber chopped down ready for burning when it should get dry enough the following summer. The road west from the school house was partly chopped and underbrushed out as far west as Henry Durphy's, but was impassable except by following the dry ridges and blaze trails. But what is the use of mentioning roads; there were no roads anywhere in town that could be called roads now, there was a trail or winter logging road from the south side of the section where Coopersville now is, to the river at Eastmanville, and another angling to Steel's Landing, now Lamont. There was no post office nearer than Steel's Landing or Eastmanville, and what little mail the inhabitants had, came from one of these places.

This reminds me of the fact that at the old brown school house I embarked in my first mercantile experience. I found that a pupil, when he wanted a pencil or pen, could not go to the corner store and have his wants supplied, so when I returned home once in two weeks, I would lay in at the Eastmanville store a small stock of slate pencils and steel pens and keep them under my desk to sell to the pupils as their wants required. I bought them for six cents a dozen and retailed them at the usual price of a cent a piece, and my profits, I think, would sometimes amount to the sum of ten cents a week.

This school was perhaps no exception to the schools in general in those days; they were not graded or classified as they are now. Each pupil used whatever book he happened to have on hand, be it Sanders' or McGuffey's reader, Adams or Davis' Arithmetic, it was all the same. Each pupil would advance as fast as he desired. Of the five or six that happened to be studying arithmetic, one might be through addition, another just commencing multiplication, and nother "way over to fractions". It was all the same to the teacher. They did not recite in classes, except the reading and spelling classes. Whenever a difficult problem in arithmetic was found, up would go the pupil's hand and the teacher was expected to stop all other work and go to his assistance and work out the difficult "sum", only to repeat the operation soon with some other pupil.

I mentioned that I did the farm chores at Mr. Lawton's for my board. At the time I thought it was about an even thing, and that the work I did was full compensation for the board and lodging I received, but thinking of it at this late day, I think I had the best of the bargain. My work was rather light, consisting of milking a couple of cows, feeding a small flock of sheep, taking care of a couple of horses, splitting and bringing in the supply of wood for the next day, and getting up in the morning and starting the morning fire, in the one stove that did duty for cooking and heating, the same as one stove did in those days in nearly every house in the country. The person that had an extra spare room and an extra stove to warm it with would have been considered by his neighbors as extravagant and putting on style.

In speaking of my stay at Mr. Lawton's that winter, I shall always remember it with pleasure. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Lawton and their then two children; now Mrs. Louisa Griffin and Mrs. E. N. Parker, neither of them old enough to attend school that winter. Mr. Lawton's father and mother were residing with them. Digressing from my subject I will say that those two latter were the great great grandparents of the little two year old daughter of Mrs. Cassie Griffin Mitchell, of Grand Rapids.

In regard to the time when the old brown school house was built, I think there is no doubt that the first school was taught in it in 1853, and that Mrs. Daniel W. Scott, now living in Coopersville, was the first teacher, and the building was erected in 1852 or 1853; only the records made at that time and which should be in the possession of the present school board of District Number 4, would show the exact facts, tho the records of the town clerk should show when the district was organized, but, as I understand the records of that officer were burned a few years since, no official account of the date of the building can be had from that source.

A reunion of the pupils and teachers who have attended the school since I attended in 1854, would be very interesting, especially, as it, in later days while used for school purposes, was the original school of Coopersville, and was attended by a large number of the past and present residents of the place before the present high school was built, and became the successor of the little old brown school house at Peck's Corners.

Pupils of Pioneer Township School To Hold Reunion
(Friday, 10 July 1931 - The Observer)

Gathering of Old Time Residents of Township to be Held in Coopersville, July 23rd

An event which will hold much of interest to many of the older residents of Polkton township is the picnic and reunion of the former pupils of the old brown school house, which was the first seat of learning in the section now Coopersville, and which was also the predecessor of our present high school.

The exact data regarding the building of the brown school house is not available owing to the fact that the records of the township clerk were burned many years ago and many of ---- and much of the interesting history are preserved only by the memories of the former pupils who received their education there.

The brown school was built in 1852 and stood on the northeast corner of the section of land which is now Coopersville, and which at that time belonged to Benjamin F. Cooper, a native of New York and who later returned to his old home there after business reverses sustained here. The building of the structure was a large undertaking for the taxpayers of that early day, but the determination of the early pioneers that their children should receive a proper education made it possible to carry the project through to completion.

The first school was held in the building in 1853 and at that time there were only four frame buildings in the township, namely, the structure which is the subject of this article, the school at Eastmanville, the Albert Lawton farm residence and what is now the County Infirmary. None of these buildings were painted, either inside or out and when, a number of years later this building was given its first coat of paint, the color chosen was brown, hence the name of the school, which it retained until the building of the present Coopersville high school.

The first teacher of the school was Mrs. Daniel W. Scott and the school books used were of all kinds and varieties. What ever books happened to be in the possession of the scholar were introduced into the school. The school was not graded or classified and with the exception of the reading and spelling there were no recitations. Each pupil could advance as fast as he or she desired. Of several pupils who might be studying arithmetic, one might be through multiplication, another just starting addition and the next one might be "way over in fractions".

The reunion of the pupils and teachers of this school should prove an interesting event to attend and while there are not many, perhaps in the neighborhood of twenty, in our community, the opportunity to once more get together and talk over old times should prove a magnet to draw them to the scene of the gathering.

The picnic will be held at the Coopersville high school grounds, Thursday, July 23, and those attending are requested to bring their lunch and service. Dinner will be served at one o'clock, fast time, and the afternoon will be spent in reminiscing. Those who attend are requested to bring any school books used at that time and any other relics of the school which they may have in their possession.

We are also printing in this week's issue a picture of the old brown school which was taken fifty-five years ago, Eliza Griffin, later Mrs. George Toogood, being the teacher of the school at that time. The pupils shown are: Eliza Griffin, or Mrs. George Toodoog; Mary McEwing, later Mrs. Joseph Martin; Libbie Moss, Francis Spink, Minnie Watson, later Mrs. Hunt; Etta Squires, later Mrs. Frank Holmes; Frances Peck, later Mrs. Harvey Stiles: Isabel Peck, later Mrs. Thomas Shauger; Libbie Boone, later Mrs. Alex Gill; Mary Durham, later Mrs. Alva Solomon; Millard Durham, Dell Lawton, later Mrs. Frank Hedges; Julia Lawton, later Mrs. C. C. Lillie; William Lawton, Thomas Lawton, Diana Devoist, later Mrs. Thomas Hines; Celestia Smith, later Mrs. E. M. Reed; Martha Blackmer, later Mrs. Snow; Effie Stiles, later Mrs. Egan Wilson; Eunice Averill, Nellie Averill, Annie Hosmer, Adrian Devoist, Sherman Hosmer, Irene Averill, later Mrs. Fremont Hill; Nettie Hazelton, Olive Hosmer, later Mrs. D. Griswold; Watson Martin, Arlie Towle, Arcolon Towle, Chester Austin; Lillie Hosmer, later Mrs. Wm Hipson; Gary Phelps, Albert Cournyer, Albert Morrow, Louisa Lawton, later Mrs. Eliza Griffin; Wm Hildredth, Wm Lockard, Wm Ballard, Luke Watson, Sumner Phelps, Julius Phelps and Dell Squires.

Transcriber: ES
Created: 17 April 2012